Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Old school or open shirts

PETER Halse, chairman of East Devon District Council, is old school. 

Mr Halse has an impressive record of public service to his town, Honiton, and to East Devon and has asked his councillors to wear ties at council meetings. 

He has also asked councillors not to bring hot drinks and refreshments into the council chamber. 

Being elected chairman of East Devon District Council is the pinnacle of long service in local government. He believes in standards.

But local government is not what it used to be.  

When I first started out, nearly 50 years ago, covering council meetings in Honiton and Axminster, there was a definite dress code. 

Ties and smart lounge suits were the order of the day. No one flouted that code and I can imagine what the indomitable D.F. Baker, chairman of the old Axminster Rural District Council, would have said had one of his councillors turned up without a tie.

Having spent thousands of hours over the years covering council meetings at all levels – from the most humble Devon parish meeting to Tower Hamlets Council in London when the first BNP member was elected, I suppose I’m a bit old school myself. 

I wore a suit and tie on first day at work for the Express and Echo in Honiton. It was expected. I still wear a suit on most working days, but not always a tie.

As I say, these are changing times. Ties are definitely a thing of the past in the media world, especially in London.  My son works for a national newspaper and is now allowed to wear smart jeans to work.

Douglas Hull started his long career in local government at the same time as I became a cub reporter. He too wore a suit and tie at all meetings.

But Douglas has always been a bit of a non-conformist when it comes to  fashion (and indeed beard colours!) and he has jumped to the defence of his fellow councillors at the Knowle who are not dedicated followers of fashion.

His argument is that you don ‘t have to wear a tie to be a good councillor or participate in stimulating debate. And of course, he is right about that.

During my career in covering local councils, I have seen councillors turn up in shorts and on one occasion a councillor came dressed as Dracula as he was going to a fancy dress party after the meeting.

That, I think, is going too far and had I been chairing that meeting I would have sent him home to change. 

Very few people see councillors at work. Not that many are interested in local government and rarely if ever attend a council meeting. However, when our elected representatives are meeting the public,  I think it is important that they look smart. 

IT’S been a popular misconception since local government was reformed in 1974 and the newly created district council decided to base itself in Sidmouth, East Devon’s premier resort.

For years the inland towns argued that Sidmouth always seemed to get the best deals. There are those who still think that way.

So can Honiton look forward to becoming East Devon’s favoured town if and when EDDC move their offices on land  the council already own at Heathpark?

Mural will smarten up 
entrance to the town

A FRIEND of mine who does not live in Axminster phoned me last week to say: “I see they’ve started work on that horrible eyesore”. He was, of course, referring to Websters Garage.

People who live outside Axminster cannot understand why the Websters debacle has been allowed to go on so long. Let’s be frank. The people of Axminster can’t believe it either.

My pal was referring to the hoarding that has gone up outside the garage in readiness for the art project being planned by Axminster Arts. As an outsider he knew nothing of the art project and was rather disappointed that the site was not being redeveloped.  Many people feel the same.

But it has been made clear that until Axminster emerges as a vibrant commercial centre rather than a rather quaint country town, little is likely to change at Websters. That won’t happen until the long-awaited and much need north-south relief road is built and the proposed explosion of housing takes place.

We could be in for a long wait.

That’s why I believe it is important to give Axminster Arts full backing for their endeavours to improve the exterior of the former garage site with a mural depicting the colourful history of the town.

Tim Leat is fronting the  project for Axminster Arts and he tells me that every effort is being made to complete the mural in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June.

Now the hoardings are up and a start will soon be made by artist Steve Fisher and volunteers on the mural.

I think it will make a huge difference to the entrance of Axminster town centre.

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