Election 2013: In Depth Review Of The St Mary’s Hustings

election 2013 hustingsSt Mary’s voters have heard an election candidate describe the mood of the electorate last year to be one of, “borderline revolution” and another shared her desire that Scilly would once again become, “the Happy Isles” following the election.

Around 120 people packed into St Mary’s Church Hall on Wednesday evening for the hustings, which lasted almost two hours.

12 of the 18 St Mary’s candidates for the May 2nd ballot faced the electorate in the session.

Tim Guthrie moderated and started the meeting by explaining that James Francis, one of the candidates, had to go away for business reasons. He had sent his apologies.

Avril Mumford, Fred Ticehurst, Andy Guy, Chris Thomas and Sheila Thomas didn’t attend. Organisers say they were told the reasons but these were not shared in the public session.

Would-be councillors were given a three-minute platform to share their views and vision. Tim used an egg-timer to measure the length of speeches, although the sand appeared to stick, leading him to resort to the stopwatch on his iPhone for a few of the candidate’s speeches.

Candidates spoke in reverse alphabetical order.

Steve Sims was first. He said that there would now be a chance to put right what had gone wrong over 20 years of Council. Steve didn’t feel that members should have been steamrolled into accepting Chief Officers’ pay rises. The Council had to cut the deficit. There are savings which could be made, which require restructuring, said Steve. Plymouth, he argued, has three chief officers and Devon has two. Steve said he would defy anyone to tell him that the current arrangement of six Chief Officers in Scilly offers value for money.

Steve wants greater transparency from the Council. He said the islanders were close to, “borderline revolution” last year but were, “too civilised’ to take it further. He wanted Independent legal advice offered for councillors, not sourced by officers.

Mark Prebble, one of two Green Party candidates, was next. Mark explained that he was a new arrival to Scilly and he had seen things he didn’t think kindly of. He has chosen to live here, buying a home and a business. He likes it here and he is not going to, “trash” the islands. Mark says he wants to make things better.

Mr Prebble addressed the questions he has been asked about being a Green candidate. Green politics are a shared common goal for the future care for the environment, he said.  The philosophy is one of social justice, but it’s not one of woolly socialism, he said. You look after the poor, weak and vulnerable by promoting democracy.

The community comes up with ideas and tell members and officers to enact that and Mark thinks you should use your voice through elected representatives. He said Greens don’t believe in the use of violence, bullying or threatening in governing, seemingly a reference to the much discussed, “climate of fear.”

David Pearson was next to speak. During his three minutes he stated that the Council has to look forward and needs to take steps that will lead to improvements. David cited good progress made in the last four years and he hopes this continues with a balance of experienced and new councillors.

David says health and wellbeing has to be the most important factor and a number of other elements of Council business impact on the health of islanders. Waste and transport issues are important, both for adults and children. David said that, with Children’s Services, the Council have achieved the new school and off-island investments. They have coped with several Ofsted inspections. The support for children with disabilities is good overall and in some cases excellent. We hope to continue to support the less able and give support to voluntary groups and high achievers, he said.

The youngest councillor, Gaz O’Neill was next. Gaz thanked the attendees and said the session was a very important occasion. He has lived here for 20 years, made Scilly his home and he loves the islands. Gaz has served as chairman of Planning and also on the Tourist Board.

He said that councillors have to discuss the big issues but there are smaller ones that also need to be addressed, like the, “shambles” of the Old Town sea wall footpath, repairing Council buildings or dog mess. “You know what the problems are, what you need are answers,” said Gaz. But he warned that, “if anyone says they have them all, run a mile. Nobody has all the answers” He added that he felt that everyone standing has, “honourable intentions.”

Gaz says there are things we can do to find answers. He feels we need an open Council that listens to the community and we need to make decisions now in an honest, democratic process. But Gaz also said he understands that, “you can’t please all the people all the time” He says he has more to offer, especially as he is the youngest person on the Council. He won’t shy away from decisions.

A former Council Chairman, Dudley Mumford was next to present his thoughts, 23 minutes into the evening speeches. He explained that he has been elected in 1989 and served continuously, bar one year. One of the reasons he put himself forward then was the waste at Bar Point and Pendrathen. He felt it was a case of going, “back to the drawing board” and looking at the waste disposal strategy. It was an issue that had been on a back burner for four years, he says.

Education is a big issue in Scilly, he explained. We have a lovely new school but we need to have the debate about Academy status. Transport is another major issue with two major schemes; the quay and the airport upgrade. One is more certain than the other in his view. And Dudley feels that the business of looking at a subsidy needs to be scrutinised.

He explained that the Council has had uncertainty in its management over the last two years. He hopes that interim Chief Executive, Barry Keel will bring fresh ideas and that the members would have an honest opinion from him. The new Council will have to make tough decisions and then the real work begins, he said.

Dudley added that the Council has focussed on the airport, with transport and the governance of the airport remaining an issue. He also pointed out that he had been involved in health scrutiny and that proved an important function of the authority. The councillors need to communicate with each other, he said, and he warned that if new members don’t persuade their peers they won’t get anywhere.

Current Vice Chairman of Council, Amanda Martin, was next. She told the audience that it was, “very heartening to see so many people” but added that it would be nice to have “bottoms on seats” at Council meetings. She said it’s not the same watching the webcast.

Amanda explained that she had been a councillor for eight years and had graduated from being the youngest member. She stood as Vice Chair as a protest and the role had given her the steepest learning curve of her life. She said she hopes that we never have another twelve months like it again.

Amanda said recent events have done no good at all in media, locally, nationally and internationally. “We need trust to be rebuilt in members and officers,” she told voters. And we need to rebuild the idea of this being, “the Happy Isles.” We have got to worry about restructuring. If we don’t trim we have got to restructure, save and regenerate money, she said, and we have to look to the future.

Councillors will be very unpopular in the short term, warned Amanda, and they need to identify their key priorities. Restructuring will come near the top after the budgets. Amanda said that we also need a waste management strategy for the future. If we don’t take the community with us, no strategy will work, she said. Amanda believes that councillors should be conduit for the community. The greatest reproach was the suggestion that, “the tail wags the dog,” meaning officers control elected members. Amanda wants people to think the work they have undertaken over the last year shows that, “the dog is using its own tail.”

Fran Grottick has been one of the key players in the HEART community action group. She apologised for a, “more personal approach” at the start of her talk. Fran described her former role as a nurse. She has also worked in tourism and now has an interest in politics. It’s a very challenging time to get involved, she said.

Fran explained that she has stood and served as a co-opted member for Social Services and Education in the past and knows how things work in some areas of Council. She said she has common sense and an enquiring mind and will try and bring both qualities to Council, if elected. Things have started working better, she said, adding local decisions should be made locally and not far away.

She accepts that much Council business must be private but they need to be as transparent as possible. Fran wants the Council to work in a professional manner. “Why do so many career professionals work here and then fade from view?” she asked. “They can’t all want to spend more time with the family.”

Louise Graham is the second official Green Party candidate and spoke next. Louise said she developed her Green interests from her dad Roy, who tried to run Carnwhether’s Guest House in a green way, and she’s been a party member for two years. She feels that it is very important for sustainability to leave “something precious for the kids.” Louise had a great childhood here and used to feel restored and happy when she came to visit during her 17 years away as a teacher. Sustainability is not just about the economy, but also matters to our health and environment, she told the meeting.

Louise said that looking after her mum, Joyce, for eight years and running the guesthouse has been a great learning experience for her. “I have learnt how hard it is to run a business.” And she said she has become more aware of health issues, particularly for the elderly.

Louise worked with Waste Watch in implementing a waste management plan in East Anglia.  In Norfolk, there was engagement, she said, and they managed to consult, despite 450,000 people in the area. Scilly has 2,200 so it’s not impossible that we can engage people, she said. Louise advocates fortnightly councillor surgeries and referenda on major issues. Louise was involved in HEART and says it’s important that people get involved and participate. “It’s your responsibility to have the Council that you want,” she said.

Another former Chairman, Roy Duncan, spoke next. Roy recounted a conversation with a visitor who wanted to know whether the islands were homogenous; “together as one.” Everyone comes together and tries to do “good” for the islands, he said, and he equated that to being a councillor.

It’s not for the fun and glory. Roy explained that meetings can be dull, boring and frustrating but he felt they can achieve things. He spoke of the MUGA and Porthcressa Regeneration as successes and said that can be rewarding, but sometimes it’s annoying when you can’t get a pothole filled. He assesses Council decisions by asking himself, “will this make life better for the people of Scilly?”

Former GP and HEART Chairman Adrian Davis was next. He has been in Scilly since 1970 and feels that he has come to know what makes the islands tick over 30 years work on all of the islands. Adrian was prompted out of retirement by HEART and says he has to, “stand up and be counted now.” He would hope to bring HEART’s principles to the Council.

Adrian says that there are several major issues that the Council needs to address. He has found the Council’s code of conduct had been, “somewhat altered” from the national requirements and says he would try and fulfil the Nolan principles of what would be expected of a Council and councillor. And he warned that there will be difficult decisions ahead.

Gordon Bilsborough is the oldest current member. He told the meeting that he first came to Scilly to live in 1989 after holidaying here for seven years. In 1997 someone told him to stand for Council as he had prior experience in St Albans. Gordon said he has never voted for anything that he believed to be wrong. He backed the controversial Chief Officers’ pay rises but says that when he discovered that, “a load of you didn’t like it,” he resigned. Much work needs to be done for the Council’s economic situation, he warned, and the members of the next Council need to tackle the deficit. He predicted that it, “will be a hard year.”

There needs to be integrity, honesty and transparency. Gordon says he will not act on rumour and allegations and he doesn’t like anonymous requests to take up cases. He says islanders can talk to him in confidence. Moving onto specific issues, Gordon told the meeting that the airport must be stand-alone and can’t be a burden on the Council. The Council can’t run into deficit, he said. Gordon feels that we must protect frontline services and he would be  “loathed” to affect care for the elderly adding that Park House does a good job. He finished his address stating that he will always act honestly and listen to what locals have to say, but he won’t always do what they want.

Last to speak was Ralph Banfield and he kept his address brief. He is an islander and has been on the Council for 10 out of the last 12 years. He is standing to see some of the outstanding items cleared up like the dump, transport and airport. He has tried to keep up with legislation but admitted that it can be hard if you are working full time on the farm, as he is.

Some of his decisions have not gone down well with councillors and locals, he said. Ralph thought about not standing again but says he, “has to see it through.”

All candidates on for the 2nd May elections, across all of the islands, have been sent a questionnaire by Scilly Today.

We will publish the responses after 9am on Tuesday.

7 Responses to Election 2013: In Depth Review Of The St Mary’s Hustings