In Rother’s community governance review last year, 93.5% of 9,227 Bexhill residents asked for a town council, and Rother famously said no. Word went round the country, and now the Government has just had a consultation about how to improve these reviews.
The National Association of Local Councils, representing 10,000 local councils, has responded saying that in future the public should have the right of appeal to the secretary of state, and if residents vote for a new council in a referendum, that should be binding. They also say that the process followed should be strictly monitored internally.
If the Government agrees with these proposals, Rother will not get away with it next time.
Town councils are small, and they have a lot of freedom to create services that local people want, so they can focus on what is needed and what locals really care about, plus “nice-to-haves” which will make a difference to the town.
There are town councils up and down the country serving their towns, giving them a facelift, providing a tourist office, giving jobs advice to young people, hiring out e-bikes, improving street lighting or bus shelters, providing information for tenants and leaseholders, setting up children’s playcentres, even creating a cinema or organising ballroom dancing,
Some invite residents to vote on where money should go. Many replace services that have been cut, such as public toilets or grants for local events or sports clubs.
Health and loneliness
One of the areas that interests us is tackling loneliness. Even in Bexhill – such a friendly place – there are many people who feel totally on their own. The UK has designated social isolation an official “health priority” and there is even a Minister for Loneliness! This is because loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking, drinking or obesity.
There is now proof that when you have friends and support, you are less likely to go to hospital. In Frome in Somerset, the number of emergency admissions to hospital has fallen by 17% since the Compassionate Frome project was set up. As a consultant there remarked, “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.” So we save not just lives but also money. The scheme is backed by Frome town council.
There is a lot going on in Bexhill already to help with loneliness, but how do people find out where to go? That is still the challenge and a town council might decide to make loneliness their priority, supporting what is already happening and making it easier for the public to get involved. A town council would have local knowledge and should be flexible enough to respond to local needs. A town council would aim to make a difference to the daily lives of Bexhill residents.
Democracy4Bexhill is all about making sure that the residents of Bexhill get more of a say on their town. From 1902 to 1974, Bexhill had its own borough council, giving pride and status to the town, but it was abolished in 1974, taken over by Rother District Council. The Rother councillors now representing Bexhill do not have a majority, even over matters closely related to the town.
A huge campaign was launched and won wide popular support. A town council could do SO MUCH for the town! Rother was obliged by law to hold a consultation. Thousands took part. Most consultations get a few hundred response: this one was massive.
Then came Rother’s decision. On December 18th, 2017, by 18 to 13 votes, at a full council meeting, Rother said er…….no. No town council.
They voted in favour of no change.
9,227 people had participated in the consultation, of whom only 364 had supported the idea of no change. Whereas 8, 631 wanted a town council!
Only one of the Rother councillors representing Bexhill voted for a town council: the others opposed it, or were not there.
This extraordinary decision stunned the residents of Bexhill, but the campaign for a town council has not stopped. Democracy4Bexhill is continuing the fight, and backed up by a public meeting, decided to encourage new people to stand as councillors in the next election for Rother, which will be held in May 2019.
See our summer newsletter in our News Section for more info.
It is really interesting to find out. Many of the council meetings at the Town Hall are open to the public. At some of them you can even ask a question if you give notice, under a system Rother call “Public question time”.
Rother is governed by a ‘Cabinet’ system, which means that many decisions are planned by the Council Leader and a small group of councillors, with those decisions often ‘nodded through’ at Full Council. The Cabinet, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Full Council meetings are all held on Mondays. Details and documents about all meetings can be found under the ABOUT THE COUNCIL tab at the top of the website (www.rother.gov.uk).
Remember you can always write to your Rother councillor if you have a concern.
Some of them do a great job, but let us know if they don’t reply.
What do you call a district council which has been in power for too long, and which denies the people of Bexhill a town council? Call time on it, perhaps….?
Here are the Bexhill councillors who voted AGAINST creating a Town Council for their town:
Central Ward – Joy Hughes and Abul Azad |
Kewhurst Ward – Brian Kentfield and Martin Kenward
Old Town Ward – Jacky Potts and Gillian Johnson |
Sidley Ward – Jimmy Carroll
St Stephens Ward – Richard Carroll |
Sackville Ward – Ian Hollidge
ABSTENTIONS – Maurice Watson, Sidley Ward | ABSENCES 3