IT’S been four months since Melksham Town Council underwent a huge shake up in the local elections, with a raft of new faces voted in to take charge.
Of the 15 councillors voted, only five had sat on previous councils – cllrs Jon Hubbard and Colin Goodhind, who stood as Together for Melksham candidates; cllr Pat Aves, who ran as a Liberal Democrat; and Conservative candidates, cllrs Claire Forgacs and Phil Alford.
The remaining 10 councillors were new to the role – and Melksham News has asked them to share their thoughts on their time in their new role as town councillor.
This fortnight, we hear from cllr Sue Mortimer, who was one of eight councillors elected under the ‘Together for Melksham – a fresh start’ campaign; and cllr Graham Ellis, the only independent councillor on the council.
Cllr Sue Mortimer for Melksham
“It’s early days I know, but I am so far very much enjoying my voluntary role as town councillor. It’s a role I take very seriously. Councillors are part of the local government and are closest to the people and are well placed to be involved with the community. It’s this involvement with the community that I love. It helps being an independent councillor as I only have to balance the needs and interest of the residents and council – not worry about the needs of any political party.
“Town clerk, Linda Roberts, and the staff at the Town Hall have been very supportive, right from the start, which has been very much needed and appreciated as 13 out of 15 Councillors were newly elected this year. I have had an induction and training day, visionary day and teams meeting with Professor Colin Copus. These joint events gave me the opportunity (as well as learning how the council works and what my regulatory and statutory duties are) to get to know the staff and other councillors.
“It is so important for officers and councillors to have a good working relationship, so it’s great to start afresh in this way. At the council meetings I have attended so far, I have been impressed with the respect given to/by other councillors. I think this bodes well for the future.
“A thing that does sadden me is the level of anti-social behaviour (ASB) we have in our town, cases of dropping litter, not picking up dog poop, hooliganism/ loutish behaviour and criminal damage, and drug taking, including the presence of dealers and users.
“I realise that it’s just very few people who are responsible, but we shouldn’t have to tolerate it. The police are and have been working very hard to find the persons responsible with some great results and I thank them for their efforts, but I would like to see a multi approach to see how this ASB can be prevented going forward. We shouldn’t have to accept it.
“Working with and for the benefit of Melksham residents I look forward with excitement to what the new council can achieve in the next 4 years and beyond.”
Cllr Graham Ellis
for South Ward
“‘What’s it been like – your first three months as a new councillor?’ Well – not as much of a shock to the system as some have predicted.
“’You won’t be able to quickly nip round to the corner shop for a pint of milk – people will want to talk to you,’ they said … ah, but since Lisa and I appeared on Four in a Bed, we’ve been pretty well known, and my public transport campaigning hasn’t exactly been low-key. The changes are just that people want to talk about a few wider issues.
“’You’ll have lots of meetings to attend, some pretty formal,’ they said … ah, yes, but what’s new. I’ve attended a lot of meetings at the peak of transport campaigning, and indeed I had sat through enough council meetings to know what to expect.
“’You’ll have party / group meetings to plan strategy too,’ they said … except that I’m your only independently-elected councillor, and whilst I work well with other councillors (for we share 90% of objectives, and you have elected some excellent people) I’m rather on my own in sharing my thoughts and setting my direction.
“’You won’t want to be as involved in social media because that can draw you into arguments.’ said a fellow newly-elected councillor advising all his new colleagues. Except – I WANT to inform and engage the residents in Melksham, and as an independent, it’s more important for me to do that than for the others who have the protection of an organisation with advice, experience and policy around them.
And I’ve moderated social media sites for many years – happy to engage and inform, though I’m not a great one for empty sound bites or headlines – so you’ll find lots of pointers to meaty articles.
“’You’ll find it takes a lot of your time,’ they said … yes I know. I expected that – not only the meetings, but the preparations and follow ups. February was something of a turning point for me as it became increasingly obvious that the two or three days a week volunteering role I had been promised was no longer available to me. So I had, and I have, the time. For the next four or eight years.
Love of Melksham
“’What motivates you?’ asked a good friend the other day. It’s a love of Melksham, a wanting to help it move positively forward, and for it to embrace, help and gain from challenges such as Covid recovery to a new world order, diversity and climate changes.
“’So has anything surprised you?’ Yes – the sheer speed with which major decisions were driven through at early meetings. At times they felt uncomfortably fast and clearly pre-planned – 100 pages of supporting documentation for a meeting of under 2 hours.
But then these were things advocated and supported by the party and the group who you (the electorate) voted into 13 of the 15 seats, and the natural thing is to take any course-changing action early – ‘the first 100 days’, the ‘honeymoon period’.
“The cynic might suggest it’s done to get things through before the newcomers realise the significance. The pragmatist sees the logic of these things being done quickly and early so they have four years to take full effect.
“Same question (2) – ‘So has anything surprised you?’ Yes – the desire of people to be informed – to listen to views in answer to questions they have.
To be supportive and understanding of the needs of the future – big issues such as climate change, though nervous as to how it will affect them personally.
“Same question (3) – ‘So has anything surprised you?’ – Not so much a surprised – more a delight that the forthcoming visioning document for the council will be requiring us to look at each decision we make for its equality/diversity and climate change implications.”