Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I’m with Daryl on this one...

IN 40 years of covering local government I’ve sat through some pretty controversial debates so I was disappointed to have missed Councillor Daryl Turner tearing a strip off his colleagues last week over procedural matters which, I believe, has done the current town council no good at all.

Reading our report of the discussion on page 3, however, I am left wondering if I have witnessed a more comprehensive condemnation of councillors by a colleague.

You have to get up early in the morning to pull a procedural wool over the eyes of Daryl Turner.

But this current council seems to give little credence to knowledge and experience.
Since becoming a town and district councillor, Daryl has done more than any other councillor I can remember in getting to understand how local government really works - to such extent that he has studied for a BTEC in the subject.

He is rarely, if ever, caught out on matters of procedure and one thing you can be sure of, if his words are not heeded he will never roll over and say, “OK, have it your way”. 

The subject that has perplexed him most over the past few weeks has been the handling of the dispute over whether the council should have supported the local police in their request for a Designated Public Place Order to allow them to confiscate alcohol and move on over 18s if they believe they might cause trouble.

To most people this would have been a no-brainer but the council was split on the matter and required the Mayor, Sally Holman, to give her casting vote in favour of the police request.

As soon as the mayor’s casting vote was recorded, one would have assumed that was it. But, inconceivably, the matter was then referred back to a committee for further discussion and eventually rejected on the grounds that the police had been unable to prove there were any real problems in the gardens.

Councillor Turner immediately disputed the manner in which this was handled and was eventually told that advice had been received and that the council had “done nothing wrong”.

That report, however, was only seen by the Mayor and when he wanted to seek further advice he was told he had to go through the chairmen’s committee, which meets in secret.

Councillor Turner, rightly in my opinion, interpreted this as “double standards” and showed no respect to the public.

He urged his fellow councillors to seek further legal advice from the appropriate authorities but they declined to do so. It was a clever move, putting the matter back into their court - but I doubt whether we have heard the last of this.

As a journalist I have always been opposed to councillors meeting in secret. There are procedures that allow them to go “into committee” to discuss certain matters which are usually, but not always, justified. 

Leading councillor Mark Gage has intimated that he sees no problem with minutes of the meeting of chairmen being made public and I hope this transpires.

There has been all sorts of comments and rumours about members of the current council, especially the new members, meeting in secret before meetings particularly immediately after the election. 

They certainly voted together in those early days, which is understandable as they stood as a group in the election. Virtually every vote in the weeks following the election was won 10-4.

Again, this is nothing new and many people will remember the former Reform Group which stood as one doing likewise.

Eventually, such groups peter out as individual members follow their own course and this will probably happen with the current members. 

At least I hope so.


UNUSUALLY we cross the Devon border for Event Of The Week.

On Sunday evening I was invited to compere a hugely entertaining evening at Axminster Guildhall featuring cricketing commentator and legndary raconteur Henry Blofeld in his one-man show.

An archetypal English eccentric, his presence attracted an audience of 240 and helped to raise £2,000 for the ARC counselling and pyschotherapy organisation which does such great work in and around Axminster.

The event was staged by the ARC committee to engage with the community and heighten their profile with huge help coming from Tom O’Donnell, a London-based events organiser whose family, as you all know, run the Volunteer Inn in Lyme.

Tom is highly experienced in running very high profile events and it was a pleasure being connected with an event which went so smoothly.

A number of familiar cricketing faces from my playing days supported the event, including a contingent from Lyme.

Blofeld, who was celebrating his 73rd birthday, was in splendid form, regaling the audience with cricketing tales, being a member of the BBC Test Match Special team, and his experiences of a hugely colourful life, which have included lunching with the Queen Mother, honeymooning at James Bond creator Ian Fleming’s “Goldeneye” home on Jamaica and regular dinner dates with Noel Coward and Sir Laurence Olivier.

And he was kind enough to give me a very acceptable bottle of his own label white Burgundy, wine being his other great passion in life.

YESTERDAY’S news that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Healthcare had been awarded the contract to run the Lyme Regis Medical Centre for the next five years has been met with a great deal of suspicion and concern that the bid by local doctors was rejected. 

NHS Dorset say the decision was made after taking into consideration the views of local people.  


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