What could a town council actually do?

People have got fired up by the positive opportunities which a town council can offer!  But what are they? Some people have asked us for more examples of what town councils can do.

Well Dunstable provides social activities for people of all ages, including lunch clubs for the over 55’s and over 75’s, National Play Day for children, youth drop in sessions for teenagers and Dunstable Men in Sheds for men 55 plus.  It has partnered with a young people’s counselling service to deliver sessions in schools identifying what causes stress. Totton and Eling, Hampshire, instituted a shopping voucher scheme to encourage residents to shop locally. Falmouth developed an economic plan including saving CCTV and youth services, and employs a team of gardeners who in conjunction with visitor and education office involve primary school children in horticulture projects.

Sprowston has taken over a youth and community building from Norfolk County Council, held a health fair and run a weight management class which has developed into an exercise class. Wikham has planted 800 new trees, commissioning two new floodlit tennis courts and a new club, a floodlit all weather football pitch and a new village green.  Many town councils have taken over parks and allotments and public spaces: Skegness has a groundcare team, manages and maintains benches, bus shelters, notice boards, planters, hanging baskets, litter bins and an information lectern in the town. The groundcare team also manages the council’s cemetery, burial ground, war memorial and allotments.

Sevenoaks run a cinema and theatre complex ! Antsey has provided new football pitches for the local youth teams, built a community footpath with a neighbouring parish council and funded a feasibility study on a late night bus service. Stirchley and Brookside runs a gardening scheme which manages gardens for elderly people who can’t. Burnham Overy, Norfolk is a local partner in the development of six homes, five of which are classified as affordable.

Salisbury took on a mix of services, some of which cost money to run and others which generate an income. These include 33 parks, 12 play areas, a community centre, two pay and display car parks, the Guildhall and various shops, offices and flats. Thame in Oxfordshire supports local businesses with a range of measures. This includes providing 50% funding for a market town coordinator, chairing and supporting a business forum, supporting a charter market manning an information centre, providing sponsorship opportunities for local businesses and operating a buy it local policy.

Waltham Abbey have played host to a number of national and international events, including a night stopover of the Monte Carlo rally, the Olympic Torch relay, the Olympic Games and the Tour De France!

 What would people in Bexhill like to see? It would of course be up to the councillors (elected in Bexhill by the people of Bexhill) to find out what is most needed in the town. Our D4B leaflet mentions some things we think would be popular, some big and some small, but we know that Bexhill residents are not short of ideas and suggestions for services which they would want to be effective and good value, not wasting money and not ignoring what the town really wants. 

Parish and Town Councils are the most unbureaucratic and the cheapest kind of local authority in existence.  Their funds will be the smallest part of the Council Tax and they get no general government grant, so they have every incentive to keep expenditure low and be economical. The accounts are strictly and independently audited every year.

Can we trust councillors?

All councillors have to abide by a Code of Conduct which sets out which interests have to be declared. The one used by Rye Town council (Yes, they have a town council although their population is only 5,000 compared to Bexhill’s 41,000!) is here.

Councillors also have to enter relevant financial and other interests in a special Register that is open to inspection by members of the public.  The Department of Communities and Local Government provide a guide

 

 

What options are Rother offering?

Option 1 – No change

All decisions about services provided in Bexhill would continue to be made by the 38 Rother councillors, the majority of whom are not elected by Bexhill residents and so can always out-vote the Bexhill members. Also, we would continue to pay the Bexhill Special Expenses tax averaging at £40 per household per year without control on how it is spent.

Option 2 – A town council

(technically “A parish council styled as a town council”)
The best option! Because…

  • Decisions would be made by Bexhill residents, for Bexhill residents.
  • Direct control of the Bexhill Special Expenses council tax, and influence on how Rother and East Sussex County Council spend their budgets in Bexhill.
  • A Bexhill town council could protect services at risk! Services such as public toilets, or grants to sports clubs, charities, museums or transport for the elderly are likely to be cut in 2020 when the central government grant to Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council falls to zero.
  • Control of 15% of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which developers pay Rother on infrastructure developments such as the new housing planned for Bexhill. This would rise to 25% if the Town Council develops a Neighbourhood Plan.
  • New powers to provide services were given to communities and town councils in 2011. Towns up and down the country are taking this opportunity to form their own councils. Bexhill, this is your moment!
  • Bexhill would retain its Mayor!
  • Find out more about what a Town Council could do.

Option 3 – An area committee

This would simply involve the current Rother councillors from Bexhill wards meeting together. Rother has made it clear that this would have no powers or responsibilities. Yet Rother also say it would cost an extra £45,000 to £90,000 per year!

Option 4 – Four parish councils

These would cost at least twice as much as a town council to little benefit, divide the town unfairly and create 68 new councillors! Plus Bexhill would lose its mayor.

What could a Bexhill Town Council do?

What could a Bexhill Town Council do?

Rother District Council is holding a consultation called a Community Governance Review, to ask the public if they would like Bexhill to have more local representation, and if so what form it should take.

Everyone of any age living or working in Bexhill is now being asked to express their preference in a consultative ballot, a non-binding “vote”.

Democracy4Bexhill, a non-political group of Bexhill residents, has researched all the options and recommends you vote for a town council.

A town council would focus on the things that residents want to see in Bexhill. This might include looking after allotments, flower beds, public spaces, bus shelters and community centres. They could also run services, award grants, and support initiatives to provide or improve, for example:

  • pavements and drop kerbs
  • tourist information
  • litter control
  • children’s play centres
  • skate parks, cycle paths
  • parking
  • neighbourhood planning
  • advice services for tenants and leaseholders
  • loneliness prevention
  • help for independent shops
  • making the town more attractive with flower baskets and upkeep
  • keeping and promoting Bexhill’s special historic character.

How much would a Town Council for Bexhill cost?

How much would it cost?

Running a town council would cost an average of 14p per week per household. Obviously, if we all want improvements in Bexhill, they may need to be paid for by an increase in council tax. So if there is demand for a really good dementia project, or a youth centre or a tourism information point, all these will have a price tag. However,  a town council will have access to funds that even Rother can’t access. Most importantly, the services the town council provides would depend entirely on what the people of Bexhill want.

The 18 town councillors would not be paid and modest premises would be found.

A Bexhill town council – what’s all this about?

For some years now, Bexhill residents have been campaigning for more of a voice in decisions affecting their town. Everyone else living within Rother has a parish or town council, but Bexhill doesn’t.  We need one –  not to replace Rother, as Rother will continue as the second tier of local government but to represent Bexhill residents’ interests better.

History, ancient and modern

In 1902 Edward VII awarded Bexhill a royal charter to become Bexhill Borough Council. This was a source of great pride. But the council was lost in 1974 when Bexhill, Battle and Rye were merged along with the 29 parish councils to become the mostly rural Rother District Council. Rye kept its own town council, and so did Battle, but Bexhill’s 40,000 residents? Oddly, no.

In 2015, concerned citizens organised a petition with 4,000 people asking Rother for more democracy.  Legally, this forced Rother to respond and to set up a consultation process called the Community Governance Review 2017. In Phase 1 of this, the public was asked their views.

To help promote this public consultation, petitioners set up a voluntary group called Democracy 4 Bexhill, D4B: a non-party group that wants the consultation to be open, fair and effective, and which is working to promote it and spread the word.

900 people responded to Rother’s consultation: twice as many as any previous public consultation held by Rother. The majority wanted a town council. The special steering committee that Rother set up to guide the whole CGR process recommended that in Phase 2 this summer, they would send Bexhill’s 23,000 households a leaflet setting out the options for governance and asking their views. Rother then would make the decision over whether Bexhill could have its own council.

At the last minute, Rother cancelled the steering committee’s meeting called to approve the leaflet. Then they insisted on adding an additional option that had never been referred to before, cancelled the leaflet drop saying it would cost too much, and effectively suspended everything by referring the whole process back to the steering committee! The Council meekly followed its leader. So now we wait to see what they are going to do. The clock is ticking. The law says they must complete the consultation process by January 2018.

Four options

The four options that have been proposed:

  • No change.
  • A town council.  It would have some powers, some capacity to raise money to provide services, and it could represent Bexhill’s interests more effectively than what happens now. It would cost a household in Band D, about 12p a week.
  • An area committee. That would bring together the current 18 Rother councillors for Bexhill to meet occasionally, but Rother has said it would have no powers.
  • Four parish councils. Each one would need a part-time paid town clerk.

What is a town council?

All over the UK, there are usually three tiers of local government with different responsibilities – in our area, we have

  • East Sussex County Council (roads, social services, education etc),
  • Rother District Council (environmental protection, waste, housing, planning) and
  • a parish or town council (except not for Bexhill!)

A town council is a statutory body and is the most local level of government. It serves the local area, and plays an important role in promoting the town, representing its interests and supporting the work of different groups in the community. It can wield “soft power” – in Bexhill this would mean influencing important decisions on Bexhill issues made by Rother or East Sussex County Council.

Town councils also have a number of formal powers. Many provide allotments, and look after playing fields, and other types of leisure facilities. They maintain rights of way, bus shelters, public benches or toilets and smaller scale street lighting.  Town councils are often concerned with the provision of community buildings, and with services for children, youth or old people. They can provide a tourist information service or even get initiate projects on housing or older people. They can do these things themselves or can fund other organisations, such as a charity, to do them through grants or contracts. In some areas they reinstate services which the bigger local authority has cut. As some of Rother’s parish councils already do, it could prepare a neighbourhood development plan or order which becomes part of the local development plan for the area and must be used as a basis for making decisions on planning. The town council would also receive up to 25% of the money paid by developers towards local infrastructure.

The Localism Act 2012 was a landmark act which gave greater powers to parish and town councils and encouraged greater community involvement. But Rother has not embraced this. A town council offers the people this involvement, with democratic representation and accountability, and the ability to deliver existing services or provide additional services.

A town council would be elected. The councillors will not be paid: unlike Rother councillors, town councillors are not normally given an allowance.  A town council would need a qualified town clerk, and modest premises – perhaps shop premises in Bexhill.

What can I do?

Support us! Find Democracy4 Bexhill on Facebook or website www.democracy4bexhill.com. Write to info@democracy4bexhill.com. Chair Doug Oliver is on 07917 845737 or Vice Chair Christine Bayliss on 01424 218250. Rother’s own website is informative, at www.rother.gov.uk, just search for Community Governance Review.

But the most important thing is to VOTE! The voting opened on September 1st 2017 and runs to 1630 on October 13th.  Please talk to your friends and neighbours and make sure that thousands of people make their views known. Let’s show them that Bexhill residents do care about local democracy. Vote by going direct to https://surveymechnics.com/s/bexCGR or ask for a voting postcard from Rother town hall or from your local councillor.

Perhaps they think we’re not bothered?

They may be in for a surprise.

 

What happens now and how can I have a say?

During January-March 2017 people were invited to write in to their council with their ideas to help the Council create a shortlist of ideas for how our town should be run. You can see some of the responses at the bottom of the RDC Community Governance page.

The Bexhill Community Governance Review Steering Group met on 22nd May, considered all information, and decided to recommend three options for the second round of consultation:

  • no change
  • a town council for all 9 wards in Bexhill
  • an area committee for Bexhill

Council staff are working on costing the short listed options and that information was due to be available to the RDC Cabinet meeting on 3 July. The Cabinet was due to send a shortlist to the full Council on 10 July when all the councillors should have made a final decision on the options to shortlist.

In fact, the councillors returned the decision to the steering committee, so although a consultation was planned to start on 11 July and run for 8 weeks it is not now taking place on that date.

We will update this when we know more – the council page about the review has no further information at time of writing.

If you have any questions please email consultations@rother.gov.uk or write to Bexhill Community Governance Review, Rother District Council, Bexhill on Sea, TN39 3JX.

What is a Community Governance Review?

Bexhill Ward Map A Community Governance review is a process to allow everyone living in our area to have their say on how decisions are made in Bexhill. This community governance review applies to the 9 wards of Bexhill-on-Sea. The review has two consultation phases over 2017.

During January-March 2017 people were invited to write in to their council with their ideas to help the Council create a shortlist of ideas for how our town should be run. You can see some of the responses at the bottom of the RDC Community Governance page.

The Bexhill Community Governance Review Steering Group is a group of councillors who are organising the review process.  The Steering Group met on 22nd May, considered all information, and decided to recommend three options for the second round of consultation:

  • no change
  • a town council for all 9 wards in Bexhill
  • an area committee for Bexhill

The Council has no official preference at this stage.

If you have any questions please email consultations@rother.gov.uk or write to Bexhill Community Governance Review, Rother District Council, Bexhill on Sea, TN39 3JX.

How is Bexhill governed now?

At present all decisions about the services provided in Bexhill are made by the 38 councillors elected to RDC.
20 of these councillors are elected as representatives of other parts of the district so are always in the majority when decisions that affect Bexhill are made.
RDC argues that the decision they take are made in the best interests of the area as a whole and that any local issues are dealt with fairly and openly.
They also say that the present arrangements are is the most cost effective way of providing and managing services for the people of Bexhill.