A most withering indictment of the way councillors behave

THESE past few months have seen Lyme Regis Town Council seemingly struggle from one crisis to another. In fact, the life of the last two councils will almost certainly go down as the town’s most controversial eight years of local government.

After the last full council meeting when the extent of the fractious relationship between councillors was given a full airing, I walked home thinking that things have got to improve. It was one of the saddest days in Lyme that I can remember.

A comment by Councillor Richard Doney, not known for immoderate language, summed things up perfectly when he said “because we behave so badly, you can get away with worse behaviour here than you can somewhere else. That’s a terrible indictment of the way we operate”.

In 50 years of covering local government I cannot recall a more withering comment about the antics of our elected representatives than this, especially from one of their own.

There has to be a change of attitude in the council chamber and hopefully lessons will have been learnt from the distressing goings-on of recent weeks.

In a few weeks’ time the people of Lyme Regis will get the chance to elect a new council and by this time next week we will know how many are putting themselves forward for the 14 town council seats. I fervently hope there will be enough nominations to cause an election.

I believe at least four existing members will stand down, some of whom are fed up with the shenanigans in the Guildhall. And I know of four, possibly five, candidates who are saying they are standing. Hopefully, a few more will step forward. If you are one of them, I urge you to give it a try.

Whilst local government can be terribly frustrating and laborious, it can be very rewarding as well. Being one of those who can shape the future of this beautiful town, which many of us take for granted, presents great challenges but the satisfaction that comes from seeing the town move forward and prosper makes it a worthy cause.

I am aware that a couple of potential candidates have decided not to offer their services because they do not want to get involved with the febrile politics that has tarnished Lyme’s reputation. Also, the finger has been pointed at this newspaper, and others I have published, for reporting on the clashes in the council chamber and we have been accused of fanning the flames and negative reporting.

We take those criticisms on board but no new candidates need fear their name being plastered across our front page unless they seriously step out of line. We report more positive activities about Lyme council than the arguments that go on. In fact, Lyme council gets a better press than any other authority around these parts.

Let me make my view clear. Not every decision this or the previous council has made has been detrimental to the well being of this town; many of the decisions they have made have been carried out in the best interest of the town.

But it is very rare for the chief officer of a council to have to remind his councillors that their behaviour is not acceptable and damaging to the council. And town clerk John Wright has had to do that a number of times, not encouraged or prompted by this newspaper. I cannot recall that happening in any of the other councils I have covered.

It’s easy for me to say that it wasn’t like this in my day. I served on the council as a young man in the 1980s and was privileged to have been elected as mayor for one year. They were, mostly, a happy bunch who got on but they were very different days. Accountability and transparency were not words we ever used.

Not everyone got on but outside the chamber there was little or no animosity. We all respected the view of our fellow councillors, although not everyone agreed.

And that word, respect, is what has been missing in recent times. You don’t have to invite each other to dinner, or go on holiday with each other, or share a drink with them.

You can fight your battles through reasoned debate, based on what you think is right for the town and its people, but not because you dislike the person you are debating with. And believe me that happens.

It should also be remembered that the unreasonable behaviour of councillors can have a great effect on the staff and I believe that has been prevalent in recent times. They have a difficult job to do and the wrangling between councillors does not help.

There is much going for Lyme Regis Town Council. It is cash rich and gives great support to its local organisations in a manner not matched by any other local council for miles around.

Councillors are the custodians of one of the most popular and beautiful towns in the South West, a place which many visitors consider to be a form of paradise, and with a culture of caring for its inhabitants. Surely, it’s not too much to ask them to act in a civil and adult manner as they undertake these important duties.

The caring face of our town

ABOVE, one of the finer examples of caring Lyme Regis – the monthly community lunch, organised by LymeForward and served by volunteers at Lyme Regis Football Club.

The gathering provides residents, some of whom live on their own, the opportunity to meet and chat to others over a nutritious meal cooked by LymeForward manager Chris Tipping.

LymeForward also organises a memory cafe which meets on the third Wednesday of every month, also at the football club.

Rotary – a force for good in our community

WHEN I first started work, reporters were invited to all the annual dinner-dances hosted by local organisations. And that’s how I came to buy my first dinner jacket – at the age of 17!

In Lyme, most organisations held their annual social occasion at the Royal Lion in what is now known as the upstairs Oak Room complete with a minstrel gallery.

Our job was to report on the many speeches and toasts at such events and I have memories of attending annual dinners held by the Chamber of Trade, Sailing Club, Power Boat Club, Masonic Lodge, Rotary Club, Cricket Club, Football Club and the Skittles League (the latter being an all-male event).

I was reminded of such events when Jackie and I were invited to the Rotary Club’s President’s Night dinner hosted by Peter and Lynn Fortnam on Friday last.

Peter (pictured) and I are old school pals, although neither of us were high academic achievers. In fact, after we flunked our o-levels we were put in a special year group – 6R, the R standing for Remove – and stuck into Room 16 in the roof of the Woodroffe School (Lyme Grammar when we started there).

When Peter left school he went straight to work for Harrods in London and then in top jobs running shops on cruise liners before returning to Lyme to take over the family business, The Toby Jug, launched by his father, the late Alderman Douglas Fortnam, and then founding the local estate agent chain Fortnam, Smith & Banwell. Peter also became chairman of the school governors.

The President’s Night at the golf club had all the hallmarks of a Fortnam-organised event, great company, superb meal, an excellent speech from Peter and top-class entertainment by Paul Mitchell, formerly of The Stranglers.

Whilst I have never been a Rotarian, I have always admired the work they do worldwide throughout my career and have provided publicity for their events wherever possible. Their record of “service before self” in Lyme Regis goes unchallenged and is a force for good in our community.

Woodmead Halls
About Philip Evans 642 Articles
Veteran journalist and newspaper manager Philip Evans has worked in the publishing industry for more than half a century. He started out as a reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News as a young man and went on to work for an international publishing company in the UK, South Africa and Australia before returning to Lyme Regis where he is still reporting on local events as he has done for more than 53 years.

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