Mayor-Trowbridge-Chains-Robe-Park

6th July 2024

I’d been away at a family funeral in the north of England at the beginning of last week and didn’t get back to Trowbridge until late on Wednesday, so all in all, it was always going to be a rather short week “on duty” as your Mayor. 

The sad (apart from the obvious, the reason I was away) result of this absence from the town was that I missed the Stepping Stones Annual General Meeting. Stepping Stones is one of my Mayoral Charities, so I was disappointed to have missed such an important event in their calendar. 

*** 

My first appointment on my return was in my capacity as Chair of Trowbridge Town Council. This role is the alter-ego of the Mayor, when you are elected Mayor, you are also automatically elected as Chair of the Town Council, so it is only proper that my activities in that role are featured in this Mayoral blog. 

Before every Full Council the Chair or Mayor meets with the Town Clerk and other senior officers of the Council to go over the agenda for the meeting and review any motions or questions that may have been submitted. This is a purely procedural meeting. There is no political element to our scrutiny of the forthcoming Full Council agenda. The only purpose is to ensure that the meeting runs smoothly, is compliant with our Standing Orders and that any questions or motions that have been submitted in advance are answered, handled, or (where appropriate) debated in the correct way. 

Last week, this Full Council “pre-meet” took place on Thursday morning. The Town Clerk/CEO, the Deputy Town Clerk/RFO, and I went through the draft agenda for the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 16th July and confirmed that everything was in place to ensure that the meeting will be conducted correctly. 

That’s really the limit of my role as Chair, to act as the moderator during debate and make sure the meeting runs smoothly and in accordance with Standing Orders. The Chair has no role to play in steering the Council towards any decision, unless, of course, this is necessary to uphold Standing Orders. But the Chair is also a serving elected Councillor, so they do still have the right to vote according to their conscience on all matters that are taken to a vote during the meeting. 

It’s a bit weird and confusing, but although the Mayor must remain politically neutral while acting as Mayor, when acting as Chair of the Council (or sitting as an “ordinary” Councillor on any Council Committee), they do retain their right as a serving Councillor to vote on any issue that comes before the Council or Committee. 

Then, just to confuse things further, there’s the “casting vote.” The Chair of the Full Council will, if necessary, use a casting vote to break a deadlock in the event of a tied vote. 

It’s all a balancing act! 

*** 

Just after noon on Saturday, my wife and I made our way down to Gloucester Road Allotments for their Summer Open Day and BBQ. 

I’d been slightly concerned that the almost torrential rain that had woken us up early that morning would have made the grassy area in front of the allotments’ clubhouse a bit of a mud bath, but no, the weather had cleared, and the ground was virtually dry by the time we got there at around twelve thirty. In fact, it had warmed up considerably, and even the sun had come out. 

Sadly, that was almost all that came out. Despite the best efforts of the small number of diehard regulars who had put up stalls in aid of both itself, the Gloucester Road Allotment Association and the Bath Cancer Unit Support Group, as well as providing a really rather good BBQ and cream tea selection, not that many people actually came to support the event. 

From when my wife and I arrived and for a good hour or so afterwards, there were less than half a dozen actual visitors. In fact, for most of the afternoon, the volunteer stallholders and sustenance providers outnumbered the actual attendees. 

Now, there must be around a hundred individually allocated and tended allotments at Gloucester Road, so this poor attendance was really rather disappointing. You’d have thought that a good proportion of those who actually have allotments on the site would have at least bothered to turn up to support their own event! In fact, if you think about it, it’s a bit of a slap in the face for those dedicated members who had been there since early that morning and had made the effort to set up the stalls, fire up the BBQ, and prepare the cream scones. 

Anyway, the food was good, and the folk manning the stalls did the best they could under the circumstances. I hope they raised some money for the good causes they were there to support, but let’s also hope more of those who use the allotments turn up when it’s their annual show on Saturday 7th September! 

*** 

Ok, let’s end with the obvious elephant in the room! The General Election. This took place across the UK last Thursday. Polling booths opened at seven o’clock in the morning and didn’t close until ten o’clock that night. 

Now, as the Mayor I’m not allowed to express any partisan political preferences or offer my support to any one political party or candidate, but I am allowed to comment on the democratic process as it unfolded through the night. 

In that vein, I can happily report back to you all on the overnight events at County Hall that followed the closure of the polling booths at ten o’clock. I apologise to all those who already know some of these facts and processes, but not everyone is as engaged in politics as the likes of me and my fellow Councillors. 

I arrived at County Hall just before half past nine. All those attending the count, those officiating and counting the votes, as well as the candidates and their agents, had been told to arrive by that time, as it took a while to get us all checked in and briefed before the postal votes started to be validated at ten. 

We knew we were in for a long night. 

We (the candidates and agents) were the lucky ones; we had a room upstairs from the main counting floor where we could take a break, grab a coffee and a bite to eat, chat and compare notes, or even watch the national progress on the TV screens provided. 

Those actually “working the count” were far more rigidly controlled. They were seated in teams of six, with a supervisor for each team, on one side of long rows of tables. We were confined to the other side of these rows of tables, and although we could walk up and down and view the count taking place on any table, we were not allowed behind these rows of counting tables or to chat with the counters or interfere in any way with their task. We were only there to observe, to make sure that we were happy that every vote was counted, and every vote was credited to the candidate it was meant for. 

Actually, the only time we were allowed to speak to the counting teams was in the event that we saw an error, and even then, we couldn’t actually touch a ballot paper, even if it had fallen on the floor on our side of the table. All we could do was tell the count supervisor, and they had to actually pick it up. 

It was all very tightly controlled, and every safeguard was taken to ensure that the count was both accurate and free of any chance of interference. 

The first two or three hours after the count started were spent validating the votes cast. This did not involve actually counting the votes for each candidate; in fact, who the vote was for was an irrelevance in this process. The whole point of validating the vote was to make sure that the total number of ballot papers taken out of each ballot box returned to the count hall from all the polling stations equalled the total number of ballot papers recorded as being issued to voters during the day at each polling station. No personally identifiable information was on any ballot paper; all that is verified is that the number of votes cast equals the number of ballot papers handed to voters and that none have gone missing or been “added.”. 

Only when the total number of ballot papers taken out of each ballot box was confirmed as being the same as the number of ballot papers issued by the polling station was the count considered to be “validated.” 

Only then can the counters move on to separating the ballot papers into piles of votes cast for each candidate. The votes for each candidate are clipped into bundles of ten and then bigger bundles of one hundred. Our “job” as Agents is to watch this happen and make sure that none of our candidate’s votes are put on (and therefore counted with) a rival candidate’s pile and that each bundle of ten votes contained ten ballot papers, not nine or eleven. 

That’s it. When all this is over (last week at County Hall, which was at nearly five o’clock in the morning) and the total number of votes cast for each candidate plus any “spoilt” votes totalled the total number of ballot papers validated earlier, the results are presented to the Candidates and their Agents. 

If the result is very close, a Candidate can ask for a recount and the counting process is rerun to check the result. In theory, this can happen multiple times, but luckily (or not for the losing candidates), this did not happen last Thursday, or rather Friday morning, at County Hall. 

The candidates alone then line up on stage, and the Returning Officer announces the verified result. 

Phew! I got home about half past five on Friday morning. It was a long night, but one I wouldn’t have missed. You’re a part of history, and it really is marvellous to see true democracy in action. 

*** 

That’s it for now, so until next time, keep safe and, please, be kind to each other. 

 

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