Bourne Diary - April 2011

by Rex Needle

Saturday 15th April 2011

Council elections are regarded as a barometer of the interest taken by the community in local affairs, whether the services being offered by the various authorities are adequate and whether the councillors we have elected are doing their job in an open and efficient manner.

Too many lose the enthusiasm so evident at the hustings when they are seeking public support and are likely to become swallowed up by the system, the radical ideas they once espoused stifled by the very bureaucracy they wanted to change and soon they become part of the local government machine, unable or unwilling to challenge its authority because even the most persistent rebels are soon silenced.

Now is the time when the electorate should be deciding if those who have been chosen in the past to serve us at town and district level have actually been doing what we expected of them or whether they have become token councillors, occupying the office for the prestige rather than purpose and giving up on the idealism which fuelled their urge to stand and propelled them into office.

Unfortunately, the number of new candidates seeking seats on the town and district councils at the forthcoming elections on Thursday 5th May seems to be rather disappointing for Bourne and reflects a continuing apathy and disinterest in local affairs, much to the detriment of the public these authorities are intended to serve.

In fact, despite the four years that have passed since the last elections, only three new candidates have come forward for the 21 seats on the town and district councils which creates the inevitable situation in which retiring councillors whose performance may be considered unsatisfactory are again likely to be in office, in some cases returned unopposed.

In the past we have been able to judge the work of our councillors through the reports of council and committee meetings in the local newspapers but in recent years coverage of these matters has been largely abandoned with the result that important events which have a direct bearing on the town are passed through on the nod with few people knowing exactly what is going on and so we remain in the dark about who said what and how they voted.

This is a regrettable development because an investigative press should be part of the public process which enables us question official decisions and motivate public debate on those matters that would otherwise be discussed by the chosen few behind closed doors.

This is the reason why more people should put themselves forward for election yet this has not happened in any substantial manner. At Bourne Town Council, for instance, insufficient candidates have been nominated and so at least four more will have to be co-opted once the new council is constituted on the first meeting after election day. Indeed, the clerk to the council, Mrs Nelly Jacobs, has already issued an appeal for candidates to the local newspapers.

It does seem to be a sorry state of affairs when the election has not even been held, especially in view of the apparent dissatisfaction that has surfaced about the conduct of the present council on several issues in recent months yet the expected flood of candidates has not materialised and several of those who had originally trumpeted their intention to stand, including one local businessman who has been most vociferous in his condemnation of the current regime, now appear to have got cold feet while veterans who had been expected to retire are once again on the election trail.

As a result, we have the following line up:

Bourne Town Council

BOURNE EAST (seven seats)

Shirley Cliffe, David Higgs, Brenda Johnson, Pet Moisey, Judy Smith and Sandra Wilson are all seeking re-election with new nominations from Guy Cudmore, Philip Knowles and Bob Russell and so there will be an election in this ward.

BOURNE WEST (eight seats)

Colin Pattison, Trevor Holmes, Helen Powell and John Smith are all returned unopposed leaving four vacancies which will be filled by co-option once the new council is constituted.

The most notable feature here is that Linda Neal is not standing for re-election, having represented Bourne West since 1993, and it would appear that she is concentrating her efforts of retaining her seat with South Kesteven District Council, having been leader of this authority for the past ten years, but the signs are that she may have a fight on her hands.

The other is the nomination of Guy Cudmore who has already served an eight year spell on the town council but resigned in 2008 following an internal dispute which prevented him from becoming mayor while Bob Russell, already a member of South Kesteven District Council, is seeking a seat after being rejected by councillors during the co-option process in favour of Colin Pattison in October 2010.

One of the main election issues for the town council should be the delay in handing over the cemetery chapel to the Bourne Preservation Trust which must rank as one of the greatest bureaucratic procrastinations since the authority was formed in 1974 for although the structure of this Victorian building was allowed to deteriorate dramatically during that period, councillors have repeatedly dragged their feet during negotiations lasting almost four years to hand it over to enthusiastic volunteers who are prepared to do the work and find the finance.

As this is sure to be a talking point at this time, it would be timely to remind voters of those councillors still in the swim who, when they had the opportunity to preserve the chapel at a meeting of the finance and general purposes committee on 9th January 2007, voted unequivocally for its demolition, namely Shirley Cliffe, Guy Cudmore, Trevor Holmes, Pet Moisey, John Smith and Judy Smith.

It was only in recent weeks, perhaps with thoughts of the local elections looming, that councillors agreed to support the trust by writing to the Lincoln Diocese requesting that they remove a covenant on the chapel, a necessary step in their efforts to negotiate a lease and subsequent charitable grants that would enable the start of restoration work.

Many will therefore be surprised that the Bourne Preservation Trust is not fielding a candidate and although under existing rules, any of their members in the council chamber would be precluded from taking part in discussions over the chapel issue, they would at least have a foot in the enemy camp.

Apart from Linda Neal, there will be other familiar faces disappearing from the council chamber, notably Don Fisher who is retiring at the age of 77 after completing 35 years as a representative of Bourne West and serving two terms as mayor, from 1983-84 and again in 1998-99. Also standing down are Jane Kingman Pauley who has been a representative of Bourne West since 2002 and was mayor from 2007-08, Alistair Prentice (Bourne West) who was elected in 2003 and Kirsty Roche (Bourne East) who was co-opted in 2008, although she will be trying to win a seat on South Kesteven District Council.

Candidates for the town council are traditionally non-political although those standing for South Kesteven District Council do declare a party affiliation. These elections are more evenly matched, though no less interesting, with contests in both Bourne wards where all of the retiring candidates will have to defend their seats.

South Kesteven District Council

BOURNE EAST (three seats)

The sitting councillors are David Higgs, Bob Russell and Judy Smith (all Conservative candidates elected in 2007) who are now facing a four-cornered fight with newcomer David Evans (The Green Party).

BOURNE WEST (three seats)

The sitting councillors are Trevor Holmes, (Independent, elected 2007), Linda Neal (Conservative, 1995) and John Smith (Conservative, 1974) who will now have a contest with Helen Powell (Independent), Kirsty Roche (Conservative) and newcomer Jonathan Hitch (Labour).

Bourne West will be the most interesting contest of the entire election with serious opposition from the popular town councillor, Helen Powell. She has already had an impressive outing for this seat in 2007 and although unsuccessful she polled 608 votes. Since then, she has stood for the Bourne Castle seat on Lincolnshire County Council in 2009 when she polled more than 1,000 votes and was only narrowly beaten into second place. Her presence in this election as an Independent, therefore, could well split the Conservative Party vote and put the seats of both Linda Neal and cabinet member John Smith at risk.

More nominations from around the town would have been the perfect solution to the change we badly need in our council chambers. There are those who say that they would stand if they had the time, or give some other excuse, while many others just cannot be bothered for one reason or another. A real desire to serve the community and change it for the good is required. Only then will we get those councillors of calibre and quality we badly need but we do not live in a perfect world and so we get the councillors we deserve.

Recent local elections in Bourne have had abysmal turnouts of below 40% and fewer people in the polling booths usually mean that the majority are core voters who always turn out, mostly for party or personal loyalties, and so the old familiar faces return to the council chambers time and time again, irrespective of merit or performance.

Compulsory voting is unlikely to be adopted in the foreseeable future and we are therefore stuck with the present system but this can only reflect popular opinion if more people stand and the electorate actually go along and cast their votes but how to bring this about is the nub of the present problem.

Saturday 30th April 2011

The local government elections are here again and with the royal wedding behind us, we have time to concentrate on next week’s voting on Thursday 5th May. There is a danger that we may not give this event the importance it deserves yet those who will be returned to office will have a direct influence on the town in the years ahead. We therefore have a duty to monitor their appointments through the ballot box to ensure that the right people serve on our councils and that they do their job by delivering the services entrusted to them.

Too much importance is given to political considerations which are still a potent force at district and county level much to the detriment of the people they are supposed to serve although traditionally they do not play a part at parish or town council level.

As far as the town council is concerned, there will be no election in Bourne West where four sitting councillors are returned unopposed, the other four seats to be filled by co-option when the new council first meets although the seven seats on Bourne East are being contested by all seven sitting candidates and two new nominees. Both the Bourne East and Bourne West wards on South Kesteven District Council have elections because in each case the three sitting councillors are seeking to retain their seats with a total of four new nominees between them.

Election addresses are now dropping through the letter box and they make interesting reading. Unfortunately, few have any original thoughts on what should be done, preferring instead to rely on the tried and tested formula of political phrases beloved of the hustings, promising to serve the community to their best ability without fear or favour and without being actually specific, yet we all know that once back in office they are likely to revert to form and the promises made on the doorstep by those who do take the trouble to make the rounds of their ward will soon be forgotten.

One man who found that an election address, however simple and unsophisticated, does work wonders provided that it has a popular appeal was John Worsdall, a retired farmer, who stood for election to the old Bourne Urban District Council in 1922 at the age of 80 when he was one of thirteen candidates contesting five vacancies. He had little education but did possess an innate common sense and he also understood the meaning of communication.

The printing of election literature was an expensive business and so he had the bright idea of producing his own, laboriously writing out each one in pen and ink on plain postcards together with a short poem that he had composed himself which he then delivered to various addresses:

Scores of things will prove
That John has a good heart
And if elected will I'm sure
Most fearless play his part.

On Saturday next at twelve o'clock
I hope on him you'll dote
And place him well nigh at the top
By recording him your vote.

The election address was dated April 1st and could therefore have been construed as a joke but it proved to be no laughing matter because he polled 499 votes and came third to win one of the seats, causing a sensation in the town because he defeated three veteran councillors in the process.

Among the present crop of election addresses, two stand out and both were produced by independent candidates without the benefit of party support yet they have managed to circulate leaflets containing detailed biographies, aims and intentions. They have been issued by Philip Knowles, who is hoping to win a seat in the town council’s Bourne East ward, and Helen Powell, who is contesting the Bourne West ward on SKDC. Not only do their leaflets give clear and concise information about their careers and past achievements but also what they would like to achieve while in office and both stress that they will do so unfettered by party political ties.

In sharp contrast, we have received just a printed postcard from veteran retiring councillor Shirley Cliffe containing the minimum of information telling us that she is standing again in the town council election for Bourne East with the promise that “all business of the council would be considered on its merits” and the expectation appears to be that we should vote for her come what may. Mrs Cliffe, who has been a town councillor since 1976, is so well known that re-election is practically assured especially as she has maintained a high public profile in recent months over her campaigns for a brighter Bourne and in sending parcels to our troops in Afghanistan.

Brenda Johnson, however, another candidate for Bourne East, has also sent a postcard but has managed to cram in an enormous amount of information about her life and what she hopes to achieve for the town if re-elected, adding an email address and contact telephone numbers.

The three Conservative candidates for the Bourne East seat on SKDC, David Higgs, Bob Russell and Judy Smith, share the same party leaflet, and it shows. All have also issued separate election addresses for the Bourne East election to the town council but this is quite a different matter with party policy written all over it and although I have not seen it, I expect it will be the same document for the three Conservative candidates contesting Bourne West, namely Linda Neal, John Smith and Kirsty Roche.

One side of the sheet sings the praises of the authority’s achievements throughout the entire district, accompanied by colourful photographs, while the other is devoted to local issues, two of which deserve comment. The councillors, we are told, have worked hard “to save any destruction of Bourne Wood” and we are thankful for that but it is also worth remembering that when developers wanted to build new houses in or near the woodland, it was the independent councillor Helen Powell who lead the fight to prevent them by rallying support and arranging a public protest meeting at the Corn Exchange in June 2008, persuading both our M P, then Quentin Davies, to dash up from Westminster to take the chair, and Paul Hill-Tout, director of the Forestry Commission, to re-arrange his business schedule to speak with the result that the proposals were finally put to rest.

The other is a reference to the claim that these Tory councillors have also “worked hard to get £2.4 million of finance allocated to the town centre development”. No mention that this is not, in fact, the original rejuvenation scheme at all but a replacement project cobbled together to find a use for two buildings in Wherry’s Lane purchased for exorbitant prices for inclusion in the previous scheme and now earmarked for new flats.

The original town centre redevelopment estimated to cost £27 million was scrapped in June 2010, almost nine years after it was first mooted and without a single brick being laid. Many thought it doomed from the start yet the Conservative-controlled South Kesteven District Council doggedly pursued it to the end, spending an exorbitant amount of money on the project, the exact total as yet undisclosed, but eventually admitting that it was not feasible and conveniently making the economic recession the scapegoat for its abandonment.
 
The tragedy is that the enormous amount of public money wasted would have been better invested in a north-south bypass and although this would be a matter for Lincolnshire County Council, a new road could have been up and running by now given the appropriate support, thus solving our town centre problems at a stroke, but the only candidates to even refer to a by-pass during this election campaign are Helen Powell and Jonathan Hitch (Labour) who is seeking a seat in the Bourne West ward on SKDC.

There is another issue that has been quietly forgotten, despite the passion generated in recent years, and that is the cemetery chapel which was also the subject of a public referendum in 2008. The town council has allowed this Victorian building, their only structural asset apart from the nearby bungalow, to fall into disrepair yet despite almost four years of negotiations it has still not been handed over to the Bourne Preservation Trust, a band of enthusiastic volunteers prepared to do the work and find the finance. This has been a continuing topic of debate yet none of the sitting town councillors seeking re-election deem it worthy of mention.

Voters should therefore read these election addresses with extreme caution and try to separate the specific from the general because this may be their only encounter with the candidates.

We do not expect to see many of them face to face because not all are prepared to make the rounds, unlike one past councillor who well knew the advantage of being seen and profited by it for almost 30 years. John Kirkman sat as an independent at town, district and county level from 1979-2007 without the support of a party machine yet he polled first place in every election he fought without the benefit of the organised campaigns enjoyed by his opponents and the reason for this was that he firmly believed in the old fashioned method of door-stepping and at each election visited every house in his ward to show his face.

This approach is commended to all candidates if they wish to win the trust and allegiance of the people, particularly those councillors who never take to the streets, believing that they have a right to the popular vote without making any effort whatsoever.

I did spot John Smith and Linda Neal stepping out in Burghley Street on Tuesday morning, each sporting an enormous blue rosette as evidence of their party loyalty, and it would be a worthwhile exercise for voters to keep a tally of sightings in the next few days to see how many candidates actually put in an appearance down their way.

The result might then be worth taking along to the polling station on Thursday as a guide to filling in the ballot form. Otherwise, you will have to depend on what they have written in their election addresses and then make up your mind, that is if they have sent you one, because there is no advantage in voting for someone you have never even met and is not prepared to spend some time and effort wooing the electors by indicating what they are standing for and why.

Thought for the week: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. – proverb thought to have been first used by St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), French Cistercian monk, but also used by Samuel Johnson, Sir Walter Scott and Karl Marx.