October 4th, and after a month which the country had spent observing minute’s silences, Wymondham Town Council took things to a whole new level, by bringing us 1 hour and 47 minutes of silence on their YouTube stream of the month’s full council session. A technical gremlin in the system meant no audio on their official stream made it onto the video.
Undeterred, Town Council Watch lit some candles, formed a circle and managed to make contact with the other side - using one of the councillors’ Facebook live streams. Here are the messages we received.
Respect. Just A Little Bit
In the meeting’s updates section, we found out just how enthusiastically the recently universally-adopted civility pledge has been embraced by the council’s elected members and permanent staff. A question from Cllr Richard Elliott (Con) revealed just two councillors had taken up the offer of civility and respect training so far, himself and Cllr Kathryn Cross (Con). And no staff members.
One wonders what they’re afraid of.
No Blood From The Stone for NWCC
First on the agenda was a grant application from North Wymondham Community Centre (NWCC) to create a community garden at the hall. The cost of the project was put at £5.7k, with NWCC asking for £2.8k from Town Council.
The proposal wasn’t particularly popular in the room and was ultimately rejected.
Cllr Kim Carsok (Con) cited a notable lack of volunteer involvement in the plans for what was to be a community garden. Cllr Tony Holden (Con) thought the quote excessive. For Cllr Annette James (Lib Dem), it was a case of the wrong scheme at the wrong time. A proposal for something like a kitchen upgrade to help feed residents in an expected difficult winter would be more welcome. And Cllr Julian Halls (Lib Dem) set a high bar for all future charity grant applicants, bemoaning the lack of an itemised breakdown of expenditure for the scheme: “We haven’t got, according to the rules, a breakdown, so I’m concerned about making a decision with the absolute minimum of information.”
Quite a few nails in that coffin then.
Scream If You Want To Go Slower
Next, the Town Council voted to take an official position on the Norfolk County Council’s Norwich Western Link Road consultation, which impacts a number of roads in and around Wymondham, with expected additional traffic and measures to mitigate that.
A short debate saw the council agree to support the road scheme in general, support reduction of speed limits on affected roads in our area, oppose the suggestion to prohibit traffic along Barnham Broom Road / Low Road, request permanent speed awareness machines on Barnham Broom Road, Tuttles Lane, Melton Road and Chapel Lane, and request a directional priority sign on Carleton Forehoe bridge.
Well. If you can think of a funny Halloween-based quip about all that, you can have the column. The devil’s in the detail in this job.
Christmas Tree... Erm... Of DOOM!
As we learnt last month, the
erection putting up of Christmas trees can be fraught with potential for schoolboy innuendo. So Town Council Watch will forgive Mayor Kevin Hurn (Con) for feeling his way carefully through his update on a quote to install a permanent Christmas tree holder in the centre of Market Place: “The pole that the erm… The erm…”, he fumbled. “I don’t know what to call it really, haha, erm tree, erm base, tree base”.
Don’t let me make you nervous guys.
Then it was over to Cllr Peter Broome (Con) to probe further, who leant forward with what this column suspects was more than a knowing smile on his face to question the Mayor about the tube diameter and the size of the tree it can accept.
Alright Peter. I write the jokes here.
The discussion concluded that the Clerk should use his £10k(!) discretionary spending limit to accept the quote of £1800 for the installation.
“We saved Christmas!” laughed Richard Elliott. “At least that doesn’t make me the Grinch” quipped Kevin Hurn.
The Clerk continued taking notes without looking up.
Maintaining The Kett’s Park Haunted Forest
Up next, the council approved a further year of funding for the Norwich Fringe Project to continue leading on the maintenance of the woodland on the north side of Kett’s Park. The professionally-run body carries out tree management work themselves and also provides guidance and equipment to volunteers from Greening Wymondham, who had spoken articulately in favour of the proposal during the public participation section.
If you go down to the woods today… expect it to be well maintained.
A Job to Die For
Next, the council needed to elect a representative to the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, a body which a google search reveals “provides specialist information, advice and training to parish and town councils” and “speaks with a strong collective voice, representing members’ corporate interests through the National body to government”.
So there you are.
Mayor Kevin Hurn asked the chamber for volunteers.
Until Cllr Robert Savage (Con) asked whether it might be appropriate for the Mayor to represent the council.
The Mayor duly agreed to take on the role with all the enthusiasm of someone nominated to walk the plank.
Toil And Trouble
The cauldron threatened to simmer over on the issue of personnel and how the council treats its staff and reviews their job performance. A proposal to switch a behind-closed-doors working group into a full committee that meets regularly in public was rejected, after a prickly debate.
Vocally against were the councillors currently serving on the working group.
In the debate, Cllr Suzanne Nuri-Nixon (Lib Dem) fancied having her pumpkin pie and eating it, simultaneously decrying the increased time demands the move would have on councillors who were mere humble volunteers doing their best, while later also taking offence at the idea of outside professional HR advice being taken: “You’ve accused us of being unprofessional”.
Alright. Don’t take it personnel-ly.
“Wouldn’t this be something for the new council to decide on?”, she then suggested, referring to local elections to take place seven months after October’s meeting.
Just 85% the way through a four year term and already declaring themselves a zombie council?
Meanwhile Cllr Robert Savage (Con) was concerned about the wellbeing of the council’s highest-ranking employee, Trevor Gurney (Clerk), and his potential subjugation to a panel of councillors for performance reviews: “I don’t see a committee being involved as being anything other than bullying and intimidation”.
Scrutiny of power-wielding, unelected permanent staff by elected councillors? It sends a shiver down your spine.
Arguing in favour of the move were a group of councillors not currently on the working group.
Cllr Kim Carsok spoke of staff wages taking up around a third of the council’s budget and thus being deserving of a proper committee to oversee it. She felt it was also an area that brought the biggest legal risk to the council if things ever went awry.
For Tony Holden, it was the council’s duty of care to people in its employment that warranted dedicating more time towards. As an example, he asked the Clerk if a recently-departed staff member had been offered an exit interview. After initially refusing to respond, an answer was eventually squeezed out: “[the employee] was offered an exit interview and declined.”
Awks. No bad blood there clearly.
A narrow vote saw the working group remain and no committee set up.
The Ghost of Christmas Lights Future
The last item of business was to set up a “Time and Task” group to look at the topic of Christmas lights in the town centre for 2023 onwards. The current lights are owned and put up by the Town Team group of volunteers. Long-term Light Up Wymondham stalwart and organiser Doug Hodges is soon to hang up his icicles for good, plus many of the lights have seen better days. Depending on the group’s conclusion, the move could eventually see the Town Council taking on some responsibility for the yuletide illuminations.
An idea seemingly beyond the pale for Cllr Robert Savage: “suddenly everything seems to be devolving onto the town council as opposed to businesses taking ownership of their contribution into the festive atmosphere within the town” he lamented. In a further fit of unbridled pro-business Conservatism he added: “We’ll soon have the town council decorating shop windows for the businesses.”
If you own a local shop and your display is in need of spruce up, Mr Savage’s phone number and email are available on the Town Council website. No job too large or small.
Cllr Kathryn Cross offered up a speedy rebuttal: “I think one of the biggest complaints we get as a Town Council is what do we do for the businesses? And I think this is one thing we can do to bring people into the town and support our businesses.”
For Cllr Nuri-Nixon, this was another topic too important to resolve today, suggesting again that it be left to the next council instead.
With elections every four years, Town Council Watch wonders whether the next council shouldn’t then leave it for the one after that to decide, just to be on the safe side.
Tony Holden quipped that it might be an idea to get the ball rolling early, given the pace of other projects the council has tried to deliver before.
The vote saw the proposal adopted.
Queen Elizabeth Gardens
On the topic of slow-moving projects, in the new ‘questions to chairs’ section, an idea was mooted to change the name for the delayed “Jubilee Garden” project at Chandlers Hill to “Queen Elizabeth Garden”. The room seemed generally in favour and it was resolved to propose the idea formally at the next Leisure, Environment, Enterprise and Tourism committee.
Oh, the Horror
And that was that for another month. The councillors took to their carriages and headed into the dark and windy night. A flash of lightning. The horses startled. Igor slammed the castle door shut and bolted it tight. Goodnight, whatever you are.