Blue dolphin – queen of the Brexit Sea

Awwww… a dolphin! And I guess if you voted Tory in the County Council elections in Kent you’ll be thinking that it looks like a pretty healthy dolphin.

Not too many blemishes. Just a patch of Green weed around the dorsal fin – which will probably fall off sooner or later… some Liberaldemocraticus fungus and even a small patch of the very rare Kent Corbynista in the midrift, nose and the tail.

But is this dolphin really as strong and stable as it appears to be? I’m not so sure… it appears a bit moth-eaten around the edges.

And it’s swimming upside down! And the wrong way round!

Oh golly.. I think we’re heading for the rocks!

Posted in Governance | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Shop local – you can’t afford not to


The farmers’ market in Wye

A while back I was having a conversation with a friend who was expressing doubts about local shopping. We were discussing the local farmers’ market in Wye in Kent and he was saying that he often visited in order to talk to fellow villagers but he seldom bought anything.

“It’s more expensive and it takes time,” he said.
“Are you completely sure?” I replied, before explaining my own situation.
I’ve done all my food shopping in the village for the past 6 years – groceries at the local co-op, vegetables and fruit at the local farm shop, meat at the butcher’s, jams and chocolate and smoked food at the farmers’ market.
In terms of time, I obviously forego the time spent in a car driving to the local Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s, or sitting behind the computer organising an online delivery. And I often combine a local shop with walking the dog or meeting a friend. While I understand my friend’s point that this is time-consuming, I nevertheless feel it is positive time rather than negative: an enjoyable experience and I don’t resent it as a result.
In terms of expense, things are a little more complicated. I have teenage children and two of them have worked at the local farm shop. So I usually spend £30 in the farm shop on a weekday and then one of them goes and earns it back at the weekend. I therefore feel that a direct price comparison is unnecessary. It feels a bit like involving someone else in the dispensing of pocket money – with the benefits of work experience and food consumption thrown in.
“Ah,” said my friend, “But my children don’t work at the shop,” perhaps failing to anticipate that his younger children might like to do so in the future. Perry Court Farm Shop, to give the place a plug, has employed large numbers of teenagers from Wye and their parents have all benefited by having children who have a source of income away from their households – saving family money.
But what if you don’t have children at all? Or at least no interest in lining their pockets? I feel that the same rules apply to other sectors of the population.
Concerns about social care and isolation have become widespread over the past few years.  A report published five years ago by the Commission for Rural Communities predicted that the proportion of over-85 year olds living in rural areas was set to nearly double by 2028. Though the government pledged an extra £2 billion to social care spending in the last budget, this is widely thought to be insufficient. Already the number of older people in England who don’t get the social care they need has risen to a new high of 1.2 million – up, we are told by AgeUK, by a staggering 48% since 2010. 
In this context, how do we want rural communities like Wye to develop? As featureless dormitories reliant on personal car ownership and social workers from outside to support the lonely, carless and otherwise infirm? Or communities where local enterprises have been encouraged and supported and where these local enterprises support the elderly and isolated in return?
It might appear easier when you’re 30 or 40 to visit Sainsbury’s or to shop online, but it’s not hard to imagine where one might rather shop at the age of 90. In the bright lights? With all that choice and in amongst the miles and miles of shelving without a shop assistant anywhere to be seen? I think not.
Our local shops are already providing vital assistance to the elderly and isolated people in the community, recognising and supporting those who need a little extra help. If they didn’t exist, the lives of older people here in Wye would be less rich. And younger people would have to spend even more on social care through tax than we do now.
So, in the long term, is local shopping more expensive? I really don’t think so.
Posted in business, Care, Communal space, Food Production | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Long Legs

imageIt’s interesting to speculate as to what might be happening if Wye had voted ‘no’ in the Neighbourhood Plan referendum last week.

Various members of the community would be walking round in a gloom. Developers would be licking their lips and delivering planning applications by the dozen to Ashford Borough Council. And the parish council would be chasing its tail, wondering what the hell to do next – much like the government following the Brexit vote.

I wanted to write something on the blog about the village Yard Sale this weekend. Rather than just announcing the bare details – 17 September between 10 and 2 pm, everyone can take part, just set up outside your home – I decided to complicate matters by trying to discern the government’s waste strategy post-Brexit.

The cunning plan, as far as I can make out, was that the Department of Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was going to publish a 25-year environment strategy this autumn. One imagines that when this was first conceived, the authors would have been working on deciding how to meet various environmental targets – as the EU, for all its sins, is very hot on the environment.

But then Brexit and the authors turned to the very different task of working out which environmental targets Britain is going to adhere to and which can be quietly ignored. And, if we’re going to set ourselves any targets, then how are the targets going to be reached and who is going to check up on us that we’ve reached them?

I feel a headache coming on. Does anyone know the answers to these questions? It seems unlikely that they were worked out in advance of the EU debate. And now, as we work out how far out into orbit we are prepared to fling ourselves, these environmental bits and bobs are probably considered ‘the least of our worries’.

So it’s no surprise that DEFRA’s 25-year environmental strategy has been delayed. Supposedly it will be published later in the autumn but one wonders, in the absence of any clear vision as to our relationship with Europe and its legislation, how this will be possible?

And how can any government minister say anything meaningful about anything without understanding the new post-EU world? Maybe that’s why Teresa May has chosen to focus on education (and grammar schools of all things), because everything else might impact on forthcoming negotiations? And it’s probably also why the government’s new waste minister, Therese Coffey has refused thus far to define any waste strategy. She has merely said that we need something with ‘long legs.’

Which perhaps suggests that she has little more than the Wye Yard Sale in mind… sales will take place in a number of locations as dispersed as the village hall, Orchard Drive, Little Chequers and Abbots Walk – see the black dots on the map below. We will, as Therese says, need long legs. And let’s hope it inspires her forthcoming waste strategy.

We do of course need more people to sell – so please feel free to contact me on Maps will be printed on Friday and will be available from some of the vendors.


Posted in Waste | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ordinary person from Norwich ignored


Something ordinary from Norwich

I’ve never taken part in a focus group but I can imagine the experience would be quite fun. In my mind they start with cheery if slightly patronising bonhomie, followed by intense scrutiny of a particular product or colour or political slogan. Cup of tea. Free vouchers. The slightly smug feeling that you might have said something significant. And off into the street again.

Last year a number of ordinary people took part in focus groups about the referendum question as the Electoral Commission tried to work out whether the question proposed by the government “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” was sufficiently intelligible.

The resulting report, published in September 2015, reveals that few stones were left unturned. Group participants were quizzed as to the exact implications of the words yes and no, what stay or remain meant to them, even the real significance of the word ‘member’. Would it not be better to say ‘be’? And how about EU rather than ‘European Union’?

In the event the Electoral Commission concluded that we should not have a yes/no question and, as most of us now know because the central recommendation was accepted by the government, went with ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ and ‘Leave the European Union’. And so began the process of unravelling.

For the most part, the report is sufficiently obsessive to be left well alone. It is merely depressing to see that the deep divide that now afflicts the nation was apparent even then.

3.42 Some others felt that the phrase ‘member of the European Union’ could convey positive feelings of inclusivity and therefore that the phrase was not neutral…

3.43 In contrast, a couple of participants suggested that ‘leave’ as the last part of the question could result in a ‘recency’ effect, encouraging people to vote for the UK to leave the EU. 

But there is an interesting series of paragraphs on page 26 entitled “What will the outcome of the vote be either way?” The paragraphs are shocking to read now because many of the 1600 respondents had clearly expressed doubt in 2015 as to how helpful the proposed question was really going to be.

3.72 Participants were not clear about what the terms of membership would be for the United Kingdom if there was a majority ‘yes’ or a majority ‘no’ vote. As one person put it: ‘If you’re not a member of the European Union, what would you be then?’ (mini-depth, Norwich, female, 25-44 years)

3.73 Participants wanted to know whether a majority vote to remain a member of the European Union would mean: continuation of current terms of membership; continued membership with different terms of membership; or continued membership and adoption of the Euro.

3.74 Similarly, participants wanted to know whether a majority vote to leave the European Union would mean: entire separation from the European Union; renegotiated terms of membership; some kind of partial membership; or a relationship with European Union with trade agreements similar to other European countries that are not part of the European Union.

3.75 Participants indicated they wanted answers to the following questions:

Will a majority ‘yes/ remain/ stay’ vote mean:
• Continuation of current terms of membership?
• Continued membership with different terms of membership?

Will a majority ‘no/ leave’ vote mean:
• Entire separation from the European Union?
• Renegotiated terms of membership?
• ‘What’s the consequences of saying no? What’s the next option if you say no? Is it partial membership?’ (Mini-group, London, 45-59 years, BC1)
• A relationship with the European Union with trade agreements similar to other European countries that are not part of the European Union? 

The Electoral Commission maintain in an earlier paragraph (1.18) that its job was merely to advise on the intelligibility of the question and “does not extend to suggesting alterations that would change the substance of the question or introduce new factors which might alter the nature of the debate.”

With the power of retrospect I wonder how the commissioners feel now? Surely a complete lack of clarity as to what happens as a result of the vote constitutes lack of “intelligibility”? If we were to hold referenda on, for example, the monarchy, would it be sufficient just to say “I do want the Queen/ I do not want the Queen.” Would such a choice be deemed “intelligible” – given the lack of clear identification of an alternative?

The 25-44 year old female from Norwich quoted in the report had it absolutely right when she said  ‘If you’re not a member of the European Union, what would you be then?’ Her words should have rung massive alarm bells with the Electoral Commission that the question was simply not intelligible. As the report says “Participants were not clear…”

Unfortunately for all of us this ordinary person was ignored. The Commission was far too preoccupied by precise definitions of small words as to not to be able to really see this ordinary person or the bigger picture. They should have thrown it back to the government at that time to come up with a question that gave some indication as to the future. They didn’t. So it was unintelligible then. And definitely still unintelligible now.

Posted in Governance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


imageA power vacuum. We’ve said goodbye to Brussels. Westminster has dissolved into squabbling about the precise emissions from its own rear end. There seems no alternative. Wye with Hinxhill Parish Council will have to take control.

In these difficult times, we can supply reassuring good leadership. A parish council with seven councillors and one clerk, we have an ex-brigadier, a former housing association manager, a journalist, a playwright and, most useful of all, a breakdown recovery company director among our number. And thus far we haven’t been tainted by any expenses scandal. Our allowance is £100 a year and most of us don’t claim any more than that in expenses.

In contrast to Westminster, we are terribly polite, practically falling over ourselves to allow a colleague to perform some task or other. We are totally united on Europe because none of us have the foggiest how each other voted. And I’m sure our training managing litter bins, the village green and the local lavs, recently divested from the local megastate (Ashford Borough Council), will be invaluable when it comes to working out a new trade agreement with the EU.

There is of course the small problem of our own authority. We might be accused of being in our own bubble – population 2,500, halfway between Ashford and Canterbury… And our media relations might not be quite what they should be – the parish website is still crowing about a village hall extravaganza held in 2015. But nevertheless, like Jeremy Corbyn, we are confident that the country will swing behind us in any snap election.

And if that were to happen… then perhaps the world might turn away from studying the failings of the EU and the implosions at Westminster to study what is going wrong at the very lowest level of British democracy?

Oh dear..

I seem to have abruptly changed my tune. Did I write “what is going WRONG?” Perhaps things in Wye with Hinxhill are not quite so rosey after all? I feel a sudden sweat. My own spin machine – homemade and made out of recycled material – is unravelling: thoughts that have been lying dormant for years are coming bubbling to the surface.

Oh dear oh dear. Doubts about our leadership potential are about to be released. The brigadier will not be happy.

Here they come… How is it that in a community of 2,500 people only 7 people come forward to work as councillors? Why are there four vacancies on the council? Why are these public servants, in common with local councils throughout the country, overwhelmingly white, elderly and male? Why don’t people know who their local councillors are and what they do? Why isn’t more use made of social media to engage the young? Why isn’t it more of an attractive, enjoyable task? Why is there such a disconnect between politics at parish, borough, county, national and EU level? Why is there no acknowledgement or thanks for what we do?

Oh dear…

I got involved in local politics because I thought that working locally might be a way to accelerate social and environmental change. Five years on and I’ve had to adjust my views. I still think change can be pushed forward locally but I no longer think that working on the local council is the way to make it happen. It was perhaps naive of me to think otherwise. I now think that reforming local democracy is one of the changes that needs to happen.

The past few days have indicated very clearly that democracy at international and national level is broken. But let’s not ignore what’s been happening locally for years. And, given that we have a substantial rebuilding process on our hands, let’s please start from the bottom up.

Posted in Governance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


This is my recollection of last week’s parish council meeting:

  • Councillor Shoults chaired the meeting in the absence of the council chair Noel Ovenden. The community warden was also busy elsewhere.
  • Councillor Shoults updated the council on the ongoing discussions with Telereal Trillium. In particular he referred to a statement which is due to be simultaneously released by Telereal Trillium and the parish council regarding the drafting of the WYE3 Masterplan. While the text has been nearly agreed, it has not yet been released.
  • Councillor Shoults said that he was writing to officers at Ashford Borough Council concerning the date for the Neighbourhood Plan referendum (which we have been told won’t happen before September).
  • A meeting to discuss plans for the development of the Free School had been postponed. The PC understands that there are issues regarding costs which need to be resolved before the developers meet with the parish council.
  • County Councillor Andrew Wickham is meeting with Kent Highways regarding the speed limit on Harville Road and will report back.
  • Councillor Reece informed the council that the Village Hall development committee will shortly be applying for £15,000 from the parish council for phase 1 of the village hall development project.
  • The development of the garden at the Rectory was discussed. Councillors were going to enquire of Ashford Council about access rights of 1-9 Vicarage Gardens.
  • The parish council is being audited this week. A meeting to approve the accounts for 2015-16 has been arranged for Thursday.



Posted in Communal space, Education, Governance, Housing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


This is my recollection of last week’s parish council meeting:

  • The council elected Noel Ovenden to be Chair of the Parish Council, to replace Councillor Shoults who is standing down. A vote of thanks was proposed to Councillor Shoults who was elected Deputy Chair. Councillor Ovenden is also to chair the Resources Committee.
  • Councillor Shoults reported on the meeting with Telereal Trillium and Ashford Borough Council which took place on April 25. At the meeting, Telereal Trillium agreed that the Neighbourhood Plan constituted the basis for the forthcoming Masterplan for WYE3. It was also agreed that the parish council and Telereal Trillium should work together on a Masterplan for the area. Exactly how this will work will be the basis of forthcoming meetings, the first of which is on Monday May 9. Please see Councillor Shoults’ full report here: 160507NPreporttoCouncil.
  • At the same meeting, Simon Cole from Ashford Borough Council explained that Ashford electoral services were unable to carry out a Neighbourhood Plan referendum in Wye before September.
  • Councillor Reece is carrying out an audit of community spaces (and service providers?). This is in order to establish clarity on what the community might like to be sited in the College buildings.
  • The borough councillor Noel Ovenden reported that the election of officers has now taken place at the borough. Noel is on the Economic Regeneration Investment Board and the Broadband Hard To Reach panel. He said that considerable development is to take place in Ashford town centre over the next few years, starting with the cinema currently under construction on Elwick Road.
  • Our Place Wye has registered as a community interest company separate from the parish council and has its own bank account. It is therefore able to apply for grants to carry out community work in its own right. Anyone interested should contact Penny Haynes or Dave Martin.
  • It was agreed that a voucher would be distributed to the recipients of the Parish Awards starting this year. The award winners have been agreed and will be notified prior to the annual parish meeting on Wednesday May 25.
  • It was noted that the dispute concerning the permissive footpath adjacent to the Old Vicarage on the Green was continuing. This however is a matter for the rights of way department at Kent County Council. Anyone who would like to take the matter up with KCC should contact the parish clerk in the first instance.
  • The community warden reported that the Monday community cafe event at the Wye Corner Cafe was thriving. In addition, a community lunch will soon be provided at the village hall on a Wednesday with the help of the catering company which provides food for the primary school (a roast dinner for about £4.50).
  • It was agreed to support Our Place in the organisation of a community tea/lunch? on Churchfield Green on June 12 – as part of the national Big Lunch, to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday.
  • The community warden also reported that he’d been taking some of the community’s older residents to take part in an intergenerational project at Wye School: they had been interviewed and drawn by the children.
  • The defibrillator has been installed at the fire station.
  • The youth shelter has been repaired and is now being stored at Perry Court prior to a decision being taken as to where it should be located
Posted in business, Care, Communal space, Connectivity, Governance, Housing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment