Mandatory training for Councillors

I would be really interested to hear views regarding why training for Councillors isn’t mandatory? I’m not suggesting that Councillors should be trained on every aspect of Parish/Town Council procedures, however a simple one day mandatory course to be completed within the first 3 months of election / co-option can only benefit all parties involved?

Second homes local funds

Many rural villages especially those of special beauty, have a relatively high concentration of second homes/ holiday cottages. These sometime residents often give little or no funds to aid the rural communities. Parish meetings and parish councils get back via the precept a small amount of money spread from all houses.
It is my suggestion that all second homes council tax be levied at 110% of normal with the 10% over the normal be given directly to village parish councils/meetings to aid and improve the resident community. Just raising the precept on everyone means poor and wealthy are caught.
Gaining 10% on council tax on second homes, results in absent owners giving fair dues to the villages that fill the vacuum of their absence.

Communities need an evidence base

Information, evidence, statistics etc does two things: provides a basis or foundation for policy-making and improves engagement with the community.
The evidence base has to be important as you want to address the issues in your area which are poor in an absolute or relative sense, and the evidence helps you to measure the impact of what you do. The second is also important as data provokes debate in the community – is crime high or low, are schools good or bad – and helps to prioritise measures.
But if you’d like to see the information where does it come from? The answer is many sources. I am collecting the data for my area and it’s a nightmare. Providing a guide as to what data exists and where it comes from would be very useful.

Managing accountability of parish councils

Whilst the Neighbourhood Plan will bring a strong element of vision to many parishes (where this concept is adopted) there remains a need for residents to hold parishes accountable for what they are setting out to achieve. There is no better method for doing this than setting a vision and requiring parishes to set annual measurable objectives to achieve parts of that vision , whether these be council objectives or individual committee objectives. If such objectives are published at the beginning of the year, and achievement against them is reported on in the annual report at year end on parish websites, then transparency on council activities is assured. It is not sufficient simply to have financial transparency without clear direction.

Online communities

Councils and councillors should use social media as a way of engaging with their communities. Where I live we have a lively online community, with a number of debates on local issues. Unfortunately, our town council has effectively banned councillors from taking part in online debates. Many of the town/parish websites are out of date. We asked candidates in the recent county council elections to provide information on their policies, since there was very little visible campaigning locally. We had a limited response, with downright hostility in some cases. In the words of our mayor, “Not everyone has the time to sit round on Facebook all day”. No, and not everyone can attend a council meeting either but they still deserve a voice.

Break clauses for Borough & Unitary contracts

We know we can do a better and possibly cheaper job than our Borough’s contractors at looking after our Town Centre and our market but we are told that their contracts with SERCO are 16 – 20 years long so that’s the end of the discussion. Please let our interest allow for a break clause (or similar) in their contracts so we can bid for that part of the contract we want to take on.

Modernising service of Agenda and saving costs

Para 10(2) of Schedule 12 of the 1972 Act requires summons for meetings to be posted to or left at the usual place of residence of councillors. Electronic delivery is not lawful.
I spend about £2500 pa posting summons. This includes costs of printing, paper, collating, posting etc but not for preparing agenda and reports. Councillors have tablets and want papers sent electronically. They throw the paper copies away and use their tablets, but I still have to post hard copies!
By adding ‘or where a member of the Council requests by electronic means to that member’ to 10 (2) would solve the problem.
Of 9500 local councils, 875 are deemed ‘large’. If only the larger Councils saved £2000 each the total saving would be nearly £2m pa!

New Homes Bonus

New Homes Bonus Intentions
Briefly the NHB is payment by the Government to principal councils for every new home built. It’s a big figure £1.4b will have been distributed by the end of this financial year. It was estimated that this would increase housing growth by between 8 and 13%, although doubt has now been thrown on these figures by the National Audit Office.
I am sure we are all a little confused about the intention of the NHB.
Is it a way of
• replace top down figures for new housebuilding,
• incentivising local communities to embrace new development or
• redistributing council funding, there are losers and winners in this game.
The three may be incompatible. Mixed messages are being received from central government.

Duty of care to planning by utilities and statutory bodies

On developments over a certain size, say 2 hectares, Local Planning Authorities should have a legal right to demand a risk report from Highways Agencies, water companies, utilities, and the Environment Agency. The body concerned should have a legal liability to the eventual users of the land concerned, for failure to exercise due diligence in their report. The number of such applications is relatively small, and such a requirement should drastically reduce building on flood plain, overloading infrastructure etc.