FTC – a 21st Century Council

FTC – a 21st Century Council

FTC – a 21st Century Council

  • following his report on Whitby Town (Parish) Council, NICK HENDERSON reports on a fact-finding mission to Filey Town (Parish) Council – a very different kettle of fish.

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FILEY

Like something out of a Stephen King Novel, it really was a dark and stormy night; the rain cold, the wind bitter. Myself and fellow Real Whitby contributor, Nigel WARD attended the Filey Town (Parish) Council meeting of Wednesday 12th February 2014. Nigel and I had arrived in Filey in good time for the meeting, scheduled to begin at 7:00pm.

We had erroneously been directed to the Evron Centre on John Street, but arriving there we quickly discovered that we were in totally the wrong place. However, after some very fortuitous help from a local Police Constable, we soon arrived where we needed to be.

We were greeted in the foyer area by the Mayor, John SHACKLETON, and the Clerk, Gina ROBINSON, who appeared to have been anticipating our visit. The greeting was very warm, and friendly, with no sign of any sort of hostility to the presence of two contributors of Real Whitby.

I made no attempt to hide my camera equipment. (Readers might remember the reception given to me by Seamer & Crossgates Parish Council upon seeing my recording equipment).

After introducing ourselves to the Mayor, and outlining our intentions, he expressed his support for transparency made the request that we not begin filming until he had taken the opportunity to address the Council in relation to the issue. Given the friendly nature of the request, and the fact that we had been greeted so warmly I was only too happy to oblige.

Mayor SHACKLETON had indicated that he was aware we were legally entitled to film, but wanted to address the issue of the Councils’ Standing Orders (presently at odds with the law) with the rest of the Council, and allow all members to take into account what will be occurring presently in Council meetings all over the country.

Upon entering the Council chamber. we found over a dozen seats arranged around the room. replete with Agendas and other pertinent information. The chamber itself was well lit, and all Councillors were easy to see and hear – certainly no adverse acoustics or people speaking too quietly to for the human ear – which is what we were equipped with (in the words of Peter Cook).

The proceedings began promptly, with another warm welcome from the Mayor to all present.

Before beginning the meeting, as indicated the Mayor introduced myself and Nigel to the rest of those assembled and indicated that we were here to film the meeting, and then upload the un-edited film to a popular video sharing site. I was then invited to address the Council and describe my intentions and motives behind this.

I described my intention as being to encourage Councils to provide more access to the public, via the technological means at our disposal. I explained how making a recording of an entire proceeding would provide a totally accurate record of any Council business, which could also be referred to at any point in the future, by any one – including the Council itself.

Mayor John SHACKLETON then asked if individual members wanted to question me, which they did, about:

  • “what I would do with a video of the Council” – upload to a video sharing site.
  • “would it be edited in such a way as to discredit the Council?” – absolutely not!
  • “why did I want transparency?” – because it would help to re-build trust of the public (me included).
  • “could I provide the Council with a copy immediately after the meeting?” – not yet, but that facility is coming soon.

The last question was perhaps the most important. As a Council, they are wary of the possibility of being “edited” and made to look foolish. (They perhaps have yet to consider the long interviews that the Real Whitby crew did with the BBC, and the few short clips that were edited from that to present on ‘live’ television).

Whilst I could certainly edit the video, and perhaps raise a few cheap laughs in the process, there would be no real benefit in doing so. Additionally, it would give rise to the possibility that I wasn’t really serious about transparency in local government, when in fact I am deadly serious about it – so serious that I don’t feel there should be ANY secrets between Councils and the public they SERVE.

All members gave their opinions on what they thought of the idea of their Council being filmed. In fact, with one or two reservations, all were in amenable to being filmed.

One comment made was that “change is coming” and if filming Councils engaged a wider audience in the public it would be “a very good thing indeed”.

Throughout, the discussion was light, friendly, and the passion these Councillors had for their town and greater for greater public engagement was clearly manifested.

Certainly, no one raised their voice, no one called the Police.

Two Councillors noted that the Standing Orders for the Council did need to be changed to reflect the law and the changing times. It was then proposed that the Council address the issue of amending the Standing Orders at the next meeting. It was requested that since Councillors were aware of the law, and the necessary changes to the Standing Orders would be addressed, that I not film – so as to avoid placing the Council at odds with the existing Standing Orders..

I was certainly happy to oblige.

“Why?”, you might ask, and you would be right to do so.

For the simple reason that the Council, who (let us remember) serve their community most diligently, had dealt with me in a professional and courteous manner at all times. At no time was I treated like an inferior entity. Rather, I felt like I was amongst equals with a sincere commitment to serving their community – no silly ego games at this Council.

That means, unfortunately, that there is no video on this occasion, but that’s not where we end.

Nigel was invited to speak as well, and re-iterated that Real Whitby has no interest in making those in PUBLIC SERVICE look ‘silly’, or to ‘mock’ them. Rather, we have a vested interest in pushing an agenda of transparency, and openness in the domain of Public Service and most especially relating to anyone who might seek to use privilege of position to draw personal gain from the public purse.

The time taken to accommodate ‘Real Whitby’, filming and discussion with Nigel and I was in the order of twenty minutes. No-one could have called it a ‘row’ or a ‘disruption’. I would describe it as a Council embracing change, recognising the law, and serving the community’s interests.

The Council thanked Nigel for addressing them (something no other Council has done thus far), and the scheduled business continued without further delay. I certainly won’t bore the readers with a complete breakdown of the minutes of the whole meeting, although I did make some extensive notes. I will, however, give a bit of a run down of some of the items on the agenda. Item 4a was a report from Sgt Chris Gosling, of the local Police Constabulary. Rather than being a dry reading from a pre-prepared document, Sgt Gosling had sound knowledge of what he was talking about, was articulate, clear, and answered questions put to him in a succinct and professional manner. He reminded the Councillors that they were also ‘the eyes and ears of the community’ and if there were any matters to look into he would gladly do so. This prompted two Councillors to describe individuals walking along the railway line, which, aside from the dangers of trains, is trespassing. Sgt Gosling, gave his full attention, actually noted down all details and assured he would look into the matter fully.

A little while later, under issues of traffic problems in the town, Councillor Jeffrey MEEK raised the serious issue that Nick WEST, of North Yorkshire County Council notoriety, had made it clear that he would not be taking any action in relation to problems raised by FTC. Essentially, Nick WEST was suggesting that problems couldn’t be addressed until there was an accident. Surely this is unacceptable, and Nick WEST needs to answer directly to the people of Filey for why he holds this view.

County and Borough Councillor Sam CROSS (a former Mayor of Filey) provided a County report to the Council described the many problems in relation to roads/traffic, and how Nick WEST had even been to visit Filey on a ‘walkabout’ with some of the Councillors. This event was to highlight some of the serious concerns of the Council, and residents within the town. Councillor CROSS seemed deeply disappointed that little has been done to address these issues, but assured the Council he was certainly working as hard as he could to ‘get things moving’. It was pointed out that problems in Station Road/Scarborough Road junction had been reported to County Hall 18 months ago, and still nothing had been done.

Real Whitby question: Just what is Nick WEST being paid to do? Is he doing it? Answers on a post card (or comment below).

Borough Councillor Mike COCKERILL was on the stand to give his SBC report on issues taking place in the Borough Council a short while later, and was quizzed about the report provided by SBC to FTC. Another £16,000 spent on iPads! Councillor COCKERILL’s reponse to this was that SBC are “spending money to save money”. Quite how that works in the real world is beyond me, because last time I checked you had to save money to actually save money.

Councillor John HAXBY pointed out that reading the financial report from SBC was heavy going, that it was unclear and like reading “War and Peace” in a foreign language. He went on to state that lots of items “slipped in” to the report were not explained clearly, and items such as spending “£129,000 on EDRM” made little sense to anyone who didn’t have qualifications in IT. Indeed, the idea of the “G Cloud” might leave some readers wondering. The suggestion that £219,00 spent on “corporate desktops” could leave some with the impression that SBC are buying their Executive Officers desks with marble and gold inlayed tops. However, that is not the case. But why are we spending all this money with no justification or explanation about what it will all achieve? Where is our money going? We should be told. Councillorr COCKERILL didn’t have an answer for why such exhorbitant sums were being spent on IT provision that made little sense – nor could he explain what “corporate desktops” actually were when pressed by Councillor HAXBY. I was quite surprised that Councillor COCKERILL wasn’t more knowledgeable about how public money was being spent. He appeared defensive and confused and at one point resorted to the old legal dodge “I couldn’t possibly comment”. It was particularly disappointing to see him struggle to defend the Borough Council – against the appeals of the people who elected him. A very poor performance indeed.

During the Clerks report I found myself pleasantly surprised by the fact that I didn’t have to strain to hear what was being said. Gina ROBINSON, the Clerk, was clear in what she said, and with all items she talked about, was knowledgeable, and had certainly ‘done her homework’.

One item of note is a piece of land being sold by Scarborough Borough Council. Again, Mike COCKERILL was put on the spot with this, and asked what will happen to the proceeds of the sale. As he didn’t know he couldn’t give an answer. Various members of FTC were quick to note that in previous sales of Filey’s assets, money that was supposed to have been “ring-fenced” for Filey was spirited away never to be seen again. Last time was under John TREBBLE (the infamous former Chief Exec who was forced out following the Highpoint Rendell procurement scandal in 2005). Certainly, I agree that any sale of Filey’s assets should ensure that Filey and its residents see the benefit of all of the money generated.

We will have to wait and see how the sale goes, and just what will happen to the money. Councillor COCKERILL did make it clear he was “in the know” about how the sale was going, and that there were “interested parties” but he couldn’t say too much, because it could “affect the sale of the property”. All very mysterious . . .

The whole of the meeting was conducted with enthusiasm – passion, even – but in a very positive sense. The members clearly care very deeply about their community. There were one or two jokes and laughs and a general sense of amicable banter, but these enlivened the proceeding which was firmly directed towards making Filey a better place to live.

At the point where press and public were excluded from the meeting, I tipped my imaginary hat to the members present, and received friendly smiles in return. A very positive meeting indeed.

I did have chance to chat to several members during a brief ‘comfort break’, called because the meeting had lasted over two hours at that point. All those I had chance to talk to were positive about the idea of progressing the Council into the 21st Century and using various social media to engage more with the community.

I am sure that there are lots of people who will have much to say about FTC and the work it does. Thus far, I have only had the opportunity to see them in action on one occasion. The possibility exists, and I am sure it’s true, that FTC don’t get it right all the time.

In fact, I am sure that there are occasions when they have got things wrong, but what I saw on Wednesday leaves me with the impression that this is a Council to be proud of. Lucky Filey!

I conclude with a question, however, about why it is that other Councils aren’t so keen to engage with the people they serve. Why it is that there are Councillors who are desperate to keep the cameras out at all costs, and what it could be that they have to hide? In an age where we have CCTV on every street corner, why not in the Council chamber? What are we not meant to be seeing?

We fund these organisations and it is our right to scrutinise them with all the tools at our disposal.

I, for one, look forward to working with FTC more in the future, and to seeing greater transparency, openness and accountability up and down the country for all communities.

Filey, you have a Council that sets a benchmark for others in the area to emulate – a credit to the Councillors themselves, and the people who elected them. Bravo!
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KEEP_CALM

mike_cockerill_mugshot

12 Responses to "FTC – a 21st Century Council"

  1. Pete Budd  February 15, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Well done Nick and Nigel. Can you quantify the cost of a livestream trial for a parish council meeting, I think they might feel less threatened if they paid for the service. I had hoped whitby would be first of course. Congratulations to Filey

    Reply
  2. Alex  February 15, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Re: Nick West. I have wondered about his ability to design road systems in the past. The roundabout at Crossgates is badly designed, where the single lane (used to be two lanes) going onto a single lane roundabout encourages drivers to overtake (or undertake) other vehicles. There is only one lane so why doesn’t he mark it as such? Also on the A64 roundabout for Seamer, that is single lane yet for some strange reason, drivers think it is two lanes. When these problems are pointed out to the Parish council (Seamer and Crossgates in this example), they sent a message to N West, the reply was totally unacceptable. Sooner or later, there will be an accident there – it will be down to bad road design.
    What does he do for his money?

    Reply
  3. A Green  February 15, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Thank you Nigel

    As a member of the public who has attended meetings for some years, I must be the most frequent attendee who does not want to become a Councillor. As such, I think I can provide an unbiased opinion. Your report is comprehensive and I have to say, that as the Scarborough News no longer sees fit to attend to report Filey’s meetings on a regular basis, this is the only credible public report of that particular meeting in the public domain.

    For my part, you are welcome to film the proceedings – at least the public will actually see what their Town’s Council is doing for them! This is now denied to them.

    I can say that over the years, the standard of debate by Filey Councillors has been high. As they receive no pay or allowances (other than those for attending Courses etc. as part of their remit) this is has to be Local Democracy at its most cost effectiveness.

    By not having a detailed report of proceedings in the public domain, Filey Town Council is at a disadvantage when there are those who brief against it. A case in point :- Just a little while ago, local Ward Conservative Cllr Haddington made allegations against the Chamber about it being ‘disrespectful’ to Scarborough Borough Council. As Cllr Haddington had not attended meetings for a long, long while it is unclear how he witnessed what he alleged. My robust response to him was published in the local paper in the public domain and is on record, whereupon on further pursuing this matter Conservative Cllr Bastiman then stood behind his colleague. Cllr Bastiman is another entity who has seldom visited a Filey Town Council meeting. The point being, that it easy to misrepresent our Council as few individuals know what business is being transacted. In addition, not everyone likes to see spirited debate in a public forum, and certainly debate that they cannot censor.

    Filey Town Council is not a ‘Political’ Council. Our Councillors have both independent views and backbone, and this is reflected in Cllr Haxby’s landmark speech of a just a few years ago when he publicly stood up for his Town and his electors. This speech is in the public domain and I will make it the subject of a separate Post shortly.

    “Filey, you have a Council that sets a benchmark for others in the area to emulate – a credit to the Councillors themselves, and the people who elected them. Bravo!”

    Once again, thank you.

    A Green

    Reply
  4. A Green  February 15, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    Filey Town Councillor John Haxby’s landmark statement to a full Chamber as reported in ‘Filey Town Filings’ in July 2010. As a fearless champion for the people of Filey, his statement is as true today as it was then.

    Filey Town Filings

    Your Town – Your investment, Your future

    In Councillor Haxby’s latest statement to the meeting of Filey’s Town Council on 14th July 2010, he once again demonstrated his ability to cut to the heart of the matter regarding the question of the lack of funding provided to Filey. The debate that followed was to the usual high standard that this Council achieves. In this debate, full recognition must also go to Councillor and Deputy Mayor, David Murton. David is another long serving elected member who brought his considerable knowledge and experience to bear in a statesmanlike, well balanced and informative response. To those who are long in the tooth and remember such things – Councillor Arthur Stephenson was in the room that evening.

    With John’s permission, his latest landmark statement is published here in full and certainly forms the basis for a move towards Filey’s independence from the Borough.

    “Filey has been sadly betrayed and sold down the river by our Borough Councillors. I refer, of course, to the recent Borough Council decision to plough yet more scant Borough funds into the white elephant known as Scarborough Spa, following the holding back of £800000 by Yorkshire Forward.

    I do, however, applaud Cllr. Sam Cross for having the courage of his convictions to vote against the proposal. I challenge any Borough Councillor to find a majority of, if any, Filonians who support this doomed extra spending, at the cost of anything being spent in Filey for the next decade at least.

    Councillor Colin Haddington is quoted as saying ‘The Council will face criticism if it lets this historic, iconic, building to fall to bits’. This just shows how out of touch he is with the project as SBC figures state the £800000 would be spent on mainly air-conditioning for the building – nothing to do with the structural integrity, and certainly nothing that would cause the building to ‘fall to bits’ if the work were not done.

    I find it incredulous that SBC have managed to find £500000 in the contingency fund and have an under spend of £211000 in the 2009/2010 budget, which just about equals the £800000 shortfall. This stretches coincidence to the limit.

    There is no doubt that Yorkshire Forward’s days are numbered and it will cease to exist in the very near future. If I was a gambling man I certainly would not bet onScarborough ever seeing a penny of the withdrawn money. One extremely large gamble has been taken with our money. However, any sane person would have ensured the money was in the bank prior to embarking on such an expensive project. But typical of SBC and of all it’s capital projects, nothing goes right.

    The Spa never has, and never will, make a profit. If it is the Iconic building, the magnet for visitors, the bringer of millions of pounds to the Borough, why do we, as council tax payers, pay one of the highest rates in the country? We should be reaping the benefits and have reduced council taxes. The truth is it benefits a small minority at the expense of a very large majority.

    As I understand it, the Contingency Fund is now empty. But, can any normal person regard the spending of nearly £500000 on air conditioning, furnishings, and bar refurbishment work etc. as a reason to strip the contingency fund, a fund I would regard as being there for emergencies and unforeseen circumstances such as flood, plague and pestilence, not for such routine expenditure. What happens now if such an emergency arises ?

    Yet, Cllr. Fox is promising more projects for Scarborough such as the Sports Complex on Weaponess ( incidentally supported by one of our Ward Councillors who obviously does not appreciate the difficulties many in the southern part of the Borough have travelling to Scarborough in the evening ), the marina toilets and shower block proposal to benefit the few “yachties” who use or visit Scarborough harbour, the West Pier improvements, etc. etc.

    Filey and its council tax payers have been raped and pillaged for years to fund these Scarborough schemes. For at least 26 years, to my knowledge, we have been begging for community facilities within the southern area of the Borough. Survey after survey, poll after poll, town plan after town plan, has identified community facilities as the number one priority. Where does this priority feature in any SBC plans and actions – nowhere. We have been told to make a case such that it can be prioritised, scored and ranked – why. SBC automatically looks after Scarborough Town, as it is not parished, why should we, therefore, have to make our own case.

    We have been told that no money exists for any capital project for the next two to three years at the earliest. What is the point in us wasting time and effort proposing a scheme we know has no chance of ever coming to fruition. The time for begging is over. We have tried talking, reasoning and debating to no avail. I believe the time has come for home rule for Filey. We need to take our case, through our MP, to London. We need to question why a large town such as Scarborough can be so dominant over a relatively small town such as Filey. Surely a young person in any part of the Borough has the right to reasonable access to sports and leisure facilities. Surely our relatively large proportion of retired persons have a right to reasonable access to community facilities, surely the normal working man and council tax payer in Filey has the right to access exactly the same facilities as one in Scarborough. After all, they are paying the same, if not more, council tax.

    We are being treated like Pavlov’s dogs. Throw them a scrap now and then and they will keep quiet. A few pounds for the play areas, a few quid for the bloom group, a bit for the sports field, and they will roll over, do their tricks, and be eternally grateful. My recently produced figures show just how much Filey has lost out and is still losing out and these should form the basis of our case to London”.

    Ends.

    Reply
    • Tim Thorne  February 15, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      “Sports Complex on Weaponess”

      Complex it most certainly isn’t. Having looked at the plans, there is one indoor sports hall, probably suitable for five-a-side. Three squash courts and a average sized gym. There might be a swimming pool, if they get funding. I think they are paying upwards of £10million for it? Overpriced and underequipped it appears to me. We are being ripped off yet again.

      Reply
  5. Peter Budd  February 15, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Filey parish council has the power to create or maintain recreation grounds even if delegated this power to SBC in 1972. A request under LGA 2000 for an asset transfer of an existing tennis court , for this purpose, could not reasonably be refused.

    Reply
    • Tim Thorne  February 15, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      SBC would class the site as a development area if they had a whiff of anyone trying to transfer the tennis courts using a community asset transfer. This is how they stopped the transfer of the Futurist.

      Reply
      • A Green  February 16, 2014 at 2:53 pm

        Thank you gentlemen – all noted.

        Reply
  6. Councillor JB Casey  February 19, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Dear Nick and Nigel.
    I write this post in my role as an ordinary citizen and not as a Councillor.
    Thank you for attending Filey Town Councils last full meeting.
    I was happy to see your fair and accurate report of proceedings and can assure you that all meetings are like the one you attended.
    My view (speaking personally) is that the public should engage more with the Council and attend Council meetings. Transparency is the essence of democracy and I applaud your efforts.
    Once again, thank you for you excellent review.

    Regards

    John B Casey

    Reply
    • Nigel  February 25, 2014 at 11:32 am

      @ Councillor JB Casey:

      Thank you for your comments, John. And please excuse my belated response. I am not a regular reader of the comments sections here on real Whitby; there have in the past been some thoroughly obnoxious remarks and many wild allegations. Not infrequently, ‘threads’ are hi-jacked by unscrupulous and pseudonymous fanatics who make no pertinent contribution to what is intended to be an open and constructive debate. That said, I read your remarks with some satisfaction. There are many in public life who take advantage of the privileged information that passes through their hands for private gain. But there are even more who genuinely and sincerely bring their acumen and good judgement to bear in the public interest. I salute them. I will ask JH to pass my contact details to you. I look forward to meeting you soon. I think we will find much common ground.

      Very kind regards,

      Nigel

      Reply
  7. John Sellers  February 24, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Watched your programme on inside out and found it interesting. As a resident of Filey I like the concept of having the Council meetings made available to the public who otherwise would not attend, and am pleased that Filey has a council to be proud of. I know every councillor on Filey T.C. and am pleased to say that every single one of them
    wants to do the best they can for Filey, its rsidents and visitors. An excellent report of the meeting. Well done keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Nick  February 25, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks for the great comments John. :)

      I’m pleased that Filey has a Council to be proud of. It looks like they are going to be the council to lead the Borough into the 21st Century, by being open, transparent and embracing the changing times – and continuing to embrace the public they serve. Long may that continue.

      The question is, will others follow or will they have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the present day?

      Reply

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