Election by numbers

Any election is, of course, about the numbers. Votes cast, swings, turnouts and polls. Unsurprisingly there are no polls for the town council; no one has ever thought it was worth the cost but there are some numbers that are worth considering before we get to the stage of counting votes.

D is for Debt.

As the election approaches we will be told borrowing – and debt – it is a bad thing (see a potential councillor’s letter in the Frome Standard). But is that always the case? Historically Frome Town lost most of her land and buildings to Mendip when the District was created. This means we have less control as to what happens in the Town where these are concerned. We can’t earn money from rent, or save money for organisations by using our own buildings; and significant areas of land are not maintained as services from the District are reduced. At the moment interest rates are very low and the Town Council can borrow money at a fixed rate. Borrowing money allows quite large sums to be raised for buildings like the Frome Town Hall, and paid back in small amounts over many years. Borrowing can also be used to replace an ongoing cost, a lower loan and interest repayment, as the IfF led Council did with the Cheese and Grain. Here an ever increasing annual subsidy – of around £35,000 a year – was replaced with a loan repayment of £33,000 and the loan used to refurbish the building, creating a significantly improved facilitate for Frome and a viable business – at a lower annual cost to the Town Council. This Council has borrowed money for the Cheese and Grain; land and buildings on Saxonvale which saved youth training and also gives Frome people a stake in the future of that area; and the new Town Hall. Added to significant historic repayments from the purchase of the Cheese and Grain...

The ‘C’ Word

It’s that time of year when everyone is gearing up for elections. When I say everyone what I really mean is candidates for the Town and District councils and the general election. So it came as no surprise last Wednesday when a Conservative Councillor read out a list of questions that really could have been asked at any point in the past four years (why save them up?). One question however gave us a foretaste of the likely criticism we will face: “How much money has Frome Town Council spent on consultants? Ah consultants, that dread word that speaks of wasteful spending! But wait a minute, let’s pick this apart and identify who these consultants are and why have they been hired? First off Frome Town Council is a tiny public body with a staff of around 11 people including outdoor services and 2 apprentices. We’re really lucky to have extremely skilled, competent and enthusiastic staff, we’re also really lucky to have councillors who bring a range of skills, expertise and experience to their roles which we draw on wherever possible. However there are specific projects that require specific skills and it would be remiss (and in some cases illegal) for us not to use professional advice. Let’s take for example the purchasing of the Town Hall from the County Council. In order to establish a fair price and to realistically begin to cost the project it was necessary to employ a surveyor to assess the condition of the building. I guess you could say that the surveyor is one of the consultants we’ve employed. Now the Neighbourhood Plan...