28 March 2012

Changing of the (old) guard......

Since my post on 4th March, listing the major players in Somerton's Old Guard who spoke at the Public Meeting on 29th February, it has been drawn to my attention of a change in personel at Langport's Masonic Lodge 2038.

In early March 2012, Mr Paul Audemars, now one of the Old Guard stalwarts, was secretary of Lodge 2038 but, since 4th March, he has been replaced in that position.

Knowing that Mr Audemars was secretary of a Masonic Lodge did make me wonder whose interests he was representing when he joined in the continuing attack on the current Somerton Town Council. In this country, everyone is free to join whatever organisation they wish (with a few particular exceptions) and the Masonic Brotherhood has an enviable reputation for charitable fundraising. However, the Masonic Brotherhood also struggles with the burden of being, in the 21st century, less a secret society and more of a "society with secrets", the most intriguing of which is the membership of any given Lodge. 

It came as something of a surprise to me to learn that there are some 88 Lodges in Somerset under the 'Provincial Grand Lodge' including 2 in Langport, 4 in Yeovil and 9 in Taunton. There are also listed some 24 'Mark Lodges' and another 12 'Royal Ark Mariner Lodges' and I am unclear whether these 36 Lodges overlap with those under the 'Provincial Grand Lodge'. Whatever the case, it is clear that there is a substantial Masonic membership in Somerset and it is a reasonable to ask if, in his involvement with Somerton's Old Guard, Mr Audemars is seeking to protect or defend the interests of any of his brethren.

I doubt that I will receive an answer but it is reasonable to ask the question.  

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly

22 March 2012

South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation commission presided over by Desmond Tutu. Human Rights activists who looked forward to Reconciliation and peace at the end of the civil war in 2009, expected the LLRC (The Lessons learnt and reconciliation commission) to play the same role. But it did not due to various reasons. The main obstacle being that witnesses who came forward to give evidence before the commission were not given protection. There can be no peace or national unity without reconciliation and reconciliation has to be based on Truth and Accountability. (Quoted from this article.)

18 March 2012

The poison spreads........

In the light of last Tuesday's Council meeting, it was interesting to read an article published in today's Sunday Times on a similar situation unfolding in David Cameron's own constituency. The similarities are remarkable.

What is worrying is that other people are beginning to see that the abolition of the Standards Board for England might be a bigger mistake than anyone thought. Certainly, Minister Pickles clearly doesn't get the significance of the abolition. Or maybe he does. It may well be that Minister Pickles actually wants the ground floor of our 'democracy' delivered into the hands of self-interested Local, District and County Councillors. Maybe Minister Pickles is just hiding behind the 'Localism Bill' whilst he privatises this particular aspect of our democratic process.

Whilst I didn't attend last Tuesday evening's meeting, the reports that I have heard and read make it out to have been an unpleasant affair. Somerton's 'Old Guard' were in attendance and displaying the remarkable degree of 'denial' which has become their calling-card.

The disturbing aspect of their behaviour is the anger and intimidation that they display which, as is the case in the Cotswold example (above) can only be seen as suppressing the involvement of the wider community. In other words, obstructing democracy. But that was what Somerton's Old Guard has always been about. Plus sa change.............

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly

13 March 2012

From the archive

With the publication of the External Auditor's Report, I thought that it might be interesting to reprint the first M&B entry from way back in 2006. It makes interesting reading now that we know a little more of what was going on.

Village Hall meeting - 27th November 2006
Somerton never fails to surprise me. On the surface its a quiet west country town with quiet residents and a reserved demeanour. But still waters run deep as they say and last evening's meeting about the proposed town hall is a case in point.

The meeting was held under the auspices of the 'Somerton Community Hall Support Group' in order to report progress with 'the project'. The first half hour was taken up with an exhaustive Q&A session with a range of questions put to prominent town councillors. The questions dealt with the hall as if it were a live project yet the councillors made frequent reference to the fact that funding for the project would only be available if and when town assets were sold. And about that there was no certainty whatsoever.

That was an interesting position to take when, at the same time, the Town Council were also displaying three sets of drawings of what the proposed hall might look like. These drawings were not a set of rough sketches but a set of well laid out architects drawings, produced by Messers Boon Brown of Yeovil. So clearly, whilst the project hasn't any funding and whilst possible funding is entirely dependent upon other factors, the Town Council are issuing instructions to one firm of architects to draw up proposals.

Another interesting issue was that of a possible building budget. The figure mentioned last evening was £400,000 as this was the likely sum of money to be raised by the Town's sale of the Etsome Terrace site to the local Primary Care Trust. Now that deal has been abandoned before and there is no certainty that it will go through this time but the assumption is that the money raised in the sale will be used to build the hall. But there are a number of caveats around that sum of money.

Firstly, if the land is sold, any community hall project must be started within 3 years of the sale or the County Council has the right to claw back £140,000 of the capital. (They sold the land to the Town for the express purpose of building a new hall and this clause is inserted to make sure that the site or the funds arising from any sale will be put to that purpose.)

Secondly, the £400,000 is not unencumbered. Some £140,000 is 'profit' derived from the rise in land value since the Town bought the site. But the balance ie the purchase price, was funded through a loan which the Town is still paying-off and will be for some years hence. So, if £400,000 is brought to the party only about a third of that sum is 'free'.

Another point which was mentioned was how the building might be built or, more accurately, how the materials and labour might be purchased. It was proposed to the meeting that Tony Canvin, the well known builder and local and district councillor, would use his 'buying power' to negotiate the best deals. It was proposed that there would be no tendering evidently because tendering is a tedious process which doesn't offer any benefit.

Now this last point is interesting. If there isn't a tender document, how will the Town ever know what its getting for the money? If there isn't a tender document, how will the money be accounted for? If there isn't a tender document, how will the Town know what the specification should have been? The answer is that without a tender document the Town will never know what it paid for and there will be precious little accountability.

And this is 'local democracy' Somerton style. I wonder what the Audit Commission would make of it all?

More later.


9 March 2012

Rodney's Ramblings

The Western Gazette carries a report describing the Public Meeting held at the Tin Dunny (aka Edgar Hall) on the 29th February (The article is available in the 'Press Coverage' section of M&B). As the report describes, the meeting was well attended, particularly by members of Somerton's Old Guard including none other than Rodney Briggs. (Rodney is the husband of the current 'assistant' to the Town Clerk, Mrs Sherry Briggs.) Rodney made a rambling statement which is worthy of repetition here (please note that the capitalisation and punctuation are mine):

"We have just heard you repeat (Vice Chair read statement and letter) what seems to be Somerton Town Council's standard mantra for this business 'it was in the statement of fact' 'it was in the Auditor's revised statement of fact'. Who supplied the information for the statement of fact if it wasn't Somerton Town Council? The auditor was only in this office, in the council office for about half a day. After that you took it upon yourselves, I believe, to supply them with information. Am I correct? And you claim that you were doing it to save money, to save the costs of the Auditors coming to the office. Very laudable except when I put in a Freedom of Information enquiry to say how much money you saved, you couldn't answer me. You said, 'we don't know, ask the Auditors, they keep careful records'. But none-the-less, the Auditors received the information for this famous statement of fact from Somerton Town Council. Now this worried me a lot because our chairman was in charge of that operation and he demonstrated considerable bias against his predecessors in a meeting when he said, 'there's no smoke without fire'. So why on earth are we sitting here listening to this nonsense that's cost us so much money when quite frankly I think the whole thing was a complete stitch-up and we've just heard more of it."

From my reading of Rodney's contribution, and from my experience of Rodney in the past, Rodney isn't really interested in 'Public Documents' or the Public's right of access to such documents and, in that regard, Rodney has much in common with the Keenan/Canvin regime. No, it would seem that Rodney is bothered about the source or sources of information describing what went on within Somerton Town Council pre-27th October 2009. I don't know if Rodney is being deliberately thick but the source of that information is Somerton Town Council's own records, the very Public Documents which the Keenan/Canvin regime went to such extraordinary lengths to keep secret.  

When I started to research the Public Documents held by Somerton Town Council I was very quickly denied access by the Town Council. Ultimately, the Information Commissioner ruled against the Town Council but the Town Council's actions seemed to me to indicate that they would very much prefer that I did not have access to their records. Like Rodney, this worried me a lot and I did consider that there might be documents in the records that the Town Council would wish to hide. What I did not consider, and what the External Auditor has shown very clearly, was that it was not 'documents' that were the real concern. The real concern was the 'absence of documents'.

It is clear from the External Auditor's Report that Somerton Town Council was transacting much of its business in breach of its own rules and regulations and, as a consequence, decisions were taken in secret, out of public view and without any formal record of who did what, when and on whose authority, if any. But the failings catalogued in the External Auditor's Report were not isolated incidents. They were, in fact, more contemporary illustrations of a well established culture within Somerton Town Council which stretches back to 2002 and probably well before that.

Speaking personally, I doubt that the true scale of unlawful activities undertaken by Somerton Town Council will ever be fully understood. The records of Somerton Town Council, prior to 27th October 2009, were maintained in order to obstruct enquiry and I doubt that anyone will ever take the time to find out what was going on in previous years.

As I have often said, Somerton Town Council (pre-27th October 2009) was the perfect illustration of a delinquent Council, willing to ignore both its own rules and Parliament's legislation. People like Rodney should be concerned not about sources of information but about what the information (or lack of it) says about those that it describes.

Till next time, I'm still

Niall Connolly

7 March 2012

Raybouldi declared insane.
News from colleagues of internationally renowned criminal investigator Gary Raybouldi suggests that the great man has gone completely mad. Un-named sources say that the stress of the failed 'Crockery Investigation' has caused Raybouldi to crack completely. At present he is held at a secure unit in Castello Pitnino where reports state that he spends his days dressed only in an outsize diaper and endlessly repeating the phrase, "It's a conspiracy". Raybouldi is not expected to return to active duty and will probably see out his time behind bars and well away from the public eye.

4 March 2012

2 March 2012

A minor rebellion......

Last evening's meeting at the Edgar Hall was a profoundly depressing experience and, in my own view, indicated that Somerton has far further to sink before it reaches the bottom of the cesspit that was and remains the Keenan/Canvin administration.

On the surface, the meeting was held as a legal requirement in order to allow the community to consider and respond to the findings of the Auditor's Report in the Public Interest. What actually happened was that Somerton's Old Guard, present in strength, made it clear that their Somerton is a feudal settlement where the rule of law, as is generally understood in the rest of the United Kingdom, simply does not apply. Let me explain.

The deal that exists between the electorate and Parliament is that the electorate agree to give up certain freedoms and in return receive certain securities from Parliament. The electorate agree to pay tax and, in return, Parliament ensures that the taxpayer's money is spent according to the Law laid down by Parliament. That Law legitimises the collection of tax which, without that Law, would be nothing more than common robbery.The Law also delivers transparency in fiscal matters which ensures that the taxpayer can see what is spent and by whom. The taxpayer can also expect explanations as to how expenditure will benefit them and, through 'declarations of interest', the taxpayer can see whether representatives are spending taxpayer's money in the taxpayer's interest or in the interest of their representatives.

So, Parliament lays down Law which governs how government spends taxpayer's money and, in the case of an objection to (for example) Somerton Town Council's accounts, Parliament sends its representative, the External Auditor, to examine Somerton Town Council's records.

In this process, the External Auditor's report was a detailed examination, by Parliament's representative, of how Somerton Town Council made decisions. Parliament's representative found that Somerton Town Council had behaved unlawfully because Somerton Town Council had ignored the Law set down by Parliament in order to protect the electorate and the taxpayer.

However, on Wednesday evening, Somerton's Old Guard, represented by Raybould (T), Keenan, Medley, Briggs, Audemars and Mountain, stated that they have decided to support the disposal of taxpayers money, not according to the Law laid down by Parliament, but by their own rules or by the rules imposed by their friends.

On Wednesday evening, this mob faced a statement from Parliament's representative stating that Somerton Town Council (under the Keenan/Canvin administration) had broken the law. The Mob's first response was, initially, to say that they had not but without providing any supporting evidence other than retrospective and collusive claims. Then they accused Parliament's representative of bias. But, at the end, Mountain went rather further when he admitted that Somerton Town Council (under the Keenan/Canvin administration) had broken the Law laid down by Parliament but that, in his opinion, the Law laid down by Parliament did not apply in Somerton.

Mountain said this: "I beg us, I beg you Chairman, to put an end to this acrimony and admit that although some matters may have been dealt with in an unorthodox manner and outside the realms of certain guidelines, this is all the Auditors can tell us, which 'unlawful' may mean, results have been achieved which otherwise would not have been possible." 

Here, Mountain is dismissing the rule of Law, Parliament's own legislation as "certain guidelines" and excusing the flouting of Parliament's requirements as being, "some matters (which) may have been dealt with in an unorthodox manner ". 

Make no mistake here. Somerton Town Council collects tax (the Precept) under Law laid down by Parliament and must dispose of tax according to the same Law. Parliament's representative, the External Auditor, found that Somerton Town Council had broken the Law and Mountain, an ex-Chair of Somerton Town Council and ex-District Councillor, is dismissive of Parliament's concerns as expressed by the External Auditor. The mob, of which Mountain was a part, were, in effect, declaring independence from the Law as laid down by Parliament. Mountain was also willing to threaten if he was not given what he felt was the time he needed to make his position clear. Clearly these individuals represent an un-democratic cabal of some strength and determination. 

1 March 2012

Surprise gig at the Edgar Hall

From M&B's art correspondant.
This evening's concert at Somerton's premier music venue, the Edgar Haul, was a surprising affair which, in the final analysis, didn't quite live up to expectations.

The world famous 'Somerton Weeping Strings' made a surprise appearance with locally renowned harpy, Tina Raybould, making a rather inept rendition of 'My lies don't make you love me'. Tina deserves a better reputation than she has and some blamed her fellow band-members. There is no doubt that a change of personnel might help the public see her in a better light. She also needs a page-turner to help her in the more complicated passages.  Little known but long-time folk vocalist Pat 'no rules' Mountain, fresh from a tour of West Indian dives, came on strong with a radical reading of '47 years in this old town' which he followed up with his signature piece, 'ain't no law near me'. Pat, who was once some sort of politician, has clearly fallen out of love with democracy and prefers howlin' at the moon.  Another new talent to showcase their skills was silver haired Paul 'tick tock' Audemars, immaculately dressed and a real master of the dividers and set-square. Many people commented on his silky touch with these instruments which are notoriously difficult to master.

An  act which promised much but, ultimately disappointed was Paddy 'the chair' Keenan who did a turn on the barrel-organ but the audience clearly thought that the monkey was doing all the work. Also taking part but looking rather older than his publicity photos was the reclusive maestro Chris Edgar who went for it with a rather tired rendition of 'You're a Liar', followed up with a rather weak version of 'He done me wrong'. Chris is another musician who needs more conviction. The audience didn't seem convinced but you had to admire the man's enthusiasm. At Edgar's side was another local institution, none other than old shiny head himself, Vic 'big numbers' Medley who brought his own brand of surrealism to the washboard. Counting time has never been Vic's strongest suite and we were all left wondering if he is just a bit past his sell-by date.

Its sad to report that the Edgar Hall gig saw the sun setting on one of those who was once one of its brightest stars, Rodney Briggs. Rodney has had a tough time over the last few years and he has clearly let his talents wither. His vocal control has lost the mesmeric quality that it once had and many commented on the fact that his material is just tired. We've heard it all before. It was sad to see some-one, once sharp and sparkling, brought so low.

Sadly absent from the performances was Italian contemporary master, El Canvino. Canvino was expected to debut his latest piece titled 'iL Covenanto' which it is rumoured to have been created for massed earth-movers and solo tractor but it was not performed. 

All in all, it was a bit of a disappointment and it was clear that the performers themselves were a pretty dispirited bunch. The honesty just wasn't there. It looked like they were sleep-walking through the wrong score, like they were stumbling into the street after one too many drinks. The problem is, as with all artistes, that they just won't hear the truth. They won't look in the mirror and face the fact that their problems are of their own making. They want to blame everyone else for their lacklustre performances when the truth is that they need to do their homework. They need to practice. They need to rediscover their inner truth. People just won't go on paying to hear the same old rubbish.