Thursday 14 March 2013 Updated: 15/03 12:21
WE HAVE had a tremendous response to the story on last week's front page about parish councils.
Here are a few of the letters in favour of the third tier of local government.
To have your say directly on any of these views or to post your own, visit www.facebook.com/greatparishcouncildebate
THE COMMENT about having to find ‘an extra £42,000’ refers to the grant of £52,180 provided direct to Bromsgrove from central government to offset the nationwide changes to the council tax benefit system, having recognised the anomaly that means parish councils do not receive any share in the business rates.
The actual amount the district council will distribute to the parishes is £40,020, although when this will happen is anyone’s guess.
It was supposed to have been included in the council tax calculations but this information was not passed on, meaning all parish residents now have to pay more in council tax than was intended.
Bromsgrove District Council has messed up.
The call for a debate on the third tier will undoubtedly call into question the validity of the district tier and that of the county council. I rather fancy a change - perhaps we could do what they’ve done in Herefordshire which, as a unitary authority, sees the county council working alongside all the parish and town councils and not a district council in sight!
Contrary to shaking in their boots at the call for a review, parish councils would welcome it to show exactly how much the work they do props up the district council.
Catshill Parish Council
I HAVE served on my local parish council (Dodford with Grafton) for over five years.
I would not have continued if I felt we were not making a worthwhile contribution to grass-roots local government.
Recent legislation has emphasised the need for community involvement in local issues and we are encouraged to produce Neighbourhood Plans reflecting the views and wishes of residents on a wide range of local issues including now housing development.
Parish councils are clearly best placed to produce these, in consultation with their communities - indeed a case can be made for extending them to areas (especially urban areas) that are not presently parished.
A few additional points need to be emphasised regarding Parish Councils:
- Parish councillors are not paid allowances for their work.
- Private telephones, computers, stationery and often private transport are used for council business and I cannot recall a single instance where a claim has been submitted to my parish council for financial reimbursement.
- All parish council meetings are held in public and local residents are not only encouraged to attend, but time is allowed for them to raise any issues of concern that the council may be able to progress and also to comment on items on the agenda before the council considers them. Only very rarely do we have to discuss items privately and we do not have Cabinets meeting behind closed doors.
- Parish councillors have to be local people and are best-placed to listen to and assess local concerns and feelings, to initiate action where possible or to chivy both the district and county councils when a gentle reminder (or more) is required.
Finally, if the ‘leaders’ are really concerned about saving money, perhaps I could offer a more fundamental change that could potentially generate massive savings for hard-pressed council taxpayers.
Why not campaign for the abolition of all the district councils in the county and transfer their responsibilities to a new Worcestershire Unitary County Authority working in conjunction with a network of parish councils covering the whole county area? The existing district councils’ headquarters could be converted to provide much-needed new housing accommodation. Just a thought - but a similar model seems to be working quite well in Herefordshire.
Dodford with Grafton Parish Council
WHILE it is said that with regard to parish council funding, 'most of the funding goes on administration', which is correct, what is not mentined is that it is because the vast majority of the work performed by parish councils is voluntary.
Unlike district and county councillors, parish councillors receive no hefty allowances from the public purse, and use local knowledge and resources to make their local communities better extremely effectively.
Rather than playing political games and putting up a smoke screen for what is presumably the next embarrassing act of incompetence to come to light, district councillors may be better putting their efforts into working with the parish councils (an approach being taken by the county council) and identifying areas for the district to offer shared services for the parish councils.
The councillors should be careful with what they wish for though, as a much more effective way of saving residents council tax would be to abolish the district council and bring in a two-tier system, completely doing away with the currently over-political, bloated and largely incompetent and unreliable district council.
It is well known that district councillors don't appreciate being held to account by the truly local tier of local government, so I wonder if this is the real motivation for this silly call for a debate. I do wish that they would instead channel their efforts into making Bromsgrove a better place to live and work - which is what they were voted into post for.
(former parish councillor)
PARISH Councils provide local services, which Bromsgrove District Council would otherwise have to fund.
A few years ago, the district council used to pay a contribution to the parish councils for providing services that it council would have had to provide, such as parks and footpath lighting. That was stopped.
This means I pay district council tax to fund Sanders Park in a town that I never visit except to attend meetings, and also parish council tax to fund the park in Hagley.
Residents of Bromsgrove only pay to district council tax.
The answer to the inequality is not to abolish parish councils but to create them for unparished places.
Why does Rubery have no parish council? Why does Bromsgrove, unlike Bewdley and Stourport, have no town council?
Dr Peter King
Chairman, Bromsgrove and Wyre Forest Group
Campaign to Protect Rural England
PARISH councils do a lot of work that goes unnoticed and often do things about litter, street lighting etc which could lead to crime if it wasn't tackled at this grass roots level. They also do job of alerting people about issues in the community such as housing issues and are a good information source.
We have set up an action group to help support the council on local issues such as housing developments, health matters, such as air quality and other issues that effect the community.
A parish council is as useful as residents want it to be - if they go along to meetings or e-mail the parish about matters that are important to them then it has the power to represent locals a lot more.
What people don't realise is this is the only way local concerns can be represented and taken to district level - if local parish councillors didn't take these to the district people then they wouldn't have a clue about what matters to local people.
If people want to live in a good community then a parish or town council is the best way forward - however it is only as good as the people elected on them, so if you want to make a difference you should make sure the right people are put forward.
I can understand if people aren't happy with their local parish or town council they might want it scrapped but if you have a council like Hagley where they are prepared to take local issues on board and fight our corner by taking these to the county councillors and district councillors then the parish council can certainly be a force for good.
PARISH councils represent the first tier of localism, community and government, and one would have thought it a good thing for them to be pro-actively supported by the community and the district council.
You will be aware, and better than us, of the relatively extensive list of the powers and duties of parish councils, most of which are enshrined in statutory provisions. We note there are additional rights that parish councils possess, should they choose to exercise them, but with the agreement of the district or county council. The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 then provided a number of new powers to town and parish councils, the most significant of which was the power to spend on any activity which adds to the wellbeing of its community.
Our own parish council provides a number of services including the provision of street lighting in the village, maintenance of the park and playgrounds, provision of litter and dog waste bins and their regular emptying; advice to the district council planning committee on planning applications and influencing decisions taken at district or county level which affect the village.
We do however agree that there probably needs to be better accountability.
The parish council’s accounts for 2011/12 showed a precept of £56,000. According to the newspaper, the current equivalent is £62.11 per Band D householder. Total receipts amounted to £66,331, but total expenditure came to £82,848, the additional expenditure (including some £11,000 for planning consultancy) being borne from reserves. Staff and office costs amounted to a somewhat surprising £21,000.
Was this good value for money? How do the householders decide?
A precept levied by the district council for payment to the parish council is certainly more remote than being levied locally at the parish level – but that is probably too complex to administer. Equally, the council taxpayers have little say in the precept at the district level. It is easy to argue for centralisation, along the lines of 'we have the expertise, and can do more, and more effectively, for less'. However, a parish councillor is likely to be buttonholed on the street at any time, and answers demanded of him or her. The district council is much bigger, more distant...and might not think the issue as either important or worthwhile.
So who should hold parish councils to account for the money that is being spent on behalf of the parishioners? There should be clear accountability – the budget for the forthcoming year, and therefore the precept, should be put before the parishioners for a vote before it is demanded from the district council.
If parish councils are to be disbanded, it will be a blow for localism and community spirit. But it is down to us parishioners to decide – and the facts should be put before all of us before we are asked to decide.
Daman and Lynda Singh
THE 'WASTE of money’ headline appears to have been triggered by the reported extra £42 000 needed for parishes, but district councillors should be reminded that they voted themselves a very large 14.2 per cent basic allowance rise last year, far in excess of that recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel.
In fact, in 2011-12, a total of £209,196 was spent on district councillors basic allowances including travel etc, with £57,669 on special responsibility allowances, and all this before the 14.2 per cent applied.
By way of contrast, parish councillors get no basic allowance, just expenses such as for travel.
In the week that district party leaders have suggested abolishing parish councils, Stoke Parish Council have had an excellent talk from Worcestershire County Council’s localism officer, Neil Anderson, extolling the virtues of devolved services to parishes. The message from district leaders is the opposite.
I would, however, strongly agree that a good debate is needed on parish council, not least because many parish councillors, myself included, have been elected unopposed. This is troublesome if we are to be truly accountable to residents in a democratic society. I suspect some parish councils are more effective than others so it would be good to hear from residents what they want.
Of course, if we are to scrutinise parish councils, the same should apply to the district council itself. Do we get value for money from such councillors who are relatively expensive to council taxpayers? Many services essential to residents are run by the county rather than the district. It should be noted too that the county council has frozen council tax rates for the coming year, as has Redditch, Worcester, Wychavon and Wyre Forest, yet Bromsgrove District Council finds it necessary to bring in a rate rise of 1.9 per cent.
Do we really need a district council at all? Isn’t it another layer of local government that we could do without.
As the Chairman of Bentley Pauncefoot Parish Council I warmly welcome Coun Roger Hollingworth's calls to disband all parish councils.
I look forward to a time when I and my fellow unpaid councillors will no longer have to spend hours of our own time wading about, knee deep in flooded roads full of human waste from overflowing sceptic tanks, desperately trying to unblock ditches and land drains to allow the water to flow away.
To not have to totter down icy ungritted roads at 6am to spread some salt with a hand shovel on the most dangerous parts of our country lanes in the hope of preventing yet another accident.
To not use my own tractor and snow plough bought with my own money to help keep the lanes clear for residents of Redditch to drive down at 60mph to reach the motorway ten minutes sooner.
To not have to spend our time and money making "ICE" warning signs and putting them out in sub zero temperatures.
To not have to pull countless cars and vans out of our ditches throughout the icy winter months.
To not have to spend my own money on fencing off a public area to stop off-roaders destroying it.
To not have to supply stone bought with money from my own pocket to fill the potholes in the roads.
To not have to organise litter picking days to collect an entire builders' skip full of litter collected by our residents from the verges and ditches.
To no longer have to spend our own money on equipment and diesel to dig out ditches and repair verges and attempt to fill potholes that countless requests to County Highways department to repair have been either ignored or met with a "we don't have the money" response.
To leave it to you to monitor our trees to check their health from disease and look for potential hazards.
We look forward to no longer needing to walk the footpaths checking the safety of stiles and gates and keeping access clear for users.
When you have disbanded the parish council you will have not have a lengthsman to keep the grips cut, the road signs in good order and the grass strimmed but I'm confident you will manage this work perfectly well yourself.
We will of course be expecting you to do all these things, and many more, much more, efficiently than we can, especially as you will have the benefit of the £5,000 annual precept that, according to you, we currently waste on 'administration'.
We wish you the best of luck in convincing our parishioners of your ability to take on all these functions in an economic and efficient way and to help you in your crusade.
Bentley Pauncefoot Parish Council
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