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.

What would it cost?

Costs are an important and potentially controversial concern.
No change means no additional council tax costs.
An Area Committee would require additional council tax costs as council officer time will be required to arrange and service their meetings.
A Town Council that limited the services it provides in Bexhill to those that RDC currently provides, paying for them by the transfer of money from RDC to the new Town Council would not lead to an increase in Council Tax. If it wished to increase the services it provides it would need to increase its income. This may be possible by applying for grants or using the money that developers would be pay to it as north east Bexhill is developed. If further money was needed it would increase Council Tax bills.

Residents need to decide on the value they place on having decisions on Bexhill being made by Bexhill elected councillors only, rather than by all those elected to RDC. Only YOU can decide—let them know!

What are the options: An Area Committee

Under this arrangement the 18 councillors elected for the Bexhill wards of RDC would meet separately as an Area Committee. No additional elections would be necessary. They would not be independent of RDC and the scope and extent of the services that they could make decisions on would be entirely at the discretion of RDC. Where district councils have set up Area Committees purposely to operate the services they provide they can work well. The success of an Area Committee for Bexhill would be completely dependent on RDC’s attitude to working in this way. An Area Committee would have no legal status nor ability to raise funds or benefit directly from grants or income from developers. Any funds it was able control or administer would have to be given it by RDC. An Area Committee system would need to operate across the whole of Rother district so an Area Committee for Bexhill would require Area Committees to be set up for the other areas of the district.

What are the options: A Town Council

A town council would be independent of Rother District Council (RDC) with it’s own legal status/ It would elect it’s own councillors. These could be members of political parties or independent candidates. It would have its own town centre office and its own Town Clerk and the freedom to decide what services it wishes to provide. Initially it would take over responsibility for the parks, gardens and open spaces such as Galley Hill and The Downs, allotments, the Museum and Christmas lights. The funds for these would transferred from RDC so no extra cost would be involved. A Town Council would have the ability to raise funds either by applying for grants or by a ‘precept’ – an additional charge on the Council Tax – to provide increased levels of service or new services. They would also receive by right payments that the developers of north east Bexhill have to legally pay and decide how to use this income for the benefit of the town, not Rother District as a whole.