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In the first of what we hope will become a regular feature for Real Whitby, Local Councillor Mike Ward is interviewed and speaks openly and honestly about life in Whitby on both a political and personal level.
Real Whitby wishes to thank Mike for being the sites first interviewee and also for his open, honest and very elaborate responses to our questions.
1. How long have you lived in Whitby. If you were not born in the town can you tell us a bit about where you were born, where you have lived through your life and what brought you to Whitby.
I have lived in Whitby since 1966 though originally from Liverpool,hence my passion for the Reds.After qualifying as a teacher I taught for a year at my old school before moving north in ’65,a year before my wedding to Val, to teach at Billingham. Campus.On a day out in Whitby in June ’66,we passed Gray’s Estate Agency and saw the house we live in now for sale. Therefore almost 45 years in Whitby but of course still an incomer.
2. What are your 10 most favourite things about Whitby (These can be anything at all). Please be as elaborate as possible and say why each item is in your list.
My home;the sea,the coastline and the moors;the scenery/views looking in,around and out of town;the fish with some very good restaurants and pubs;the fact that there is a right way,a wrong way and the Whitby Way;the passion for the Town shown by many;the standard of education at EskdaleSchool;the number of people working in trying circumstances but giving their all to the Town.
3. What are your least favourite things about Whitby (These can be anything, like people, buildings, seagulls etc). Please be as elaborate as possible and say why each item is in your list.
The state of hospital services.We need key services maintaining and above all a 24/7 minor injuries unit.The current hospital should be redeveloped and/or a new unit built with the current site sold off (the charge of £1m on the building is unsustainable).The poor ambulance coverage in the area – three ambulances covering such a vast area.The educational system brought about by buildings rather than student need – the lack of investment by NYCC. The less than adequate youth provision in the area.The poor transport infrastructure.The damage that has been done in the town by poor architecture/planning (the hospital,the police station,the library,the Harbour Office etc etc),weak project management (Beach Management Centre etc) and very little asset management.The few people who do not check facts before commenting.The increase in a type of day visitor who come to walk and admire the scenery without attempting to put something back into the local economy. 40p to spend a penny in New Quay Rd (West Cliff toilets are now free as are the Marina).Proper parking provision in the Town – the current meters should be replaced so we can give those who pay community charge a reduction in the cost.The price of petrol – approx 5p a litre dearer than out of Town.The lack of supermarket competetion though this and petrol prices might be addressed in 2012 with Sainsburys.The lack of employment opportunities and affordable homes.
4. On a personal level, what are the highpoints and best achievements in your life to date.
Marriage,2 daughters and now 2 grandchildren.A successful,rewarding and challenging career (10 years teaching followed by 32 years with an international publishing company).Election to SBC which gave me a new opportunity and chance to put back something into the area.Liverpool’s comeback win to take the Champions League Cup and the recent defeat of Chelsea ( together with the Torres substitution !)
5. Again, thinking on a personal level, what are the low points of your life to date.
I have been more fortunate than many people and I can’t really say there have been low points rather opportunities to reassess and move quickly on.There is little point dwelling on the decisions of others but instead grasp what life has to offer.Much better than the alternative.
6. You recently resigned from Whitby Town Council, can you tell us what was behind that decision. Would you ever stand for re-election, if yes, what would have to change before you made that decision.
Financial/business planning and a failure to tackle what they could possibly achieve.The decision had been coming for a little while but the final straw was the vote to attempt to purchase the old Magistrates Court and potentially saddle the Town with a large debt going forward.There was a comment made that Whitby Town Council couldn’t function properly without a Town Hall.There well might have been a case made for finding new offices especially if the Museum and Art Gallery became a separate charitable Trust to which all the local parish/town councils made a contribution.However here the decision was being taken without a proper structural survey and without a business plan.Following the property debate there was to be another on joining the National Park.Again I knew I would find myself at odds with a key group within the Council as I cannot see the need for another tier of governance where there could well be even less affordable homes and an overall increase in property prices.Would I stand for re-election ? If a Museum Trust was formed and the Town Council was restructured ,got back to basics and tried to take the lead on the issues SBC would devolve such as a Town Plan,public seats etc then possibly.It would however need others with a different mind set to be involved.We cannot just criticise SBC on every issue but rather we need to work with them to ensure the resident’s voices are heard and we improve in the areas they do get wrong – a partnership in the best interest of Whitby.The current governance arrangements are in place and we have to work within them to improve the area for residents.The atmosphere in the Council Chamber and the reactions of some councillors to others and at times the general public would also need addressing
7. Local issues campaigner Tom Broderick recently told Real Whitby that he felt it was wrong for councillors to resign from the town council, saying that they should stay in place and represent those who elected them. Taking into consideration your own resignation, what do you think of Toms position on this issue and do you still believe you did the right thing in resigning.
Tom has campaigned on many important issues.He has a right to his opinion.At times we will disagree but that shouldn’t stop openness honesty transparency and good debate/discussion.In the case of the Town Council I wasn’t elected but co-opted.I misguidedly thought I could help to bridge the gap between the two Councils.On Tom’s specific point I think if you were elected at the ballot box you should stay but if coopted or elected unchallenged I believe resignation it is down to the individual’s own conscience.However resignation is always preferable to someone remaining a councillor but not taking part in meetings etc (see question 15)
8. With both your borough and town council hat on, which committees have you sat on during your time as a local councillor.
On Whitby Town Council I was on the Finance Committee for a few months.At Scarborough I am on Planning,Audit,Northern Area,Corporate Strategy and Projects & Partnerships.I have also been on a number of task/working groups – eg Whitby Piers,Whitby West Cliff,West Pier Scarborough,Benefits, & Constitution
9. What do you know of the recent “Arriva £25,000″ issue. Also what do you make of this matter and its subsequent handling by the town council.
Nothing.A reference was made at a full Council meeting suggesting some form of local investment/compensation but the matter was left to the transport working group who had raised the issues originally to take the matter forward.Up to the time I resigned nothing more was said.What I fail to grasp is the time it has taken to progress the matter if this level of compensation was on offer.
10. Have you any idea why minutes are missing from the Whitby Town Councils meeting with Arriva in June.
No – I only realised a page was missing from the entry on the website after the Arriva £25k issue was raised at the Northern Area Committee Meeting
11. Real Whitby understands that the town council clerk was sacked from her previous position with a similar council. Have Whitby Town Council made the right decision in appointing her. Do you believe that everybody deserves a second chance in life.
I do believe people deserve a second chance though this would depend on what they did and what any second chance involved.I had grave concerns re the interview process for a Town Clerk and these were well documented at the time.Information was in the public domain (ie not confidential) but I was taken to Standards for releasing confidential information ! My request to fellow councillors was to ask a series of questions of all the candidates being considered for the position.Without being privy to the answers obtained it is impossible to answer the question.However hopefully going forward and following the ruling of the Standards Committee WTC will have correct procedures in place with regard to their policies.Whether the decision was right should be judged by how quickly the Council gains quality status,which was,I believe, a requirement of any appointee,and how well the finances are managed going forward.
12. How would you see Whitby managed in the future. Should we stay under Scarborough Borough Council? Perhaps you would like to see the local town council gain more power. Or maybe you feel the town should be managed in some other way ?
My prefernce would be for District Councils (ie SBC) to disappear and have a single County Authority.However North Yorkshire would need to be smaller – ie split in two – with one Authority based on Malton.Below that I would like to see larger Town/Parish Councils with one for Whitby and District – a new cluster of parish/town councils for the whole area.
13. Thinking about Borough Council politics, what do you think of the Conservative monopole of the borough council cabinet.
SBC is a Conservative controlled Council – they have 23 members with 10 in the Northern Area.There has been lack of investment in Whitby for some time and I am not sure why given the10 local Conservatve Councillors.Whitby & District Conservatives really have a controlling influence in their group.I do not believe in politics at the local level and Councillors should not be subject to any party whip/influence.The parties say there is no whip but in my 4 years on the Council every party has always voted on bloc – if a party member has disagreed they have abstained rather than voting with their conscience.The only group who have not voted as one on every issue is the Independents.Every issue should be judged on what is best for local residents.There is a chance to change the balance at the forthcoming election.
14. Real Whitby has been told that from May this year the new council leader will be able to choose his own cabinet. Is this true and do you see it as a positive move ?
From May a leader will be in place for 4 years and he/she can appoint his/her own team.This makes the next election more important than ever before.Is it a positive move ? – we will have to see after the next election and how the leader uses his/her power – maybe cabinet won’t be based on party numbers but on the ability of councillors to do the jobs.
15. Looking at the attendance levels of some councillors at borough council meetings, some are not attending meetings, and worse still some are not sending apologies. How do you feel about this ?
Shocked and dismayed whilst ackowledging there are often valid reasons for some absences. Some however come in as a Councillor not knowing what is expected and realise after the election that because of work/family committments they cannot fulfill the requirements.One very good Councillor resigned because of this but others stay with little or no imput.If you can’t do the job you should resign to allow someone in who can give the time.To be part of the process and to be able to help those who request your input I believe you need to give approx 3 days of your time.
16. What do you see as the major political issues facing Whitby in the next 5 years.
Investment around hospital services,transport infrastruture,education,youth provision,maintaining front line services and overall asset management.Creating jobs and providing affordable homes.
17. If you could change 1 thing about Whitby, what would that be ?
Welfare of residents – in this I include particularly medical services,education,affordable homes and work opportunities.If ‘Welfare’ is too broad and I was forced to pick one then I would say hospital services.
18. You will be familiar with the organisation called “Free Whitby” what are your thoughts on that organisation.
I have been told on numerous occasions that there is no such organisation rather individuals with ideas.Some of the ideas I can support others I can’t.It comes down to what is necessary for the well being of the Town,what is achievable and what is the best way to achieve it.
19. It has come to light that several people who have wrote challenging letters to Scarborough Borough Council have now been labelled as “vexatious”. Further to this many people who write to Scarborough Council simply have their letters and emails ignored. How do you feel about this policy of Scarborough Borough Council employees/representatives.
I oppose the vexatious label.However simple questions should get simple straightforward replies.No e-mail should ever be ignored and I would hope that a policy to reply to/acknowledge e-mails within 3-5 working days would be in place.An issue could be that if the answer is not accepted then many more e-mails can be generated without really taking any argument further forward.The e-mail to whom the question is addressed is always received and if no reply is sent I always send a simple reminder the following week until I do receive a reply.Maybe the first e-mail should be addressed to the person who is responsible for the issue raised and then if no reply is received start to widen the ‘copied in’ box on each reminder.
20. What do you think about the freedom of infomation act in terms of members of the public now being able to access documents and statistics held by Scarborough Borough Council.
I am totally in favour of openness,honesty and transparency whilst accepting at times a very small number of issues may need to remain at times confidential.There is a basic need of a right to know.
21. Finally, what do you think of Real Whitby Website. Has the site got a future and what will you be able to contribute to the site in future.
The site is well designed and very useful.I do try to look at it 3/4 times at week at least.Every article should try to be balanced especially if dealing with a specific group or individual – both sides of any story should be heard at the same time if possible as it creates better informed debate.Where someone is commenting on an article and another person/councillor is mentioned it might be good to have some way of ensuring that person is alerted to the fact – a link – as it is not always possible to read every comment. I would always be happy to contribute as a Councillor or as an individual.I will ensure letters to the Gazette also come to you.I am always available by phone and e-mail and will always respond as I do to others.If you need a comment on any meeting,development etc just ask.