Mayor's blog

Engagements & Activities

This is a time-line of some events I have undertaken. The comments are my informal response and are not the official opinion of Dereham Town Council.
30 January 2015
Memorial Hall
Radio 4: Any Questions
Soon after Dereham Memorial Hall opened we offered it as a venue for Radio 4's 'Any Questions'. They have a long list of planned venues, but today is our turn.

BBC Radio 4 This recording is available on the BBC iPlayer Opens in new tab.

Hosted by Jonathan Dimbleby the panel consisted of Tom Crotty (Energy firm INEOS), Lord Deben (Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change), Margaret Hodge MP (Labour - Chair of the Public Accounts Committee) and Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat back bencher). As expected the Hall was packed. While there were a few good questions, for example on NHS, the panel was a bit tame.

28 January 2015
SNAP (Safer Neighbourhood Action Panel)
Norfolk Constabulary Dereham SNAP meetings are open to all residents of Dereham and the surrounding area. They are a method by which the public has an opportunity to raise any issues or concerns as police, partner agencies and residents meet up to talk about what has been happening in the area and decide what the priorities for action should be over the next few weeks.

The police are required to attend, but other 'partners' are not, however Councillors often attend to make representation on parishioners behalf and to hear about the general policing issues.

After some discussion the priorities for the next two months will be:
27 January 2015
Chaired: Plans meeting
Dereham Town Council Plans
Report to follow

Committee meetings followed plans ...

Markets and Buildings chaired by Cllr Linda Monument

Social and Welfare chaired by Cllr Robert Hambidge

26 January 2015
interACTIVE funding
interACTIVE funding logo A meeting of the steering group. Following our last meeting which identified significant difficulties with the overly complex application form; the project co-ordinator has consulted with Breckland Council in an effort to simplify the process, but to no avail.

Further, while the Town Council was content to proceed in 'good faith' and at no cost it did not want to take full legal responsibility to recover funds which might not fully comply with the complex rules. Good practice from people doing their best doesn't seem to work well with tough legal contracts; especially when, although unlikely, this scheme could be abused. Breckland Council would not accept some small changes to the contract introducing "reasonable" to a few clauses. The result is that Breckland Council are now the legal administrators of the scheme, but everything else stays the same as before and the Town Council continues to offer facilities and support. I wonder if the other areas realise the finical liability they have agreed to?

The project co-ordinator has sent application forms to all parishes and as many local groups and clubs as could be found. We discussed various options for public engagement and voting on the presentation day, which is set for 21 March, between 10:00 and noon.

Each project will be presented via a display stand and members of the project may wish to explain their idea to those who visit to view. There will also be a web-site with description and image for each project to facilitate remote 'voting', before the event.

Each person who comes along to the selection event, and it is open to everyone, will be given 5 sticky dots to put on a voting chart, they could put all their dots on one project or share them out. We know this is open to distortion, but we expect most people to go along with a spirit of fair play. We are also looking at possible text voting, which could open a week or so before the event.

For more information or an application form email:
21 January 2015
Dementia Friendly Dereham
Dereham Meeting Point Organised by Dereham Meeting Point Opens in new tab, this evening was a general explanation and discussion about the desire to make Dereham a dementia friendly town.

This is the start of the process and a date of first formal meeting had not been set. There was sufficient interest from those attending to now take this to the next stage; a dozen or so people will meet on 25th February from 2pm to 4pm to act as a steering group for the project. It has been requested that the Town Council send a representative and I have asked for this to go on the agenda for our next meeting to allow the Town Council to formally appoint a representative.
15 January 2015
New Dereham Toilets
Dereham's new toilets After a considerable wait the new toilets are finished!

The Town Council inherited the site from Breckland District Council along with £120,000. We could choose to either take over the toilets in Barwell Court or Cowper Road car park. After some discussion the toilets nearest the bus stops and market place was chosen, but we recognised Barwell Court is far from an ideal location.

We knew the toilets would need refurbishment fairly soon and the money which came with responsibility was only a fraction of that needed, but that was the only option available. We had not fully appreciated how much public toilets cost to operate, which is almost certainly why Breckland Council wanted to 'off-load' responsibility. After considerable effort to find a new location and many ideas from our architects the only reasonable option was to refurbish the existing block. The result is what we see today.

My thanks to Jeremy Stacey Architects Opens in
new tab and Quinn Construction Opens in new tab, it is a superb solution, which should be easier, cheaper and more reliable to operate than the old block. The block new toilets consist of a ladies cubical, disabled cubical (radar key), a unisex cubical with baby changing and a 24-hour urinal behind the curved pattern wall.

Following feedback we have made a couple of tweaks, like adding a hook on the back of the door and new larger labels are on order.
15 January 2015
Town and Parish forum
Breckland District Council The Town and Parish forum took place at Swaffham's Green Britain Centre Opens in new tab.

This is an opportunity for Breckland Council to present their plans to Councillors and Clerks from the parishes. There were a lot of Breckland District Councillors in the audience too, a cynic might think they were their to filibuster in case anything too difficult was raised. I certainly got the feeling this was a very controlled environment in which very little information was released.

It was expected that the 'New Home Bonus' would be a key discussion point and a number of questions were raised, although there is no mention in the post forum Q&A report.

Superfast broadband was a key feature of the presentation. Despite being promoted for at least two years the Breckland Council leader is still confusing megabits and megabytes. This is really annoying because the values being discussed are exactly where it makes a difference - 2Mbytes/sec is likely enough for many small businesses whereas 2Mbits/sec is possibly not enough to access cloud services, etc. My biggest gripe though is that £1.9 million of public money from Breckland has been allocated to filling in the gaps which BT find uneconomic, but the exact criteria is "commercially sensitive" so we have no idea of why, where or when this will happen. Is it right that those who choose to buy large houses in isolated rural places should receive a big subsidy for fast broadband? More openness is needed.

Post-note: I knew something wasn't right, see this BBC News report Opens in new tab.
13 January 2015
Chaired: Plans meeting & Full Council meeting
Dereham Town Council Plans
Report to follow after Tuesday's meeting

Full Council
Centenary remembrance:
Report to follow after Tuesday's meeting.

10 January 2015
"Je Suis Charlie"
My badge Following the atrocity in France, I would like to express my support for free speech and freedom of expression. The pen is mightier than than the sword; the pen gives education, information and knowledge, it has to win.

I would like to repeat the statement from The British Humanist Association Opens in new tab, a charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
Quote We must also be clear that the ones to blame here are the terrorist perpetrators. Those who cry out for further censorship of cartoonists and writers in the wake of tragedies like this will only embolden the murderous outrages of these criminals.

The right to free expression is a universal one, and it lies at the foundation of our every liberty. It must always be defended. Quote

Update 11 January: the 'unity march' in Paris is an incredible response, for over a million people to turn out on the streets in support of free expression shows that terrorism will fail.
6 January 2015
Chaired: Finance & Governance meeting
Dereham Town Council Reviewing numbers is not everyone's cup-of-tea, but it is a very important part of Council business, after all we are looking after a budget of around £0.75m.

For the last few months we have been going through risks, evaluating Council spending and future commitments in order to set the 2015-16 budget. Remembering that we are in an election year, we don't want to unnecessarily restrict or overly commit the new Councillors who will be elected in May. Overall the committee is recommending that the budget value be maintained, which will only require a small precept increase equivalent to the inflation rate.

At various times the Town Council holds considerable sums of money, for example when the precept is received. This money will be spend over the next 6-months or is 'ring fenced' for a particular project which may be many months, maybe even years away. It has been very difficult to safely earn a return on this money while it is waiting to be spent. However, there is an CCLA account which is specifically for councils to hold funds over the medium term. It offers a fair return, which is not ridiculously high - indicating a risky venture and is substantially better than the fractional percentage interest in the bank. Councillors recommended that a CCLA account be opened a fraction of our reserves be invested.

1 January 2015
Happy New Year!

A happy new year to all in Dereham.

This is an election year, so in May not only will you have a opportunity to elect an MP for Mid-Norfolk, but also Town and District Councillors. There will definitely be some changes at the Town Council as some current Councillors have indicated they do not wish to stand again.