Lisa Muldoon from Grange Park writes:
On Tuesday 5 July, I attended the West Swindon meeting organised by Swindon Council to explain more about their proposals to parish the parts of the town not already in a parish council area and for residents to comments on where parish council boundaries should lie.
Parish Council? What Parish Council? You may ask. And you would be asking the same question as those present at the meeting.
Parishing doesn’t seem very popular with residents but the council seem to be ploughing ahead regardless because it cannot afford to honour its commitments to the wider community. Other parts of Swindon not already in a Parish Council area – about half the town – are also being invited to be involved in similar discussions. There were 30 at the West Swindon event in the library at Link Centre; I understand there have been far fewer elsewhere, so there’s a huge awareness raising job to be done.
Government legislation maintains the council must honour any social commitment to vulnerable children and adults. Costs for this have rocketed from approximately half of its budget a few years ago to about 80% now. Central government is also slowly withdrawing funding and Council Tax must legally remain frozen.
Enter Parishes and the Parish Precept. This allows people to be elected as representatives on a Parish Council who are then involved in decision making. A Parish Council is local, consist of residents offering their own time and provides an area with a local, rapid solution to some of its issues. All this for an approximate parish precept of £60 per year in addition to your Swindon Council tax bill.
The precept might well rise in the future. Of that extra money, over 10% would be paid to employ a parish clerk and various other staff to actually and legally effect the decisions of the parish councillors, hopefully with the agreement of their parishioners.
There was no mention of a reduction in the number of people employed by the council – even though they are devolving both services and responsibility. In addition, several parishes across the Borough paying 10% or more of their precept for effectively the same administration process seems (to me) like a waste of people’s money.
Maybe the positives of both Council and Parish could be combined? Swindon could be divided along sensible boundaries, allowing these new areas to take control of the services the council cannot. They can provide local solutions to local problems and transparency over finances. They would function as a parish, but with one crucial difference. The parish clerk and any necessary associations are located within the Borough Council as a single, efficient office serving all ‘parishes.’ If this works, then such groups could be established for other areas the Council is having difficulty with – recreation and transport, for example.
As far as I am aware, no one actually made any boundary suggestions, reeling maybe from once again being told what to do after the charade of involvement.
It is clear we must all pay for a generation of excess and inefficiencies by our leadership and a fiver a week may not seem too extortionate. The solution, however, cannot simply be financial. We are pricing ourselves out of our own lives and unless we all step up, give up our time and offer transparency across all community funded leadership and business, we will continue to do so. The tax payer funded gravy train is pulling into the station, but it would seem that there is still some reluctance to get off.