It is important to note that Swindon Council has no proposals to introduce new parishes at this time. All the council has voted for is to start a Community Governance Review that will include a consultation on changes to existing parishes as well as the possibility of creating new ones.
How will Swindon benefit from parishing?
It is a core democratic principle that decisions should be made as close as possible to the people affected. That is at the heart of the current Government’s localism agenda. Having the whole of the borough parished would contribute to that. Having more democratically elected representatives will ensure accountability for any decisions made.
Parishes would provide more variety and competition. Residents would see what facilities other areas offer and ask for similar of their own parish. It would allow different parts of the borough to be more distinctive and celebrate their individuality.
If parishes buy services such as grass cutting, it supports the local economy as small and medium enterprises will find it easier to bid. The huge size of the borough Council’s contracts, along with the relevant EU and other tender requirements means that only a few large firms can bid. Smaller contracts will allow for greater competition, better value, and lower prices.
What will this mean for council tax bills with a parish council precept being added on to their existing bills? Is this a way of Swindon Council shedding costs?
It will be up to each parish to determine the services that they will provide and the cost that will be added to the precept.
Parish councils are part of our democratic fabric and have been so since before Swindon Borough Council existed. Parishes councils were first elected in December 1894, six years before the borough council. It is an historical anomaly from the 19th Century that boroughs were not required to have or retain parish councils.
Furthermore, the Cabinet report of 9 December shows how the council is facing increased demand for its care services, mostly from demographic pressures. At the same time the government grant is being reduced and our ability to raise taxes or charges is limited. The law, the inspection regimes and the courts require councils like Swindon to put Adult Social Care and Children’s Services first.
We need to find £20m of savings for 2016/17 and we have only identified about £17.4m. Doing nothing is not an option for the borough. With or without parishes there will be cuts. However, those areas with parishes may be able to pay to provide some things like grass cutting locally.
What are the objections to a referendum? Will a consultation process be able to have the same impact as a referendum in getting the people’s voice heard?
Any referendum or poll on the Community Governance Review would not be binding. A binding referendum needs to be sanctioned by express powers such as those relating to council tax, or neighbourhood planning. No such statutory powers exist.
So far as the power to hold an advisory poll is concerned, section 116 of the Local Government Act 2003 states that a local authority may conduct a poll to ascertain the views of those polled about any matter relating to services provided in pursuance of the authority’s functions, or the authority’s expenditure on such services. A community governance review is neither of those things so it is doubtful whether s116 applies in any event.
As far as any Community Governance Review is concerned, there is no specific provision in the legislation providing for a referendum to be held and the legislation provides that the decision following a Community Governance Review is to be made by the borough council.
Colin Doubleday asks why Swindon Council won’t allow a citizen’s referendum on the parishing issue. Read here