Old Town resident Colin Doubleday gives his personal views about the local authority proposals to create parish councils across the entire borough.
In a bizarre twist to democracy, Swindon Borough Council consulted on creating new parishes – the people overwhelmingly said ‘no’ – so the council is to proceed anyway.
Council leader Cllr David Renard offered some reasons which were – well almost exactly – what he said before the consultation and yet he offered no understanding of those who said ‘no’.
This does not feel like the democracy we all expect. It is strange when the ruling party wanted to see May elections as a mandate, yet they lost seats and overall votes, very likely on this issue.
Well Cllr Renard can I also repeat, this is the wrong solution at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. So this is the wrong solution. It just won’t create the democracy you believe.
Looking at existing parish councils, Highworth Parish Council and Wroughton Parish Council work well.
Then consider the other existing parishes in borough.
These are parishes where two thirds of councillors were elected unopposed.
They can vote for themselves, so they are, in effect, self-appointed.
A quarter of councillors are appointed, so not elected and a third of councillors have been in post for more than ten years.
The £4m+ to be raised over and above our current council tax is to be handed to a group with very little democratic control.
Why is Cllr Renard so certain that ‘local democracy provides more choice over what monies are spent and where’? Not that the group of volunteers will get to spend much.
Because the very act of setting up parish councils with a meeting place, and IT, and an office, costs tens of thousands. And then there’s the costs of running them with a parish clerk and a communication budget. How much of that money will be left?
Each parish clerk will cost over £50,000 each and that’s before National Insurance and pension contributions. Yet more will be spent if we create two or three or six councils.
It is the wrong time – basically old Swindon is creaking a little. Many areas need new lighting, potholes reappear with every rainfall, weeds grow in gutters. Let’s predict what may be the next activities that the borough may wish to pass to parishes in 2019 or 2020?
This may be the right time for the borough, but not for the residents.
I think we can guess the reasons. the borough does not want to be the bad guys.
They don’t want to fail us, or charge us lots more because a parish council can do that just as well and the borough does not get the blame.
I ask, is this what a city or town with self-respect would do? Are there options? I suggest so.
How about we hold a poll in the areas with no parish, the options are:
1 – Keep it as is and put the council tax up £75.
2 – Keep the money centrally, but offer grants to local associations and groups to do works under council control.
3 – Create one or more parish councils covering their area.
I wonder if we have such a poll whether the council will listen to the people then. Is that not a little more like democracy?