Consultation call over Mill affairs

Councillor Nick Turner, chairman of the Mill Management Committee in his letter of December 20 said I have got my facts wrong and that the cut of £90,000 is to be made to the Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) budget which supports the Mill rather than a cut to the Mill itself.

This is a misleading and disingenuous distinction.

There is no difference between the OCC budget for the Mill and the Mill itself.

The cost of the Mill is met by OCC paying for the premises and the employment costs of the professional staff who run the Mill, a grant from CDC, and income (amounting to 70 per cent of total income) from ticket sales and course fees from the public.

It seems to have been decided, we know not by whom or how, that cuts equivalent to £90,000 in the county council’s contribution should be met by OCC ceasing to pay for the professional staff at the Mill. We don’t know if any alternatives have been considered.

When Cllr Turner refers to “change to the management support at the Mill” he means getting rid of the OCC employed staff who he rightly says do fantastic work.

This little staffing matter, which Cllr Turner seems to think will be easily achieved, can only be carried out by OCC making the staff redundant (which because of TUPE will probably be automatically unfair dismissal) and paying the costs and damages of this out of public funds (which could include the costs of a judicial review). This is the proposal which currently is to be decided on by OCC officials without any scrutiny or consultation as to the effect this will have on the running of The Mill.

Cllr Turner claims the proposal to hand over full responsibility to the management committee will free the Mill from ‘political interference’.

This assertion is bizarre in that the management committee is dominated by five Conservative politicians.

Under the proposed new arrangements they and the committee will have no democratic accountability.

What I believe Cllr Turner really means is that he wants The Mill to be managed by himself and his fellow Conservatives free from any interference of any sort.

This is completely unacceptable for a publicly -funded community asset.

Cllr Turner states that I have raised this issue to further my personal political ambitions and that I have done reputational damage to The Mill.

This is untrue. I have raised this issue because I believe that decisions which affect the future of The Mill should be taken openly following public consultation.

The reputation of The Mill is being damaged by the refusal to be open about the cuts and to engage users and the public about its future.

Cllr Turner says that the committee recently changed its constitution. Why was this done with no consultation?

He might think it is transparent and clear, but we the public have no way of knowing this.

There is no information on The Mill’s website about the composition of the committee or how it operates or consults with the community.

I challenge Cllr Turner to be open about The Mill, to publish information about how it is managed and to allow public access to meetings and agendas and minutes.

I ask him and his committee to launch a public consultation on how best to secure and improve the future of The Mill. What is there to hide?

Finally in his personal attack on me he says I have no connection with The Mill.

I was responsible for The Mill when I was Assistant Chief Education Officer for Oxfordshire in the 1990s and, for the past 23 years, I and my family have enjoyed attending concerts and adult education classes there.

John Christie

Broad Close

Barford St Michael

Praise for hunt prosecution

YOUR news that the Heythrop Hunt and two of its former members have been successfully prosecuted at Oxford Magistrates’ Court (Banbury Guardian, December 20) for intentionally hunting foxes with hounds will not only be celebrated by the RSPCA, which brought this action, it will also be welcomed by a growing swathe of animal lovers across Banburyshire.

It has since transpired that incontrovertible video evidence has led to one man being prosecuted and fined £1,000 (plus £2,000 costs) and another being fined £1,800 (plus £2,500 costs).

This was also the first case involving the prosecution of the hunt itself.

The Heythrop Hunt was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay a further £15,000 in costs.

This news is especially timely as Environment Minister Owen Paterson conceded on Boxing Day there would be no vote on the issue of a reversal of the ban next year because a clear majority of MPs continued to support it.

The traditional Boxing Day pageantry of riders trotting through local villages in their finery belies the hidden horrors of the fox’s fate when cornered by hounds.

Whilst avoiding a gory description for the benefit of this article, suffering is akin to that of the victims of badger baiting, cock-fighting and all other heinous illegal ‘sports’ where humane intervention is deemed unnecessary.

Like so many other lifelong countrymen, I see a clear need to differentiate between pest control and wildlife crime.

In the case of foxes, the former (ie, pest control) can be carried out proficiently and painlessly by an accurate gamekeeper or farmer with a rifle, night-sights and a knowing eye for less fit creature.

I have personally witnessed hundreds of such humane culls.

The latter has finally been recognised by the courts for what it is; a barbaric pursuit of a terrified creature.

I have also had the misfortune to witness hunt members’ inappropriate jollity following their dogs’ clumsy, agonising kills.

Thank heavens that on this occasion the courts have come down on the side of justice and common sense.

Mike Almond

Via e-mail

More letters in this week’s Banbury Guardian.