Labour councillor Jane Milner-Barry, who overturned a Conservative majority to win Old Town Ward in the May election, is proposing a motion to Swindon Council cabinet to conduct a local referendum of non-parished parts of the town before the council considers presenting proposals to parish these areas.
The cabinet launched a 12 month governance review in September 2015 to consider whether those areas of the town not already within an established parish council area should be made into parishes in order to take on some of the responsibilities of the borough council. The results of ‘engagement’ presentations to find out what people think of parishing and initial proposals for the next steps in the process is due to be presented to the cabinet meeting in June.
Cllr Milner-Barry campaigned on the issue of whether a decision should be made on introducing another layer of local government on currently non-parished areas before each person is made aware of the implications and asked to comment. She believes that winning the Old Town seat against the then Deputy Leader of Swindon Council showed that residents feel it is important that they have a say through a local referendum on parishing.
She said: “During the local election campaign I spelt out that I believed no new parishes should be set up in places like Old Town and West Swindon unless a majority of residents taking part in a referendum voted for them.
“I advocated this position because the council are looking to offload local services like street cleaning, pothole filling and grounds maintenance to new parishes. They’re expecting residents to pay for the new parish council for these services – yet residents won’t get a rebate from the council for no longer delivering them.
“And this won’t be the end of it. The council is considering transferring more services in the same way in future, including street lighting and even our libraries.”
Parish councils levy a local precept to pay for the services they provide, such as grass cutting, litter picking and maintenance of play areas. However Swindon residents who do not live in a parish are not immune from the equivalent outgoing as the borough council charge what is called a Swindon Non Parish Area tax. The borough council would continue to make this charge but it would be subsumed into the general council tax bill whilst new parish councils would raise a new tax for their areas.
Cllr Milner-Barry said she is calling on the cabinet to pause the governance review process. “Together with other councillors, I have now requested an extraordinary meeting of Swindon Council at which I will be introducing a motion calling on cabinet to conduct a local referendum in the non-parished areas of the borough asking residents whether or not non-parished areas should be turned into parishes.”