Friday, 13 April 2012

Community Councils need their profile raised

The Western Mail reports that the lowest tier of local government in Wales is in crisis with hundreds of councillor vacancies looming because not enough candidates have come forward whilst failing to report that they and the rest of the media's lamentable coverage of our community councils plays some part.. They usually only report on a controversy or scandal , not usually seeing these councils as being of interest.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf There are 17 seats unfilled on the Community councils and there are many uncontested

In Gilfach Goch all 7 seats on the Council haven been won by Labour Unappeased whilst on the other side of the County in Ynysybwl Plaid have 8 candidates returned Unopposed out of 12 whilst the remaining 4 are unfilled.

And the pattern is repeated throughout Wales

With

80 of the seats in Carmarthenshire unfilled

20 in Bridgend

9 in Cardiff

10 in Blaneau Gwent

Community Council as I said are often seen as unglamourous but they can serve a very useful function n they s have powers to provide some facilities themselves, or they can contribute towards their provision by others.

There are large variations in the services provided by Communities, but they can include the following:

  • Allotments - Support and encouragement of arts and crafts - Provision of village halls
  • Recreation grounds, parks, - children's play areas, -playing fields and swimming baths
  • Cemeteries and crematoria - Maintenance of closed churchyards
  • Cleaning and drainage of ponds etc. - Control of litter
  • Public conveniences - Creation and maintenance of footpaths and bridleways
  • Provision of cycle and motorcycle parking - Acquisition and maintenance of rights of way
  • Public clocks - War memorials - Encouragement of tourism


They may also provide the following subject to the consent of the county Council.


  • Bus shelters - Signposting of footpaths - Lighting of footpaths
  • Off-street car parks - Provision, maintenance and protection of roadside verges
In some cases Community councils possess the following powers:

Withholding of consent to stop up unclassified highways and footpaths
Consultation on appointment of managers of primary school


They raise the money by a precept (tax) their residents to support their operations and to carry out local projects.

This comes as part of the Council tax set by the County Council Although there is no limit to the amount that can be precepted, the money can only be raised for a limited number of purposes

I have some memory of a Community Council in Caerphilly which had been won by Independents raising the wrath of the South Wales Echo for proposed a big rise in the precept to expand its projects and virtually led to the fall of that council.

So how can we increase participation. here are some Idea and I don't necessarily endorse all of these.

  • Hold the elections on a different date and issue polling cards (these are not even issued for by-elections) and its not advertised sufficiently when it run at the same time as the County Councils. 
  • Introductory STV and create bigger Wards or even elect the whole council by STV. 
  • Allow Community Councils to merge if they feel that this would improve their function 
  • Increase the powers of the Community Council by allowing them to call County Council Officials to explain actions which affect their area. 
  • Hold a referendum at each election on the precept giving the electorate 3 options candidates can the argue this as part of their campaign pointing out what they would proposed 
  • The Welsh Assembly should set aside about £1,000,000 annually to be a fund that Community Councils can apply for no more than £10,000 for projects outside their precept. 

We need to raise the profile of these councils . It is not helped by the fact that whereas It is often clear by Media reports that we approaching the Local Government Elections . The only report of the Community elections are when no one stands.

Before you comment on this I am fully aware of the nature of me bemoaning this whilst failing to put my name forward and I accept your criticism.

8 comments:

  1. Good to raise this. Community Councils can also act as an honest broker for facilitating public debate about local issues. Earlier this year, a meeting organised by Aberystwyth Town Council about the future of Ysbyty Bronglais was attended by 500 people. They then organised the second biggest demonstration ever seen at the Assembly. County Councils don't usually do this kind of grassroots stuff.

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  2. Nice article, thanks for sharing.

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  3. Do we actually have parish councils in Wales? I thought they were the English equivalent of a community council.

    A bigger issue is that not every community on Wales has a community council, and as residents of a ward with a community council pay a precept on their council tax there is an inherent disincentive to set one up, especially in poorer communities.

    Poorer communities are also less engaged with politics and more likely to see a community council as a cushy number for the middle classes not people like us.

    This of course entrenches inequality as community councils can lobby on behalf of their area meaning that better off communities are able to get better services from the local council.

    Lack of political engagement is the key problem, and as long as the usual suspects keep getting elected unopposed, people are less motivated to stand against they as they think things can never be changed. It's a vicious circle.

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  4. Agenda Yes sorry I did mention Parish Council which have similar powers in England where they can be confused with Parochial Council so we can thank diestablisnment. I have made a few corrections for this reason. Al your other points are totally valid.

    Alun equally valid and I council want a higher profile they should look to Aber for this lead.

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  5. Although many people feel that political parties shouldn't get involved in this level of government I am disappointed that they don't. With some of the smaller community councils only meeting for a couple of hours a month, these councils would an ideal place for parties to encourage some of those sectors of the community who are underrepresented in the higher echelons of politics to gain experience and to overcome the felling that representative politics is "not for the likes of us" that Welsh Agenda notes.

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  6. I have published elsewhere (on my blog) my ideas on Community Councils. I agree with much above.I would:
    1. elect by STV,
    2. allow the smaller communities to merge their councils if desired by by both communities, but if so each community will form one ward returning at least 3 members
    3. ensure that all communities are covered by a community council
    4. each community council to be shadowed by a youth council, which will act as an incubator for membership of the community council
    5. reduce the voting age to 16
    6. enable the principle of subsidiarity to apply so community councils can gain more powers if desired - powers of general competence.
    7. elections of community councils to be funded by unitary councils

    Some local papers (I am thinking of the Tenby Observer here) cover community councils well, where there are no local papers there should be central funding for local community papers - maybe funding existing ones to expand their area of coverage with multiple editions.

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  7. I don't know if you are proposing reducing the age to voting 16 just for community councils. But if this was the case and the elections where held on a separate day. Then It could be a way of engaging young people and getting them to start voting.

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  8. I would like a general reduction of the age of voting, but starting with community councils - together with the youth council would be an ideal way to start introducing people to the idea of civic responsibility and getting a taste for self government.

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