26 June 2009

'Conflict of interest'

What is a 'conflict of interest'? Think about it this way - you work for a large company. You are responsible for purchasing goods or services for that company. Your brother-in-law owns or works for a company which supplies goods or services that your company could purchase. You seek tenders for a purchase and you ask your brother-in-law to quote. At that point you occasion a 'conflict of interest' because you have a relationship with a supplier which could influence your decision making process.

(Wikipedia has a very good section about 'conflict of interest' which, whilst not definitive, is extensive and a good guide to the issue.)

How does this relate to Somerton Town Council? It relates to Somerton Town Council, and all other similar organisations, where there can be a 'conflict of interest' between, on the one hand, the activities of a councillor or elected official in their public activities and, on the other, the activities of a councillor or elected official in their private or professional lives.

In Somerton, possible 'conflict of interest', could be represented by Cllr. Tony Canvin's position, privately, as a well established local developer/contractor, and his public position as a local and district councillor. Now, before the lawyers start sharpening their pencils, it must be understood that the fact or possibility of a 'conflict of interest' does not automatically mean or infer wrongdoing. A 'conflict of interest' can exist without wrongdoing. However, public bodies generally seek to avoid 'conflicts of interest' because they call into question the independence of decisions which usually have an impact of public finance.

This blog started as a result of statements made by Cllr. Paddy Keenan at a 'Village Hall' meeting held on 27th November 2006. At that meeting, and in response to questions from the audience, Cllr. Keenan stated that a) the budget for the then proposed 'Village Hall' would be handled by Cllr. Canvin and b) there would be no competitive tendering. These statements were explicit. The position described by Cllr. Keenan would, at the very least, infer possible 'conflicts of interest'.

However, the 'Village Hall' as proposed at that meeting, never came to pass and, in 2008, Somerton Town Council embarked on a course of action where there many instances where possible 'conflicts of interest' exist and should be investigated.

Somerton Town Council decided to sell Etsome Terrace to Edgar Homes in 2008. The Town Council did not seek a mandate from the community for this course of action.

At the same time, Edgar Builders (who share the same directors as Edgar Homes) sold Unit 8, Cary Court to Somerton Town Council. Somerton Town Council did not seek a mandate from the community for this course of action.

The directors of Edgar Builders (and therefore of Edgar Homes) are known to Cllr. Canvin, Cllr. Canvin having sold the site at Unit 8, Cary Court to them in 2004 for £105,000.

Cllr. Canvin was also directly involved with the 'Heads of Terms' negotiations with Edgar Homes which defined the terms of the sale of the Etsome Terrace site to Edgar Homes.

Since the purchase of Unit 8 Cary Court, much, if not all of Somerton Town Council's expenditure on the building has been undertaken by Cllr. Canvin.

Now, the possible 'conflicts of interest' presented by this muddle do not infer or imply any wrongdoing but they do undoubtedly raise concerns. Somerton Town Council could have addressed these issues had it put in place strict controls, checks and balances but it did not do so. As a result of that failure to act, it is fair to propose that Somerton Town Council can be held directly responsible for bringing both itself and Cllr. Canvin into disrepute in these matters.

Seeking clarity in this matter, the following is a letter which was sent to Somerton Town Council on 8th August 2008. Points 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 are specifically relevant.

Somerton Town Council failed to answer any aspect of these enquiries and it is fair to ask why? Had Somerton Town Council provided satisfactory answers to these questions, then the taxpayer might have been able to have confidence in the impartiality of the decisions which surrounded the Etsome Terrace/Tin Dunny transaction. The fact that the Town Council, far from providing satisfactory answers, failed to offer any response whatsoever must raise very real concerns about the integrity of the Town Council's financial activities.

Till next time, may your God go with you.


24 June 2009

After the beasting.........

Meetings of Somerton's Town Council are curious affairs at the best of times but last evening's gathering at the Tin Dunny was, even by Somerton standards, curiouser than most.

The meeting got underway in the usual manner and carried on much as ever until around 8:00pm when the Chair suspended the proceedings in order that they would not be minuted. What then took place was what can only be described as a 'ritual beating'. Paddy Keenan, in his guise as master of ceremonies, invited as many councillors as were so minded, to give full vent to their feelings about Muck&Brass.

It wasn't a terribly edifying sight and the purpose of the action, even in the cold light of dawn, still remains a mystery. Did we learn anything from it? Yes. We learned that at least one of Somerton's councillors understands that Britain is not Iran. Beyond that we learned little, other than the fact that the line separating rational thought from incoherent rant is very thin indeed.

Till next time.


23 June 2009

Uplift clause and effect.......

Regular readers of Muck&Brass have asked for an explanation of an 'uplift clause', mentioned in a previous blog.

Imagine you owned a piece of land and you knew that it had development potential but you didn't want to undertake the development yourself. So you put the land up for sale and receive a variety of offers. Those offers reflect the value of the land 'as it is' and both parties know that there is additional value in the land were it to receive a beneficial planning consent.

To make sure that you, the vendor, can receive a share of that future value, you insert an 'uplift' or a 'claw-back' clause into the sale agreement. This means that if, within a defined period (say 25 years from the point of sale) the purchaser obtains a beneficial planning consent ie gains consent for development or increases the density of an existing consent, then you, the vendor, will share in that 'uplift' in value.

So, take the example of the Etsome Terrace site. When Somerton Town Council sold the land to Edgar Homes the land had planning consent for 13 houses so the value was predicated by that level of density of development. If Edgar Homes decided, at a later date, to increase the density of development through a new planning application, say to 28 houses, that would effectively double the value of the land. Sadly for the community of Somerton, because Somerton Town Council failed to insert an 'uplift' clause into the sale contract, were Edgar Homes to seek increased density on the site, Somerton will not benefit.

It is worth noting that when, in 2001, Somerset County Council undertook a valuation exercise prior to their disposal of the site, SSDC Planning Department indicated that they would like to see 30+ homes on the site. So there is very real reason to propose that Edgar Homes will seek to increase the density on the site.

It is therefore fair to describe the failure to include an 'uplift' clause as a potentially huge and costly blunder on the part of Somerton Town Council and on the part of those individuals who negotiated the sale agreement. (As Muck&Brass understands, it was Cllrs Keenan and Canvin who were involved in the 'Heads of Terms' negotiations.) Viewed from the other side, Muck&Brass is quite certain that Edgar Homes are 'uplifted' by the situation.

Till next time, when Muck&Brass will look at 'conflict of interest', may your God go with you.


Picture this.......

19 June 2009

Every picture tells a story

A couple of months ago, Muck&Brass visited the Tin Dunny and asked the Town Clerk if the Town Council was able to supply some information. Muck&Brass wanted to obtain the figures for Somerton's Precept going back as far as possible. The Town Clerk explained that the information wasn't available (no surprise there) and that he (the Responsible Financial Officer) had never collected that data.

Knowing that all sorts of obstructions would be placed in the way of a formal enquiry, Muck&Brass dropped the matter until the 4th of June when Muck&Brass made a Freedom of Information enquiry requesting the information. But this request wasn't made to Somerton Town Council, it was made to South Somerset District Council. SSDC responded with a courtesy phone call to discuss the details of the enquiry and yesterday, 8 working days after placing the enquiry, the information arrived electronically in spreadsheet form. (It's worth noting that no charges were imposed upon this enquiry and SSDC couldn't have been more helpful.) A picture is worth a thousand words and the information is reproduced below as a graph.

If you click on the graph it will open in a larger version which will make the information clearer but the graph paints a very interesting picture. For clarity, the lower (green) line shows where the Precept would be if the Town Council had increased it by 5% per annum from 1992. In 1992/93, Somerton's Precept was £30,300 which, today, would only just cover the Town Clerk's salary. Had that figure been increased by 5% per annum then, today, the Precept would be £69,448 but that didn't happen. Instead, and starting in 1999/2000, the Precept sets off in a seriously upward curve (the blue line) which only flattens out in 2005/06. The difference between the money that would have been collected had the Precept risen by 5% per annum and the actual figures looks to be just shy of £1,100,000.00.

Looking at this information, the rate-payer would be justified in asking exactly what Somerton has received in return for this huge hike in Precept. Looking at the current accounts of the Town Council, the rate-payer is receiving a huge increase in non-productive bureaucracy with administrative overheads spiraling. At the same time, there seems to have been a great interest in construction work in the last 10 years but there has been no significant expenditure on community driven initiatives. The Town Council has never given more than 3% of Precept to community groups to enable their activities and the figure is usually around 1%.

Muck&Brass now hears suggestions that the Tin Dunny is costing around £1,000 per week, whether it is used on not. So the rate-payers of Somerton can look forward to further hikes in the Precept to cover that overhead.

The next piece of research will be to consider the membership of Somerton Town Council across this same period. That may show which councillors have driven this massive increase in Precept and it may also indicate which councillors, if any, have benefited from it.

Till next time, may your God go with you.


17 June 2009

A protester writes...........

A Muck&Brass fan sent in a cutting from the Western Gazette which is well worth reproducing here. The cutting is a letter published by the Western Gazette, probably sometime in 2006 and was written by a Somertonian, Judith Badman. The text of the letter reads as follows:

Hall decision a bad one
At the public meeting in July, I heard the Chairman of the Community Hall Feasibility Steering Group presenting the figures for halls around Somerton.

Small village populations of two to three hundred had built halls recently of the capacity of their populations or more.

Somerton's population is now around five thousand. Yet our town council has turned down the Steering Groups proposed hall for three hundred seated and a flexible design to accommodate the needs they have uncovered in their diligent researches, for a smaller hall, without separate rooms for smaller groups to meet, and which will hold fewer people for limited events.

Why did the Council set up a steering group? Did it ask the group questions about its research so that council members could be better informed to take a vote? How was the decision made and when?

As a council taxpayer willing to have backed financially the steering group's proposals, I am left feeling, at the least, most disappointed in our elected councillors.

I write in concern for our town.

Judith Badman.

Along with this cutting, Muck&Brass also received a front page article from the Western Gazette, probably from around the same time, which makes very interesting reading. The following is an extract from the article:

Members of the Town Council say it cannot afford to pay for a large hall, and that if it applies for Lottery Funding the building costs could spiral in the three or four years that it would take to receive the money.

Hindsight is a very perfect tool but it is worth considering what was happening in the darkest corner of the Bancombe Trading Estate during and immediately before the period in question. In 2001, AH Canvin bought land from the Chant family to add to the Bancombe Road trading Estate. In April of 2004 AH Canvin sold a parcel from that land to Edgar Builders who started construction of Unit 8 Cary Court. By the time of the meeting referred to in the piece noted above, the Tin Dunny was nearing completion and, were Muck&Brass to be really cynical, maybe discussions were already underway behind the scenes to put the Tin Dunny in pole position as the 'Community Hall'. Now, for that to happen, the Community Hall Steering Group would have to be ignored and, ultimately, disbanded. And isn't that just what happened? Spooky huh?

Till next time, may your cement truck go with you.


15 June 2009

The Stasi Charge

As you may know from previous entries, Muck&Brass is trying to gain access to Public Documents held by Somerton Town Council. Somerton Town Council, for their part, are doing their best to obstruct those enquiries. This obstruction was formalised at last weeks Council Meeting when, under Item 14 (Freedom of Information Act) the Town Clerk read out what seemed to be a badly prepared statement. This waffled on with a rehash of the Town Council's earlier letter to your scribe (see the blog dated 22nd May) and was quite baffling. So much so that Muck&Brass visited the Town Council Offices on Wed 10th June to seek clarification and the following is the situation as explained by the Town Clerk:

1. Having published the Model Publication scheme in January of 2009, Somerton Town Council has introduced a charging process for access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

2. A Search Fee of £25 per hour will be charged (if required).

3. Photocopies of documents will be charged at 5p per black&white A4 copy.

However, at last week's meeting, Somerton Town Council introduced an additional charge which is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act and not mentioned in their published 'Model Publication Scheme' dated 16th December 2008. This additional charge is Somerton Town Council's 'Stasi Charge' or 'Guarding Charge'. This will add £25 per hour for each and every hour that a member of the public looks at documents. Muck&Brass pressed the Town Clerk to explain the basis for this 'Stasi Charge' and the Town Clerk was unable to either explain or justify the charge or explain where it was supported by the Freedom of Information Act.

So, whilst Cllr Keenan states, within the Council Meeting, that no-one will be denied access to documents, the fact is that Somerton Town Council are, at the same time, increasing their charging scale and it can only be assumed that the intention is to obstruct or deny enquiries.

There is of course, one other possible explanation. Muck&Brass has already found the records of Somerton Town Council quite impenetrable. Records are not kept in the way that one might expect and it is quite possible that the Town Clerk ( £30k per annum plus pension ) isn't very good at filing. Its quite possible that the records are in such a mess that the Town Council has to spend hours and hours locating documents. That being the case, is it fair to try and charge members of the public for the short-comings of Council staff?

Either way, it would seem that the Town Council is in a bit of a mess. Maybe members of the public could help them out by making more 'Freedom of Information' requests. That might force them to put their house in order.

Till next time.


13 June 2009

Look in the mirror.........

Our revered Chair, Cllr Keenan, seems to be a decent chap and its only within the confines of Somerton Town Council's activities that his flaws become apparent. Take the last meeting of the Town Council on the 9th of June where, in response to comments supportive of Muck&Brass, he observed that Muck&Brass's approach was, "Never mind the truth, make it interesting.".

Muck&Brass would humbly suggest that Cllr Keenan takes a good long look in the mirror before opening his trap with that sort of comment.

In the pages of the Western Gazette dated Thursday 28th May 2009, The Gazette's ace reporter, Dave Nichols, wrote a piece of garbage about the Tin Dunny and the first line of the piece read, "Finishing touches are being made to a new £1M community hall to benefit Somerton residents.". Both Roger Calderwood (Town Clerk, £30k pa plus pension) and Cllr Keenan are featured in this article so one assumes that they approved the figure of £1M for the Tin Dunny which is quoted in the article.

Muck&Brass would ask a simple question - Is that the true cost of the Tin Dunny to the community of Somerton? Muck&Brass believes that the figure is closer to, or in excess of, £1.5M. What is Muck&Brass's basis for that belief? Its really rather simple. Nowhere in any of the published figures has the Responsible Financial Officer (the Town Clerk) noted the cost to the Community of Somerton of the ownership of the land at Etsome Terrace which was swapped for the Tin Dunny.

That land cost Somerton Town Council £220,000 in 2003 and interest repayments till September 2008 probably added another £50k. Then there was the demolition and clearance of the site (cost currently unknown) plus the 'contamination clear-up' which cost Somerton Town Council another £130k. Looking at these figures, you quickly get to £400,000 and there are sure to be other hidden costs. One hidden cost is the failure of Cllrs Canvin and Keenan to negotiate an 'uplift clause' in the sale contract for Etsome Terrace. As a result, Edgar Homes are able to increase the density of development on the site without having to share the increased value with Somerton. (Muck&Brass thinks that this is a pretty odd mistake for someone with Cllr Canvin's experience to have made.)

Muck&Brass is not suggesting any wrongdoing here but Muck&Brass is stating quite clearly that the costs to the community of the Tin Dunny are far higher than are being reported. Either Paddy Keenan and Roger Calderwood don't know how to add up or they can't tell the difference between 'the truth' and a hole in the ground.

So, Paddy, the next time you bandy about the term 'truth', make sure that you know what it means.

12 June 2009

I'm in heaven...........

Today was a great day. Not because my blood pressure was 140/70 but because I was able to spend time at the best cafe hereabouts, ArtTeaZen in Langport.

Its a truly inspirational place which, apart from serving great tea and toasted tea cakes, has a really good feel. The decor is Indian textile funk with a splash of Bash Street Viz about it and the music is consistently excellent, varying everywhere between classic rock and jazz but always interesting. Because of the care and attention that Jack, the owner, has lavished on it, the place attracts an eclectic clientele who add greatly to the experience.

I was lucky enough to take tea there this morning and share the experience with a housewife/superstar, a textile artist and a woman with a smile which lit up the room. How lucky can a boy be? If you were asking my advice, I'd say, "Be there!".

And that set me up for the day so I meandered back to Somerton via Muchelney.......

.....then along the A372 and onto the backroads at Pibsbury.....

....and back onto the A372 then left along Hermitage Road.......

.....and right, onto the B3153 where I ended up in the Skate Park to look at the graffiti that has so exercised some members of the Town Council.

If I was thinking of doing something about the graffiti it would be to send someone to graffiti school so that they could do it better.

Till next time.


10 June 2009

Council Meeting - 9th June 2009 - The Dunny

07:29 IT LIVES. Without visible means of support, Cllr Beale took center stage and made a presentation of flowers. 07:29 and the Meeting was called to order. Apologies from Cllr Neale closely followed by a welcome from our very own matinee idol to our new County Councillor, Jimmy Zouchebag, representing the rampant Tory horde. This was followed by ex-CCllr Clark's valedictory address where she summarised her 8 years and looked forward to more time with friends, family and dogs. 07:37 and Jimmy Zouchebag then addressed the meeting, telling the gathering that, "I feel very humble.". M&B assures the Zouchebag that this will be a passing phase and we can look forward to him becoming less humble as his term progresses. 07:38 and Paddy asked for questions from the public to the Zouchebag. Silence. Public Questions brought an enquiry from John Watts regarding littering in Somerton and the preponderance of Royal Mail rubber bands in Somerton. Mr Champion raised the issue of rubbish on the land adjacent to the Memorial Garden. Mr Markham then raised the issue of the lack of Minutes or Agenda on the Council website. M&B was gratified to hear that many people now read M&B to better understand what goes on in Somerton. In response, Paddy the K opined that M&B's position was, "Never mind the truth, make it interesting.". M&B says, "I'll deal with you later, you little whipper-snapper". Mr. Porch enquired about a possible loss of trees at the recreation area, a loss that could not be confirmed by Councillors. An unknown member of the public again raised the issue of speeding on the Langport Road and this developed into a wider discussion about: the soon to be installed Flashing Signs; the part to be played by 'Speedwatch'; the presence of the Police to enforce speed restrictions and culminated in Tiny Tony's observation that "Speeding will only stop when a proper camera is installed." Declarations of Interest brought silence and 07:50 brought the Minutes of the last Meeting where the description of last Meeting's ballot was discussed and the agreed term was 'secret paper ballot'. 07:51 and Matters Arising brought detailed info on the Speed Flashers which will move around six sites in Somerton. 07:55 and the 1st Responders project was discussed once again. 07:56 and a brief discussion about the SSDC Core Strategy document and clarification that 19,700 homes is the target for the whole of SSD for the period till 2026. This was followed by a brief discussion about 'Allotments' with the Chair asking John Watts to update the Meeting. Sadly JW wasn't in possession of any additional info and the Cahir advised the meeting that a field on the Bancombe Road had been offered but stressed that it wasn't owned by Cllr Canvin. (There was a collective sigh of relief at this point.) Cllr Canvin did state that, "It is good soil.", a comment which M&B assumes to be a reference to Cllr Canvin's site at Badger's Cross which was generally thought to be made up from tarmac. The meeting found Cllr Canvin's interjection hilarious. The TCl announced that the farewell service at Yeovilton could only accommodate one representative and Cllr Beale graciously stepped aside allowing Cllr Webber to attend. The TCl went on to advise the meeting that, following the Visitor's interest in advertising the Tin Dunny, the Western Gazette has offered a double page spread with a similar intention but to be paid for by those contractors who have been involved in its construction. The TCl went on to discuss the issue of Street Cleaning specifically in Broad St. Contrary to statements made by the Council, Mrs Mattingley informed the meeting that Mr Cooper (SSDC) had broadly confirmed her previously stated position. 08:01 and Planning came around with the hottest topic being a proposal for Hill Head House in New Street. Members of the Public brought various opposing views but they all displayed a fear of change. Beyond their fear and prejudice, there was little of substance to their objections. In comparison, and with the exception of Tony Canvin's bitchy asides, it was refreshing to hear the architect speak so clearly and reasonably about the meaning of Somerton's Conservation Area. He made the obvious statement that, "the conservation area is not a museum" and went on to refer to the essence of Somerton's Conservation Area as being "its variety". Sadly, these concepts are way beyond the ability of many Somertonians and Councillors to grasp and resistance to change is all that concerned the objectors and Councillors. 'ThemePark Somerton' was confirmed by a vote which, from where M&B sat, looked like 12 against with 1 abstention. 08:15 brought a discussion about a cafe application for West Street which wandered all over the place and included Cllr Beale dragging up one her pet subjects: the sale of food from the cafe opposite Tony's Fish & Chips (the best in the County). 08:24 and Reps Reports. Jerry Rees had little to report as did Martyn Smith, Jacky Medley, 'Invisble' Dave the tree man, Cllr Harrison had nothing to report and Cllr Webber could only bemoan the use of a waste bin on the Langport Road for..........waste. Cllr Deering reported an absence of "Bad Behaviour" in the Town. Cllr Beale seemed asleep so it was left to Tiny Tony to inform the Meeting that: all spraying had been done; all grass cutting had been done; various meeting were arranged; North Street is to be relaid in 2010 and the Cartway Lane drain pipe is being investigated. 08:35 and Jerry Rees raised the matter of the raised steps at the east end of New Street outside the previously discussed Hill Head House. 08:36 and the TCl introduced the Market Towns Initiative Group regarding available funding that will be subject to bids presented by the end of September. 08:38 and the TCl brought the Meeting up to speed with the Ped-xing on Behind Berry. In summary, the Ped-xing will be there or it won't happen. 08:45 and the issue of 'Rental Charges for the Tin Dunny' were discussed. The charges themselves weren't immediately available to the Public but after requests, Cllrs circulated their copies. It would seem that the Hall will be available for events (weddings) at £850.00 per day and 'sessions' seemed to cost around £320.00 (a half day?). These were agreed but will be subject to ongoing review. 08:51 and volunteers were requested for the Christmas lights working committee. 08:52 and the Portaloos were again a hot topic regarding cost, insurance and location. 08:56 and a Finance Committee would have been discussed but Cllr Neale was absent. 08:58 and the Freedom of Information Act was discussed in relation to your scribe's requests for information. This deserves a blog entry of its own and will be given one. 09:01 and the Chair's Report referred to the air display at Merryfield Airfield where all are welcome. This was followed by the appointment of Cllrs M Smith and N Bisgrove to join Cllr Bufton Tufton as 'Internal Auditors'. There followed a discussion addressing the local initiative regarding the futiure of the Old Town Hall. Colin Mattingley explained the general nature of the venture and the request that STC contribute towards the cost of the valuation (c£375) of the building. Cllr Canvin's position was expressed thus,"I don't see how we, as a council, can't spend this kind of money. We are putting public money into a private venture." M&B thinks that this is exactly what the Town Council has done with the Tin Dunny but to a rather grander scale. Oddly enough Cllr 'Mystic Meg' Morgan supported the idea but Tiny Tony wasn't convinced and with that, the TCl called for Agenda Items for the next meeting and the proceeds were drawn to a close at 09:10pm

8 June 2009

Who can you trust?

Its been a couple of weeks since I received the Town Clerk's letter where he sought to lash up some sort of pathetic justification for Somerton Town Council hiding their shameful secrets away from public scrutiny. In that letter, the Town Clerk touched on the subject of 'trust' and, whilst up till that time I had sought to view the Town Clerk as a neutral individual in matters involving the Town Council, that is now a view under revision.

Consideration of the Town Clerk's position caused me to look at various on-line job descriptions for the position of 'Town Clerk' and these make interesting reading. (Look at examples here, here and here.) What struck me most forcibly is that the Town Clerk is the Responsible Financial Officer of the Council and, as such, responsible for the administration of the Council's resources (financial or otherwise).

Now, if like me, you think that Somerton Town Council is run like a clown show then much of the responsibility must be placed at the door of the Town Clerk. There is legislation which defines how a Town Council should be run and most Town Councils, for example, publish 'Financial Regulations' to which the Council adheres. You can see Crewkerne's regulations here. To the best of my knowledge, Somerton Town Council publishes no financial regulations and its is useful to wonder why that might be and why the Town Clerk might allow the situation to continue. Might it be the case because it allows the Town Council to make up its own rules as it goes along?

With regard to the running of Council meetings, I have shown Somerton Town Council agendas to qualified observers and the response has been consistently negative. Technically, an agenda is described as follows, "The agenda is usually distributed to a meeting's participants prior to the meeting, so that they will be aware of the subjects to be discussed, and are able to prepare for the meeting accordingly." But Somerton's Town Clerk rarely publishes an agenda which informs Councillors, or the community, of the issues to be discussed and, again, it is useful to wonder why this might be.

Take, for example, the matter of the 'official naming' of the Tin Dunny. One would have thought that this matter would have been on an agenda as an individual item, possibly accompanied by a list of names under consideration. Maybe this item might have been brought into an earlier agenda to allow consultation with the community who have, after all, paid for the Tin Dunny. But no, there was no mention of the item and so it was sprung on a meeting by the Chair, Paddy the matinee idol, under the 'Chair's Report'.

Equally, if we go back to December of 2007, surely the Council agenda should have included an item regarding the Council's previously unpublished intention to include £750,000 in the 2008/09 budget for the purchase of a Community Hall. To the best of my knowledge, no such agenda item was ever published or discussed in public and it is fair to ask why the Town Clerk didn't include the item in the agenda, given his position as 'Responsible Financial Officer'.

I could dig up plenty of other examples of items which were either sprung on meetings without prior notification or were missing from agendas entirely but the point is that it is the Town Clerk's job to create agendas which fairly reflect the business of the Council. Our Town Clerk is paid £30 grand a year (plus pension) to do this sort of work but doesn't do it and it is reasonable to ask why not? Could it be that he simply doesn't use his brain or is he clueless about his responsibilities? Does he have any qualifications for the position? Does his employer expect him to gain a professional qualification as do many Town Councils?

As I don't know the terms of the Town Clerk's employment it is difficult to comment but what I do know is that by the standards of other Town Councils, our Town Clerk does his job in a very curious manner. He seems very good at obstructing the public when they ask awkward questions. He seems very good at not replying to letters. He seems very good at writing agendas which fail to inform.

My only question is whether or not he does these things naturally or does he do them under instruction. Either way, it doesn't seem to be the neutrality I might expect from someone in his position.

Till next time, may your God go with you.


2 June 2009

Everyone was on their best behaviour.........

Dateline: 26th May 2009
Location: The Tin Dunny
Event: Somerton Town Council Meeting

07:32 and the meeting kicked off with Apologies from Cllrs Medley, Morgan and County Cllr Clark and moved straight into the 'Main Event' - the election of the Chair and Vice-Chair. The Town Clerk asked for nominations and Paddy 'sidekick' Keenan presented himself as a candidate. Cllrs Beale and Webber fell over themselves to nominate Paddy, clearly overawed by his debonaire charm and matinee idol good looks. Also seeking the position was Cllr Martin Smith so ballot papers were handed out and the Clerk informed the meeting of a sealed vote which had been received from Cllr Morgan who obviously has a crystal ball and knew in advance who would be nominated. Voting got underway and after a careful count, Paddy was confirmed to the Chair for another year, by 7 votes to 6, with much swooning from Cllrs Webber and Beale. It is also worth noting at this point that Cllr Beale was clearly awake and participating, something that MuckandBrass has not seen too often lately.

07:37 and the Clerk asked for nominations for Vice-Chair and, once again, the Ugly Sisters raced to nominate the slightly less charming and less debonaire Tony Canvin. There were no other nominations and a vote was requested which resulted in Tony being confirmed in his Vice position for another year.

07:43 and the meeting then moved on to the Election of Committees where Cllr Ian Neale, again showing signs of moving forward with the times, proposed the setting up of a Finance Committee. I don't know if the Town Clerk understood the irony in his response when he said, "...........the item isn't on the agenda." I seem to remember that the naming of the Tin Dunny wasn't on the Agenda but it was, of course, discussed, so why not discuss the establishment of a Finance Committee?

07:45 and Mr Porch was lavish in his congratulations to the Council and specifically Tony Canvin for providing such a fine hall. Paddy jumped in to inform the meeting that, "it is not the intention to use the hall as a meeting room.".

07:49 and Barry Markham raised the issue of there being no Agenda or Minutes published in advance and the Town Clerk was gracious enough to apologise. MuckandBrass is advised that Agendas should be published 6 days in advance of meetings.

07:53 and Cllr Ian Neale proposed that the hall be used for a fund-raising line dance event. Cllr Bisgrove added some background explanation, at which point Cllr Canvin (our pillar of democracy) intoned that, "Its already been agreed." whereupon the Town Clerk chipped in, "Informally." Obviously if you want something done around Somerton Town Council you need to have an 'informal' chat with our Tony.

07:56 and Mr Porch was at it again, asking if there was a management committee for the Dunny. The Town Clerk confirmed that there was and the membership was Cllrs Smith, Harrison, Bisgrove, Webber and Beale with 4 un-named members of the public. At this point Paddy asked if Mr Porch would like to volunteer whereupon Cllr Neale (I'm beginning to like this guy) suggested that the Management Committee needed younger members. Cllr Canvin, someone to whom subtlety is only a rumour, barked, "Ian, you need to start living in the real world.". Cllr Canvin failed to elaborate on this interjection so MuckandBrass was left wondering what the Cllr meant.

08:00 and Declarations of Interest came around with the Town Council declaring a corporate interest in something and this led to Item 8 which was Minutes of the Previous Meeting where Cllr Neale raised a query about Item 4725. This led to a weird exchange where Paddy looked like he was needling Cllrs Neale and Rees over the conditions of the women's loos on the sportsfield. He seemed to be getting shirty about sub-standard work and was asking who did the remedial work and who signed the ticket (These are questions that MuckandBrass would like to ask about the Dunny and Etsome Terrace.) but before the matter could go any further the Town Clerk requested that the Meeting go back to the Minutes. Bravo!

08:05 and Matters Arising dealt with little progress on the Lease for the Wessex Youth Club, Portaloos for the Sportsfield and related insurance matters, Speed Indicator devices update, Somerton's 'Abandoned Car ', the letter from the Church Commissioners regarding the non-lease of the Parish Rooms, the Cycle Tour of Wessex (adjudged a big success) and finally a discussion about Police attendance at Council Meetings.

08:18 and the thorny matter of 'Finance' was discussed with the Schedule for Payments where the Town Clerk asked for comments and there were none so the payments were proposed and agreed. MuckandBrass hopes that, as the Town Clerk stated, the schedule of payments will continue to be published on a monthly basis in order that rate-payers can see where dosh is being sploshed.

Planning took us to 08:29 and 'Correspondance' where the Meeting was informed that 'The Visitor' has invited the Town Council to advertise the Dunny's facilities for hire. Cllr 'Bufton Tufton' Deering intoned that he was "absolutely in favour but would prefer to refer the matter to the Management Committee as it would need co-ordination." Then there was a discussion about the work done by the owners of the field at the bottom of Gashouse Lane and how they should be congratulated on their efforts to keep that entrance to the town looking good. This was followed by a discussion about the position of the bus stops on Behind Berry, then a request from the Rotary to use Cox's Car Park for a collection and an invitation from the retiring Commodore at Yeovilton for a representative to attend his 'passing out' do. Cllr Beale volunteered to attend leaving MuckandBrass to hope that the RNAS have a day-bed on hand.

08:39 and a letter regarding flooding at the bottom of the sportsfield which led on to a bried discussion about having a water meter fitted at the Parish Rooms. MuckandBrass wondered why it has taken STC 20 years to realise that meters are better than ratings for water bills.

08:48 and a new subject titled 'Late Post' which covered: the use of the bandstand at Etsome for Bandstand events; confirmation that STC CCTV footage had helped with a motoring conviction; an update on the ped-xing on Behind Berry where the Town Clerk confirmed that plans had been sent out (by SSDC?) and were not yet available; a 17 piece swing band were enquiring if STC needed their services at the Dunny; a weird non-sequiteur about supporting Somerton's PCSO and the Vice proffered the opinion that, "You can't park in Yeovil, Taunton etc, so why in Somerton."; the closure of the lease (MuckandBrass can't remember what this was about) followed by a VAT reclaim relating to Etsome.

08:57 and we had the speaking Chair jabbering once more about providing a car for the First Responders. MuckandBrass still thinks that a Town Council who can't find £2,000 to sort out public loos should be paying attention a bit nearer to home.

09:00 and Agenda Items for June marked the end of a suprememly boring meeting. In June we can look forward to at least a discussion about a Finance Committee. MuckandBrass is betting on nothing happening on this one till 2025 or when Tony Canvin retires to Miami, whichever is the sooner. SSDC's Core Structure Programme may be explained to the enthralled masses by a planner but MuckandBrass doubts it. Then, right at the end and with a keen sense of timing the Chair announced that there would be news about the alotolootments. Evidently Dave Wellington knows about it. MuckandBrass is on tenterhooks.

09:03 and another Meeting came to an end. MuckandBrass thought that it was pretty tedious but at least members of the public (all 11 of them) weren't entertained with red-card behaviour from the Chair and Vice. That is a welcome development.