In town council meetings there is a standing agenda item called ‘correspondence’. This is the section in which members of the public and outside organisations can formally register any matter of concern or interest with town councillors and be sure that it will be publicly noted.
As you would expect in the topsy-turvy world of Ledbury Town Council, ‘correspondence’ is devoted to the presentation of trivial material such as the arrival of magazines and official bumph. Important letters and emails are rarely presented.
Great efforts have been made reasonably to ask the Clerk and the Mayor, Annette Crowe what are the criteria for the circulation of correspondence to councillors. When residents write officially to the council, is it just an optional extra that their letters are not put straight in the bin? Who decides and on what basis what gets put before councillors or not? Are there any rules or guidelines beyond the preference or whim of the Town Clerk? The questions remain unanswered by Ledbury Council’s two senior ladies.
When the future of Ledbury’s Neighbourhood Plan Group was under discussion, a large number of people wrote to the Mayor petitioning about the proposed dissolution of the community-led group. People rightly were concerned that the Plan should not be put in the hands of consultants who have little loyalty and limited knowledge of our town.
At the debate, none of their emails were circulated to councillors nor their views mentioned by the Mayor. Neither was the hand-delivered letter to Annette Crowe from five longstanding members of that Group which asked that she encourage the Clerk to agree to meet Ian James the Neighbourhood Plan chair to help unblock the process which she her deputy had lately strangled.
The friendly Annette Crowe airily explained that the reason this correspondence was never presented to Council was because she didn’t know she had received it. By her own admission, Annette is not so good with the internet and uses her own personal email account for official business. This means that if you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (which is the address posted on Ledbury Town Council's website) it will languish unread. Note, Mrs Crowe has been a town councillor for four years and in all that time has never used her official email account. So that’s all right then.
Unfortunately there are at least three other instances of important letters sent to the Clerk or in hard copy being filed in the 'WPB' since Annette became Mayor, no action taken. But how would anyone know the true extent of the Council’s manipulation of information? Such is the Kafkaesque bureaucratic labyrinth in which town councillors operate. As George Orwell said: Ignorance is strength.
The suppression of uncomfortable official correspondence is not a new phenomenon. Last December (2014), a local landowner wrote to the Mayor, Bob Barnes outlining a major housing proposal which could have financed a large multi-use sports ground for the town. He asked that the letter be circulated to councillors for comment. Bob Barnes kept it to himself. Naturally it never appeared as ‘correspondence’.
There are those who tend to favour cock-up over conspiracy in explaining strangely troubling coincidences. Ok. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt and say Bob Barnes is a fool and didn’t have the basic intelligence to interpret what this letter meant or how properly to discharge his duties as Mayor and chair of the Neighbourhood Plan Group.
The alternative, less charitable explanation was the that the mooted housing/sports facility proposal might have derailed the advanced plans of various of his friends in the local sports world. Cllr Rob Yeoman was then acting as agent, it will be recalled, for the speculative land developers looking to build houses on the old cricket pitch, the planning application for which was at a particularly delicate stage.
How inconvenient to Rob’s chums at the Silverwood Partnership would an alternative scheme have been which both fulfilled all Ledbury’s housing requirements at a stroke, and provided new cricket, football and rugby fields plus a multi-use sports complex.
It took a full year before news of this alternative sports blueprint came to light, coincidentally just around the time the Neighbourhood Plan team was being dissolved - at Mr Yeoman’s behest. That will be another cock-up.
Tackled on why he didn’t do as he was requested and forward the letter to interested parties, Bob Barnes said lamely that he had discussed it with ‘two or three councillors’ and had ‘decided’ it was not ‘relevant’. Nor did he think it would be of relevance to the Neighbourhood Planning group, then grappling with all the options for location of sports, housing and open green space.
Fool or liar? You decide.
Read the news story here: Stone’s rule #2: Deny Everything.