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.
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.
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 Many of the town/parish websites are out of date.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.
To enable the sharing of good practice, knowledge and solutions to common issues across the sector, an online community of practice should be established and run by the sector.
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.
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 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.
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.
It seems, especially on planning issues, that the District Councils planning officers take no notice of the parish council’s stance or the local resident’s objections, which makes objecting to planning issues a waste of time, if they are not even going to listen to objections and even pass applications when even members of the District Planning Committee aren’t even informed. Either you have localism where the needs and requirements are taken notice of, or admit that it’s only a way of passing over costs without passing over the responsibilities and local choices that go with it.
There is frustration in the distribution of resources by other public sector organisations within the town. Money spent on some significant services is mis-directed with some specific examples to evidence this.
Budgets by larger organisations are aggregated by larger areas [such as whole County], so it is difficult to forensically determine what resources are available for local redirection or challenge.
There should be a presumption by all public sectors to localise their budget lines to local level of between 6-10k residents. It would then be possible for those residents to engage with the budget prioritisation process to advocate alternatives and options – or even to deliver them themselves.