Category Archives: Wisbech Town Council
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Stephen Brunton for his service to the Town of Wisbech.
Over the time he has been a Town Councillor Stevo (as we call him) has been consistently active and helpful in every area.
He has turned up at the crack of dawn to help set up festivals and rolled home long after the sun set.
He has worked alone and with other Councillors to resolve issues on behalf of his constituents.
Many people will have seem him as a volunteer manning the first aid tent on many occasions and some will have been helped with an injury or sickness by him.
A year or so ago Stephen met a lady and the two fell in love. They have now moved in together and begun planning their future. But they are living outside the area and Stephen has recently sold his property here.
Stephen has resigned from Town Council, timing that resignation to avoid costs and bureaucracy to the Town Council and the people of the Town. He sent a lovely letter thanking the people of the Town and the Council for the opportunity to serve.
Hopefully we can all thank Stephen for his hard work and diligence and wish him and his partner nothing but the best for the future.
At Wisbech Town Council tonight, Dave Patrick, some UKIP supporters and a couple of the people from the Hatefest forum came to Wisbech Town Council.
Completely coincidentally, the editor of the Wisbech Standard also came along to video the whole thing (even though he almost never turns up to WTC Meetings.)
They had prepared banners saying unpleasant things about me. They used the public speaking section of the meeting to personally attack me, and they did so with prepared statements. Although they were members of a political activist group, they posed as “members of the public”. John Elworthy took every opportunity to take pictures and record.
Once that portion of the meeting was over John Elworthy left promptly along with some of them.
It was the culmination of the character assassination that I believe John Elworthy, Dave Patrick and others put into action at the beginning of the year.
The primary argument they made was that the Council was “too political” while they stood there with their political group, alongside their convenient politically active Editor, and carried out a sustained and particularly nasty attack on me.
I expect the whole purpose of this was for John Elworthy to run a headline in his newspaper this week which will claim that -rather than being an organised group of haters – they were “random members of the public.”
Bob Doughty – who I was surprised about given that I have put myself out to help him in the past – called on me to consider my position and resign as a Councillor and as Deputy Mayor.
I know that all of this was politically motivated. I know it was organised and deliberate. I know the aim is to make me feel so bad that I give up, so that their favourite candidate gets an easy win in May and so that a well-known local Conservative gets knocked down.
I know all this. But sitting through a sustained character assassination in a public meeting, where politically-motivated individuals are allowed to say horrible stuff about you in front of your friends,colleagues and family, is very difficult even if you are as thick skinned as me.
There is no way for me to win this. The newspaper will continue to pretend this group of haters are “the general public” and the Editor will continue his endless array of tweeted and newspaper attacks.
I don’t like to let them win. But just now I really don’t know if I want to continue putting up with these lies, this spin,and this media campaign led by the Editor of the leading local newspaper. I have given thousands of hours to the Town and I have worked relentlessly for Wisbech,because I love the town. But I have not felt “bullied” since I was a child and what happened tonight was something I would not wish on anybody.
Their aim was to isolate, focus on and attack me. To upset me, to upset my family and to trash my reputation. They have managed to do so. I am sure they are very pleased about it. Well done John Elworthy. Well done Dave. Well done Sharon. You have achieved your aims.
The “Ruling” “Elite”
Momentum and Local Labour Party crusader, Sue Marshall, pops up every few days now on social media with some new brand of spin. She is trying, I must admit.
One of her common manipulative phrases is to refer to the Conservatives on Wisbech Town Council as “the ruling Elite.” By which, of course, she means the volunteers on Town Council who were elected by the people of Wisbech. Clearly the term “elite” is meant to portray a view of champagne-swilling, oyster eating, privileged rich individuals who have gained their position through no merit.
This made me smile. As I sit here in my ragged Batman T-Shirt, with my Jack Russell by my side and clutching my can of Diet Coke I mused on the nature of “ruling elites.”
I thought about Rob McLaren. A member of the “ruling elite” who has (until recently) worked in a local factory and who gives £50 from his pocket most years to the best Christmas lights display in Walsoken.
I thought about Garry Tibbs, Mayor of Wisbech and clearly senior member of the “ruling Elite” who also works in a local factory and who took his entire annual holiday leave in occasional days to allow him to fulfill his Mayoral duties.
I considered Viv McRae, a member of the “ruling elite” if ever there was one, who works as a carer for the mentally ill.
I thought about David Oliver, who runs a family photography business from his home, and can usually be seen at the crack of dawn, volunteering to help whenever anything is going on in Town.
Or David’s daughter Jess Oliver, who is a Teaching Assistant at a local school and is a volunteer leader of the Girls Venture Corps.
Then I thought of publican and Eastern European community leader Aigars Balsevics. Real “ruling elite” material right there. I’m sure he feels “elite” with every frothy pint he pulls for a thirsty patron. :)
Perhaps the ruling elite is Samantha Hoy? Who lives in a bourgeois estate frequented only by the rich and the famous. (Copperfields.) No doubt when she’s helping somebody find a place to live, or putting in long hours organising the next Town Festival she is thoroughly enjoying her eliteness.
I certainly hope that Sue Marshall is referring to me. I don’t know what I “rule”, unless its the Kingdom of Litter Picking or the Empire of Speedwatch. And I don’t know in what way I am elite, unless I’m just a really elite eater of Jelly Bellys and crabsticks.
I would encourage anybody who lives in Wisbech to occasionally attend a Wisbech Town Council meeting and see the “ruling elite” at work looking at planning proposals for a garden extension, or considering the budget implications of a new litter bin. It’s an eye-opener. :)
By-Election Result – North Ward / Waterlees
Normally, Town Council by-elections don’t get much attention. They are quiet affairs which pass by mostly unremarked.
But today’s election got a lot of scrutiny and focus for a number of different reasons.
A number of characters initially tried to make the by-election an issue about disability access. This cross-party opposition spin, assisted by local media, shamefully used a lady’s illness for supposed political gain.
It was a straight UKIP / Conservative battle. Labour stood aside in the hope of giving UKIP a straight run, it appears, citing dubious “honour” rather than simply admitting their main aim is Anti-Conservative locally, regardless of if it elects the UKIP party they are nationally battling at every turn. The local Independents might as well just join UKIP, in my view, so much do they now appear to be in one another’s pockets.
There has not been a Conservative Councillor elected in this ward for many years. UKIP were the favourites. This was considered a UKIP stronghold where they have romped home across the board in recent elections, and where the only reason the Bucknors were even elected at all is because UKIP stood aside for them. It is fair to assume, had UKIP not done so last time, they would have won all the seats and the “Truly Independent” Bucknors would no longer be Councillors.
Billy Rackley is well-respected and well-liked. This took what seemed to be an easy UKIP win and added a little uncertainty to it. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that this morning, before the election began, UKIP felt confident they would win.
The area in question is a diverse community with perhaps 20% Eastern Europeans. It is also the home of some of the proudest families of historic Wisbech. It is the area with the greatest levels of “official” deprivation but also an area which borders some of the most wealthy parts of Wisbech. This melting pot community can never be predicted.
Meanwhile, the Independents may have found that their own support was not easily “transferable” to UKIP. Just because somebody will vote for you does not mean that they will vote for whoever you tell them to. In the Eastern European community there is no love for UKIP, as you can imagine. Traditional Wisbech folk also don’t much enjoy being taken for granted and presumed as “safe votes.” They want their candidates to do some work, knock on their doors, show some interest.
The end result was a massive victory for Billy Rackley, the Conservative candidate. Billy worked very very hard in this election campaign and we simply could not have asked for a more committed and dedicated candidate. From the outset it was clear that he was well-known and that he could count on the support of many loyal friends. As the campaign continued Billy continued to increase his support, primarily due to his friendly, outgoing and honest approach to pretty much everything. People warm to him quickly and they know that he is a man of his word.
Make no mistake. This was a shock to UKIP and a real wake-up call for their complacency. It was also a rejection of the style of campaign they ran; the single leaflet they put out was almost entirely negative (as well as being a large-percentage of inaccuracy and outright lies.) People want to see a vision, a set of goals, something about the things you’d like to try and achieve. Not a page of increasingly bizarre negatives about the other party you are standing against.
In a ward they have previously won easily, where they were by far the favourite and most expected to win – UKIP just got trounced. They brought it entirely on themselves. They called an unnecessary election costing the public thousands of pounds. They ran a negative and unpleasant campaign, with some pretty horrible things said by their supporters in various places. They worked with all the other opposition, pretty much, to try and manufacture an easy win. They ran their most-well known candidate who is also the sitting County Councillor for the area. And it backfired on them spectacularly.
It backfired, in the end for two reasons:
(1) Because they took the people of the North Ward for granted, and that is a very very silly thing to do.
(2) Because they underestimated Billy Rackley – to whom the snipes and unpleasantness was like a red rag to a bull. Telling a born-and-bred Fenland man he cannot possibly win just makes him more determined to do so. Paul Clapp learnt that hard lesson today.
Thank you to the people of Waterlees who have given Billy a huge mandate to represent them. I think you’ve chosen a true gent and a real trooper.
Well done Councillor Billy Rackley. You deserved every ounce of your win.
Well, what a silly outcome. Rather than make a quick phone call and see if we could co-opt Brenda Lay, UKIP have decided to waste thousands of pounds of the Town’s money calling a full election. And then – get this – the candidate they choose isn’t even Brenda Lay, but Paul Clapp (according to local Editor John Elworthy, anyway, who is in a position to know given his close working relationship with those involved.)
In one way its good. If the candidate had been Brenda Lay it still would be a ridiculous waste of money for something that could have been resolved with a phone call, but I expect the Conservatives would not have stood a candidate against her – in protest at this self-serving and expensive nonsense – and because it would have been a reasonable way to behave. But given the nasty letters, spin and outright lies being put about, there’s not a lot of good will left just now, and having UKIP show their hand by choosing Paul Clapp as the candidate changes things.
Just in summary. The Bucknors and Lays and the UKIP “machine” completely “forgot” to remind Brenda Lay that she had reached her limit under the six month rule. They then sought to blame the Conservatives for their failure to submit a request for dispensation. Then, within a couple of days of Brenda’s disqualification as a Councillor, they had called the election. No attempt at discussing a co-option. Putting Paul Clapp up as the candidate. Fast work, huh? So fast you would be forgiven for thinking it all panned out exactly as somebody wanted. Probably just a coincidence though.
Well, with Paul Clapp as the candidate there’s no need for us to stay out of the campaign. So a by-election there shall be. Just remember how all those thousands of pounds were wasted. A single phone call could have saved that taxpayer’s money – but UKIP, Labour and the Independents would rather create a drama and put a different candidate in place to the one they claimed they wanted to empower. Maybe the electorate wont look as fondly on that as they hope?
Drawing It To A Close
The sad situation where Brenda Lay’s illness is used by local media and opposition Councillors and activists for their own political gain has already been written about extensively, including by me. However, tonight, I received an email from the Town Clerk which was in answer to some questions posed by Cllr Virginia Bucknor. The message was cc’d to all Councillors and is not marked “private” or “confidential”. Nor was Virginia Bucknor’s original letter marked “private” or “confidential.” With that in mind, I thought I would publish the Town Clerk’s response here – since it clarified many things and is a non-political summary of the situation.
Cllr Bucknor’s original enquiry:
Michael and I appreciate that Mrs Lay has been unable to attend meetings due to limited disabled access. You will recall I have asked whether we could hold the occasional meeting elsewhere where disabled access was available in order for Mrs Lay to attend. As you will recall I even raised this with you and David Oliver as recently as last Monday evening, suggesting the Oasis would be ideal, and you agreed that we could hold a meeting elsewhere to accommodate Mrs Lay. Cllr Oliver agreed to discuss this further with you.
The legislation states that “unless the failure was due to some reason approved by the authority” (Section 85(1)). Did anyone advise Mr or Mrs Lay that formal approval was required when Alan also raised the access and exit difficulties with you on several occasions?
We know Mrs Lay has been very frustrated at being prevented from attending, recently due to deteriorating health, but prior to this, she did try with the ramp outside but, as you know, this was challenging for her, not least requiring a number of people to set it up. She then found the stair lift a challenge. We know that because of this, she found attempting to attend meetings personally degrading and undignified. It is general knowledge amongst all town Councillors that Mrs Lay wanted to attend but physically could not as it was too distressing because of the poor access.
It is not unusual for this council to give dispensation due to ill health.
Are we, as a council, due to lack of adequate disabled access and emergency egress, actually going to make such a dreadful decision?
Has anyone had the courtesy of speaking to Mrs Lay?
We have two Councillors who only attend just prior to their six month cut-off, who appear to be physically able-bodied. Mrs Lay on the other hand, wishes to attend but has been prevented due to poor access.
Frankly we are disappointed at the lack of empathy and support for a disabled Councillor.
Michael and Virginia Bucknor
And this is the response from the Town Clerk:
Councillor Alan Lay asked on 25 August 2016 whether Wisbech Town Council would be able to hold, on an occasional basis, a meeting of Wisbech Town Council at The Oasis Centre. The Leader of the Council was happy for this to be investigated.
On 5 September 2016 Councillor Alan Lay asked me to take no further action with regard to taking a meeting “off-site” as he felt that a solution to his wife’s difficulty in accessing the Council Chamber could be overcome by her “travelling” between the stair lift and the Council Chamber in a wheelchair. He stated that he would discuss that possibility with his wife and “get back to me”.
On 17 October 2016 Councillor Alan Lay informed me that the wheelchair option would not be possible and asked that his earlier request for a meeting at a venue other than Wisbech Town Council be pursued. I agreed to pursue his request.
On 24 October 2016 you made a request that Wisbech Town Council holds a meeting at a venue other than Wisbech Town Hall so that Mrs Lay could attend a meeting. As you say, the Leader of the Council agreed that the matter would be pursued.
I, consequently, checked Mrs Lay’s attendance record to see how much time was available to the council to hold a meeting of Wisbech Town Council off-site; thinking that we would aim for 21 November 2016 meeting to take place at an alternative location in Wisbech. It was then that I discovered that Mrs Lay’s last attendance at any meeting of Wisbech Town Council had been 25 April 2016. It was, therefore, necessary for me, as the Proper Officer of Wisbech Town Council, to inform Mrs Lay of the situation with regard to her membership of the council.
It is not the practice of Wisbech Town Council for its officers to “tip off” councillors in relation to their attendance. The attendance records are available for inspection by councillors at any time the offices are open (either by a personal visit to the office or a telephone call to the Clerk).
Mrs Lay had never complained to me about the effectiveness of the stair lift or the ramp; in fact, at minute 91/15 (26 October 2015 meeting of the council) Mrs Lay stated that the ramp had provided her with a safe and comfortable means of access to the Town Hall. Furthermore (mentioned in that minute), she thanked me for my efforts in providing the solution to her access difficulties.
During my time as Clerk to Wisbech Town Council, no applications for dispensation from the provisions of Section 85 (1) of the Local Government Act 1972 have been made; I have no knowledge of what may have happened before my employment with this council. I am sure that if Mrs Lay had submitted such an application in time for inclusion on the agenda of a meeting of Wisbech Town Council no later than 24 October 2016, the councillors would have considered it favourably. I am fairly sure that other councillors have ceased to be members of Wisbech Town Council in the past by virtue of “falling foul” of the provisions of Section 85 (1).
I have no knowledge as to whether any councillor has spoken with Mrs Lay with regard to her attendance.
Clerk to the Council
Sue Marshall Chimes In
In the ongoing campaign being spun by different individuals looking to score cheap political points on the back of a lady’s illness, Sue Marshall has chimed in. Her ill-informed and inaccurate letter to the (you guessed it) Wisbech Standard needs a clear response.
So let’s have a look at some bits of her letter:
This means that the council had a duty to remove or mitigate any feature which made it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to gain access.
Yep. An issue the Council took very seriously and completed the required changes over a year ago – changes that Brenda Lay commended the Council on as per the minutes shown on this blog a couple of days ago. Changes that Alan & Brenda Lay expressed satisfaction with and said solved their access problems. Changes which were in the Council minutes, approved by the Bucknors at the following meeting.
Given the size and resources of the town council the stair lift might be a reasonable adjustment.
However more could and should have been done. If nothing could have been done to remove the steps and replace with a ramped entrance there are plenty of suitable and safe portable ramps on the market rather than expect Cllr Lay or any other mobility impaired person to use a plank of wood.
Absolutely right. Which is why the Council commissioned a tailor-made metal ramp, which was delivered over a year ago and which the Lays commended the Council on procuring and said had completely resolved their access issues. Here are those minutes again.
A drop kerb could and should have been installed outside the Town Hall entrance with a yellow box on the road to prevent parking. Parking in front of a drop kerb is an offence and can result in a fine.
It’s a lovely idea. The Lays never expressed the need for a drop curb or road markings, and had said that the resolutions as provided met their requirements, but Sue is right about this – those two things might be great ideas. They would be the job of the County Council, so it would be the County Councillor who would be best placed to action them if required. Who is the County Councillor for that area? Cllr Alan Lay is.
A wheelchair could have been bought for placement at the top of the stairs for mobility impaired people to transfer into from the stair lift if necessary, as in Cllr Lay’s case.
Another good idea. In fact Town Council made exactly this offer – to purchase a wheelchair and keep it at the Council to make things easier for the Lays. They declined the offer, saying that it was not necessary.
Fenland Council’s Equality Officer and Planning Officers could and should have been able to advise the town council on their legal obligations and the measures to meet those.
The Clerk is fully aware of the Council’s legal obligations and every effort was made to accomodate the Lay’s access issues. Efforts which, in case I have not said this enough times, the Lays said resolved their issues, and Brenda Lay specifically commended the Council for.
I sincerely hope that Cllr Lay appeals any attempt to remove her as she is clearly the victim of discrimination due to Wisbech Town Council’s failure to meet its legal obligations to make its meetings accessible.
Brenda Lay’s problem with the six-month rule, much like Cllr. Michael Bucknor’s before her (when his own Labour colleagues were in charge of the Town Council,) is not a decision made by Wisbech Town Council. It is an automatic legal procedure. Whether Mrs. Lay wishes to appeal that law would be between her and the legal staff at FDC and whatever lawyers get involved. Wisbech Town Council has not failed to meet any legal obligations, as can be clearly demonstrated by the minutes of the Town Council, the work done at the Town Council building. In fact, the Town Council has made every effort to help Mrs Lay. The issue of disability access was resolved to her full satisfaction in October 2015, when she confirmed to Town Council that this was so. I refer to those very clear minutes once more.
As a footnote I would also point out this isn’t just an issue for councillors but also members of the public who also need to be able to access meetings and for any staff who may develop a permanent or temporary impairment that prevented them climbing steps.
A point that I also made a few days ago in my blog. One of the things that resolving Mrs Lay’s difficulties a year ago achieved, was better access in future for people with other similar disabilities. A fully-powered chairlift and a specially-crafted metal access ramp provide necessary accessibility for those with difficulty climbing steps. Rightly so. Which is why we were keen to do it. And did.
In my opinion all Cllr Lay’s fellow Councillors should support this end result and sympathise with disabled and temporarily ‘unabled’ Councillors, staff and the public who need to attend Town Council meetings.
Chair of NE Cambs Labour Party
In my opinion, Sue Marshall Chair of the NE Cambs Labour Party, you should take the time to check your facts before writing ill-informed letters to the newspaper. It would certainly help with your credibility.
People might not remember this, but there was a time when Labour were in charge of both Wisbech Town Council and Fenland District Council. Back then, Mr & Mrs Bucknor weren’t “truly truly truly Independent” but were card-carrying Labour members and Labour Councillors. I often remind them of this when they seem to claim an issue could be resolved if only they were in charge – since many of the issues date back that far. And weren’t resolved.
But it was not until I bumped into a member of the “old guard” that I found out something interesting which is pertinent to the current argument that Virginia Bucknor is making. First, she feels that absenteeism at Council meetings is something that needs to be crowed about and run through the newspapers and social media wherever possible. Except where its somebody who sits at her end of the table – when it morphs (falsely, as shown in the previous post) into a disability issue. Then, apparently, it is everybody’s job except hers to be the diary eyes and ears of other Councillors. And the fact that others don’t monitor attendance in the way she does means they are all “shameful.”
So it seems that during that period when Labour where in charge and Mr. & Mrs. Bucknor were Councillors, there was a situation where a Councillors ran foul of the six-month rule and was removed from the Council for failing to attend.
Here are the minutes:
A colleague of mine, who enjoys reading these old minutes, pointed out that the Town Mayor at the time was R. Symonds, and the Deputy Town Mayor was Mrs A Gilliatt. Both Labour Councillors. Both appointed Mayor and Deputy Mayor after only one year as Councillors. Nothing wrong with that – Labour were in charge in the Council at the time and they had the majority to vote for who they felt would do the best job. But its not me who regularly claims that Mayors should not be chosen this way, is it? <ahem>
Now look, this stuff predates my involvement with local politics by years. But it would appear that Michael Bucknor* was “forced off the Council” (not my words, the words of the Wisbech Standard) due to extremely poor attendance. I’m surprised his wife Virginia wasn’t pointing it out in the newspaper. Perhaps it is different when it is your husband? None of the Labour Councillors, nor the Town Clerk, appear to have warned him. I notice that Virginia Bucknor failed to attend that meeting too. No doubt in my mind she had a good reason. It happens.
- *I stress that I am confident that Michael Bucknor had a perfectly good reason too.
Brenda Lay, A Couple Of Other Points
Here are the minutes of the Town Council meeting where the issue of disabled access in regards to Cllr. Brenda Lay were raised. I think they say everything that needs to be said.
Perhaps the reason that Cllrs Mr and Mrs Bucknor are getting this all so wrong is that they did not attend the Town Council meeting where this issue arose? Which is ironic, really.
Although they WERE present at the following meeting, where the minutes were approved by Council, so I don’t really see how they have any excuse not to know about them.