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.   Wards and seats There are eight wards in Frome and, confusingly, the number of town councillors varies from ward to ward. The important thing to remember is that you have as many votes as there are council seats in your ward. This means that if you live in Oakfield you can vote for up to two different candidates, if you live in Keyford you can vote for up to three. Here’s the full list. You don’t have to use all your votes but you don’t get your full say if you choose not to. IfF have a candidate for every seat.   Number of candidates That brings us on to the number of candidates you have to choose from. IfF have put forward 17 independent individuals (one for each seat) meaning that wherever you live you can use all your votes for IfF candidates. None of the political parties have put up a candidate for every seat so if you’re a national party supporter you might not be able to use all your votes for your chosen party. The Frome Times has a list of everyone standing for the town council Between us IfF and the national parties have put up 49 candidates for the 17 town council seats. You may think that’s nothing special but it...

A familiar question

“How can I know what I’ll get from a group of independents?”   It’s a question we’ve heard and answered before. But it becomes more relevant as people’s attention is naturally drawn from local issues to the general election.   If you’re looking for manifesto style commitments you won’t get them from IfF. Manifestos are dangerous things (as we’ve seen nationally). They are a response to a point in time but expected to be delivered in an uncertain future.   Rather than developing policy based on an ideology, IfF candidates commit to working with each other, discussing and debating what’s best for Frome and agreeing to disagree. The standard political party response to this approach is that it is bound to fail because you need strong ideology and an identifiable group to make decisions and get things done. However, four years of an IfF led town council has shown that that simply isn’t true.   So what you will get with a new IfF led town council is a commitment (agreed by all 17 candidates) to focus on: Completing the Town Hall and Showfield projects Focus on sport and healthy living Push for the right mix of housing, green space and employment (using the neighbourhood plan) Look to attract more significant investment into the town All the while giving the people of the town the opportunity to set the priorities. You’ll also get strong, informed decision making by a range of people with a real passion for the town rather than for politics.   Now, just for a minute, let’s pretend that that’s not good enough for you, that...

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...

And again…?

I had assumed that it would be an easy decision. After the surprise of getting elected had worn off (and it did take a couple of months) I assumed that I would be thoroughly sick of being a town councillor in four years time and that I be glad to pass the baton on. When the time to make a decision came I wasn’t lacking reasons to give it up: the unsociable hours, apparently endless meetings, the frustration of a district council that appeared to take the polar opposite approach and party politicians who believed their role was to object to whatever any IfF councillor suggested just on principle. And yet here I am throwing my hat in to the ring again. So, how come I’m back here with 16 others fighting for another Independent town council? There are two reasons. Firstly, I’ve really come to believe in the importance of independent politics. Last time it might have been more about replacing a non functioning council. Now, having seen what the parties offer locally, how much more a group of independents can achieve and how important it has become for our town to make our own decisions I’m determined to do all I can to keep our town independent. It turns out that that has meant signing up for another four years. Secondly, if I’m honest I’ve quite enjoyed it. I’ve met so many people and seen so many amazing things that go in this wonderful, strange and diverse town of ours that I wouldn’t have otherwise come across. Also, the process of bringing together a group of people...