• Matthew Brennan

Conservatives backtrack over fireworks vote

UPDATE - 10.10.21

A Meeting of the Full council on 4th of October saw the voting in of the minutes of the meeting in question. All of Dunstable Town Councillors have been sent the recording of the meeting where the vote took place where 5 members of the council voted whether or not Dunstable should hold fireworks again.


After reviewing the recording it is clear that a report was presented to the council which highlighted a number of issues with each of the possible venues of a future fireworks display. The result of this report is that it is not possible to hold fireworks again in Dunstable as we are unable to find a possible venue. These are not the exact words of the report, this is my summary of it. Secondly the report evaluated a member suggestion that the council use the current Fireworks budget to run a grant scheme for local groups to help them hold their own smaller displays. What followed on from the report presented was two Votes. Councillor Peter Hollick, chair of the meeting, proposed a vote and the exact wording was as follows:

“…whether or not we should continue to hold a Fireworks display when the opportunity could arise.”

That was how the vote was described and then the vote was called as follows:

“Are we going to continue, when it would be possible, to hold a fireworks display?”

The Conservative councillors around the table voted against this. The only vote to hold a fireworks display when it would be possible was Independent councillor John Gurney.

So there you have it.


I have been informed that even if this vote was as such to bind future councils from holding a fireworks display that’s not possible. I’ve been told that any decision made in council can be reviewed after six months. The only thing this proves is that any statements that were made stating a vote was taken by council that it will never again hold a fireworks display is not inaccurate.

Luckily for fans of fireworks, the minutes of the meeting did not record the vote itself. On Dunstable council we do not minute meetings verbatim and the minutes are an overview of the subject and what was discussed and are as follows:

“Resolved:

(i) That for the foreseeable future, the council is not able to hold the large scale firework display due to a lack of suitable venue.

(ii) That the Committee does not support the setting up of a grant scheme to help fund community groups to hold their own public fireworks display.”

These were the minutes of the meeting as they were voted in on Monday. Which I myself voted to record as accurate minutes. When it came time for the minutes to be signed in, Councillor Hollick stood to make a speech with regards to the meeting. Much of which I felt was aimed at Councillor Gurney and included a suggestion that seemed to indicate that if anyone was to report on meetings that they were to first consult the Chair before they do so.

As it turns out The Local Government Act 1972 states: “While a meeting of a principal council in England is open to the public, any person attending is to be permitted to report on the meeting.”

In a move that shocked no-one, Conservative Councillors have backtracked over their vote that seemingly banned Dunstable Town Council from ever holding a Fireworks night again.

 

On the morning of September 8th, independent Councillor John Gurney was approached and interviewed on BBC 3 counties radio. He was asked questions on the subject and explained to the listeners of the show that the vote was made to never again hold a Dunstable Fireworks Night.


Cut to, the afternoon of the same day and Chief Executive of Dunstable Town Council David Ashlee had requested to appear on BBC 3CR and was on the Roberto Perrone show to clarify the situation. Why this clarification wasn't made by the current Town Mayor and head of the Council, Gloria Martin, who was one of Conservative Councillors who voted to never hold a Fireworks night again; or better yet, Chair of the committee and previous Mayor, Conservative Councillor Peter Hollick, I don't know. Perhaps so that they could save face? Was David's appearance on BBC3CR at the request of these councillors? Or perhaps they were unaware of David's actions. I have asked the question of my fellow councillors and learned that there was "a discussion" between David and Conservative Councillor Peter Hollick prior to the radio interview, but when questioned if David was instructed to reiterate the conservative’s viewpoint on the vote Councillor Hollick did not answer the question.


You can hear the interviews online here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09sylwr


In the interview, David contradicts Councillor Gurney and states that the vote wasn't to never have it again and that if they want to, the council can revisit the subject. This interpretation of the meeting was echoed by another councillor present at the meeting. This isn't the first time there have been issues over what has been said in meetings. I was witness to the meeting where the vote was proposed by the chair that Fireworks never be held again. John Gurney was a member of the committee and states the same, that the vote was worded to be final. Luckily there is an answer.


In October 2019, when I first discovered that there was an issue between what was said in meetings and what was recorded in minutes, I formally requested that the council start recording their meetings. That first request seemed to disappear into the woodwork. It was only in February this year when an interpretation issue of what was said in a meeting led me to call once again for the council to start recording meetings.


Here we are in September and the council have had video equipment fitted to the council chambers. This round of committee meetings was due to be a test. The council planned to record the meeting in question and upload the video to a YouTube channel that only the council could view so that it could iron out all kinks before going fully live with the recording/live streaming system in November.


So, the meeting in question was recorded and is currently waiting to be watched. All that needs to happen is for the link to be shared and we will know whether councillors are mistaken or trying to change a democratic vote. If the video shows that the vote did not state "not to hold fireworks ever again" then Cllr John Gurney and I are wrong. However, if it does say that then the implications are far reaching.


If that was indeed the vote and the senior Conservative Councillors have tried to change the meaning of it, requesting that the Chief Executive go onto Live radio and pronounce it to the people of Dunstable. That sounds like a really bad thing to do. Ultimately what is the point of a council is when a vote is made, they change what they voted for. I don't know if that's even legal.


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