30 September 2016

"While Brexiteers had a referendum but no plan it appears that SBC are intent on carrying out their plan with no referendum, and in the face of overwhelming opposition."

The following is a personal view, my submission to the Council's so called "Community Governance Review". The Council's proposals run rough-shod over any idea of local democracy. Ironically one of their claims is that it will *increase* local democracy, though they refuse to let us vote on it. - Andy Bentley.

I share the view of the vast majority of people in Swindon in opposing the Council’s proposals to forcibly introduce parishes into non-parished areas of Swindon.

The imposition of parishes will be divisive, artificially segregating the people of Swindon against their will. Poorer communities will be disadvantaged while more affluent areas are more able to save threatened services. Council leaders have shown contempt for due process and for the people of Swindon.

My Preferences

As this is about money and Council finance a referendum should be held on raising Council Tax to meet the expected shortfall. Such a referendum should provide the people of Swindon with adequate facts on the costs and consequences to allow an informed decision to be made.

The choice of whether to become a parish should be a democratic decision by those that are to be affected. As a resident of Pinehurst I ought to have the right to decide, along with my neighbours, whether to become a “local” parish or become part of a larger one, or indeed NOT to.

If, and only if, the Council are determined to impose a parish on me (and I do NOT want them to) it ought to be a single parish encompassing all of the non-parished area. This would achieve the Council’s intended objective – to wash their hands of cuts and tax rises – while allowing some of the benefits of economies of scale enjoyed by a larger operation.

Should a Parish Council be imposed on me, it must NOT be made up of appointees of the Council. PC members MUST be elected to the post by the constituents within the Parish.

The Council has no mandate

I object to the imposition of parish councils without the agreement of the people that are affected.

Those making the proposals, which constitute a significant change to the way in which we are taxed and governed, have no political mandate and have refused to seek one.

No mandate was sought for these proposals during this year’s elections for Ward Councillors and calls for a referendum have been flatly rejected. While a referendum is not explicitly demanded by the laws governing the CGR there is nothing that prevents one from being held.

There is no appetite for the creation of additional parishes among the electorate. If there were then the mechanisms are in place by which requests could be made. No such requests have been forthcoming.

The case has not been made

The proposals that have been presented lack the level of detail that would allow a reasonable decision to be made.

The services to be provided by the PCs have not been defined. The actual costs of providing such services have not been identified. Accurate estimates of the precepts required by the proposed parishes have not been provided.

As a resident of the proposed North Central parish I have not been provided with the necessary details of the services currently provided to that area by the Council, their respective costs or the likely impact of the Parish precept on the residents.

Even the suggested names indicate the artificial nature of the proposed parishes. I identify as a resident of Swindon, one large community. I attend events and activities across the length and breadth of the non-parished areas.

The so-called “pilot” offered as evidence of the success of devolving StreetSmart services is deeply flawed on several counts. It is a poor comparison and provides no basis on which the success or otherwise of the new parishes might be predicted.

The areas included in the pilot do not represent the same type of area as would be created under the current proposals. No benchmarking appears to have been carried out against which any objective improvement in services might be judged. The Task Group Report is subjective and insubstantial and only two PCs provided a response, no attempt appears to have been made to elicit the responses of residents.

The proposals are undemocratic

The refusal of the Council to hold a referendum is bad enough.

This is compounded by the way in which the councils will be initially constituted. The Council intends to appoint Ward councillors and co-opted individuals as PCs in the first instance, before democratic elections are held. This flies in one of the supposed benefits of local accountability as Ward Councillors were NOT elected to fulfil this role and appointees will have NO mandate whatsoever.

The idea that PCs provide local accountability is questionable in any case, since so many parish council members are co-opted rather than elected.

The result appears to be predetermined

The consultation process to date has been woefully inadequate and heavily biased. The leaders of the Council have failed to consider alternative courses of action, or to present such alternatives to residents.

The Council has failed to adequately consider responses received at each stage of the review. Public opinion during each stage has overwhelmingly against the forced imposition of parishes, yet that remains the only option being considered.

Presentations to the Council by those in charge of the review have been partial, subjective and unsupported by appropriate evidence.

Although Council officers have been careful to claim that no decision has been made it seems clear from the actions of the Council leaders that a predetermined decision (that parishes be imposed) has been arrived at outside of the formal setting of the Council chambers, and that all that will happen as a result of the “consultation” exercise will be some minor changes such as the tweaking of parish boundaries.

I understand that the Council has already made budgetary provisions that assume the introduction of parishes. If true, this gives the lie to claims that no decision has been made.

While Brexiteers had a referendum but no plan it appears that SBC are intent on carrying out their plan with no referendum, and in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The review itself is not fit for purpose.

The review appears to have been staged to allow Council leaders to implement a predetermined strategy, providing a fig-leaf of respectability to them washing their hands of tax rises and cuts to services.

The leaflet sent to households failed to reach many. As unaddressed mail it was delivered with (and often inside) other “junk” mail. Many houses (including mine) did not receive the leaflet at all. As this would be the only medium by which many households would receive information about the proposals this constitutes a significant flaw in the review. The Council has not taken adequate measures to ensure that people have been made aware of the review or of their proposals.

The meetings held to inform the public of the proposals have been inadequate. I was able to attend one near me and have heard reports of others. The time set aside for these meetings was already short and frequently cut even shorter, with weak excuses used to end them early. In some cases, the appropriate people were not present to answer questions, with those left holding the bag having to make excuses when the required information was not available. The meetings were poorly managed, with little or no structure and little or no attempt to present a coherent overview of the proposals.

No serious attempt has been made to consider alternatives to the current proposals and the Council has failed to provide the information that would enable an informed decision to be taken on those that have been presented and what has been presented has been partial.

I would expect that a strong case could be made for a legal challenge should the Council press ahead with its plans to forcibly impose parishes on the un-parished areas.

The way in which the review has been conducted will further erode public confidence in the council leadership and their ability to govern fairly, honestly and in the interests of their electorate.

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