Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bang your gavel Sal, it’ll soon be closing time!

GIVEN that most people speak on average at a rate of 150 words per minute, by the time that last week’s Lyme Regis Town Council marathon had taken a break at 9pm to draw a breath, 18,000 words had been spoken at the meeting.

Up until then, councillors had discussed pay rises for senior staff, Woodmead Halls not getting a grant (or getting one, according to Councillor Mark Gage), the threatened closure of the Tourist Information Centre, Lyme Regis Development Trust evicting the poor and not making any mention of this at their annual general meeting, the skatepark, new plans for the Monmouth Beach chalets, the Cart Road ice cream parlour, which councillors should serve on external committees like the surprisingly-still-existing Three Cups Working Group, the election of chairmen of council committees, how to record the votes of councillors, salary increases for senior staff (again), underpaid outside-working council staff, jeering by Councillor Terry O’Grady, objections to jeering by Councillor Michaela Ellis and Councillor George Symonds’ rather interesting aside that, as another member of staff had just quit the team, why was it that the council had suffered such a high turnover of staff in recent years?

But of these 18,000 words, there was absolutely no mention of the three words “the Saturday bus”. Which was very odd, because it is the county council’s recent axing of the Saturday bus and the widespread calls for this decision to be reversed which is the talk of most of the town.

When I say “most”, I mean those most-disadvantaged by the loss of the Saturday bus, i.e. those who represent the overwhelming majority of voters in the town - the elderly.

According to Dorset County Council’s official statistics, 45.1 per cent of the population of Lyme Regis are aged 60-plus. There’s 1,640 elderly in Lyme, the biggest block of voters. 

As opposed to that, the numbers of newborn to 17 year olds, or “young people”, is 553, 15.2 per cent of residents and not one voter among them, and the number of young adults, aged 18 to 29, is 277, or 7.6 per cent.

So as the number of old people in Lyme is three times the number of pre-school and school children in the town, and six times the number of young adults, one might have thought that a matter which weekly affects this majority of voters would have got more discussion from their representatives than pay rises for their staff.

As I popped out in the recess to experiment with how many cigarettes one can smoke in ten minutes, I reflected that a lot of the elderly of Lyme depend on the Saturday bus and how they would hugely appreciate it if councillors backed their unheeded call for the county council to reinstate the service. If councillors kicked up merry hell at county level about the Saturday bus, a lot of Lyme’s elderly would not feel so forgotten.

Many of Lyme’s elderly do not own cars and without the Saturday bus they are effectively marooned at weekends. Lyme’s hills ask too much of the infirm to walk into town, so at weekends in Lyme if you’re old you can’t join in with anything.

That means that, because of only being old, hardly a lifestyle choice, basically half the population of Lyme is being excluded from the Jazz & Blues Weekend, D-Day commemoration events, The Big Mix, a lot of Lifeboat Week events, a lot of Regatta & Carnival Week events, the Folk Weekend and Guitars On The Beach, because they can’t get a bus from their road in and out of town on a Saturday.

As I lit my second Marlboro I mused that many of Lyme’s elderly must be thinking, “Why is it OK for the council to lavish £155,000 of our money on a skatepark, but our needs go unnoticed?”

Back in the meeting, Councillor Ellis announced that she wanted to “say something”. All night long she’d been saying she wanted to “say something” but whatever it was kept getting bumped towards the end of the agenda.

Now we all know what Michaela’s last-minute “say somethings” are like. Usually they provide the most excellent entertainment but the meeting’s end was nearing fast as the councillors’ catechistic standing orders said that they had to wrap up by 10pm - otherwise it would be last call by the time one got up to the Nag’s Head.

Was Michaela, usually the most astutely-in-touch with the town, going to “say something” about the Saturday bus? Was Michaela going to raise the point that, as Lyme’s elderly population is 12 per cent higher than the Dorset average and 23 per cent more than the national average, that this represented a special case to be argued with the county council?

The meeting resumed and councillors discussed the adoption of an information policy, the introduction of e-banking, the adoption of communication and PR procedures, the employment of cleaners for the community rooms at the shelters, seating at the shelters, keeping Strawberry Fields but doing nothing with it, the Anning Road playing field, re-surfacing the roof above By The Bay, the seafront railings and a proposal by Councillor George Symonds that, to get through the agenda, the council should, if necessary, sit through the night.

This suggestion clearly suited Michaela, who was still keeping her “say something” close to her chest. But it did not appear to suit others in the chamber. They had so much to get through the town clerk explained, that they could be there until 11.30p, “possibly midnight”. Hell’s teeth, midnight? Did the Nag’s do lock-ins anymore?

But then the mighty figure of Councillor Mark Gage stood. And with the full authority of Strategy & Policy chairmanship (and therefore de facto council leader), which had earlier been reinvested in him by a landslide vote (bizarrely proposed by the mayor, rather abdicatingly), he was having  0none of 0this night-shift malarkey.

He proposed that the meeting should end “on the dot of ten o’clock” irrespective of whatever somethings other councillors wanted to say.

Of course, as Mighty Mark had said it, councillors who are often at pains to protest that they do not block-vote and are not a “gang” of anything, went along with him; let’s shut up shop and mine’s a Babycham.

And so it was. There was a bit more chat about councillors’ need for a larger table in the chamber – understandable, as how else can they find space to stack up all of those sweets they eat? – and then as the clock struck ten it was over. Press and the public were turfed out and we never got to know if Michaela’s “say something” would be the missing words of ‘the Saturday bus’.

What’s the betting that things change now that Cheryl Reynolds has been elected to the council chamber? Methinks that Lyme’s elderly have found their champion at last.


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