Friday, 27 November 2009

Free PCs for Community and Voluntary Organisations

Warwickshire County Council has 100 recycled computers to give away free to community and voluntary organisations throughout the county.

I've reproduced that press release from the county council for anyone who may be interested in acquiring one of the PCs for their organisation:
Warwickshire County Council has 100 recycled computers available FREE to community or voluntary organisations within Warwickshire. Applications are invited by 5.00pm on Friday 18 December 2009.

There are up to two computers available per organisation. Each computer package will consist of a Dell Gx240 desktop computer, with a Pentium 4 1.5GHz processor and 256Mb memory.

It will include a monitor, keyboard and mouse, plus OpenOffice 2.0 software. Modems are also available if required. A three-month warranty is offered with each computer, though no on-going support or maintenance will be available. Laptops may be available.

For further details click here.

Sarah James
Grants Officer
Environment and Economy Directorate
Warwickshire County Council

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Would You Pay More?

Would you be prepared to pay more Council Tax to Shilton Parish Council to receive a higher standard of local services? This was one of the issues discussed at the November meeting of the parish council.

All of the local government services that Shilton and Barnacle receive are provided by either Warwickshire County Council, Rugby Borough Council or Shilton Parish Council. The costs of the services provided by the county and borough councils are funded partly by the Council Tax that each household pays, but primarily from central government grant (which in turn, of course, is paid for out of general taxation). The parish council is unique in that all of its income (except for a small amount gained from the fees and charges that it levies for things like burials in the Church Road cemetery) comes from the Council Tax.

The services that each tier of council provides is clearly laid down and specified in law, eg. the county council provides social services and education; the borough council empties the bins and runs leisure centres; the parish council provides street lighting and the aforementioned cemetery. However, some parish councils, unhappy at the services provided in their local area by their bigger brothers, are now beginning to look at doing it themselves where they think they can provide better services than those that they currently receive.

This can be done primarily in one of two different ways:

  • the county/borough council already provides the service, but the parish council thinks that it can do the job better. This could relate to litter picking (borough council job) when the parish thinks that taking over responsibility for its own, more local, area would result in a better service. The borough could delegate the responsibility (and hopefully the money!) to the parish council, who then takes over job of keeping the streets clear of litter.

  • the county/borough provides a service, but the parish council agrees to pay the county/borough extra money if it provides an enhanced service. This is sometimes seen with grass cutting, where the borough council may only cut the grassed areas in a village, say, eight times a year, and then the parish council pays the borough an amount of money to cut it an extra three times.
The key issue in either of these situations is that the public is likely to end up paying extra money to their councils to get a better public service than they would otherwise receive.

So are people prepared to pay more, to get better? Critics argue that the Council Tax payer ends up paying twice for a service that should be properly done in the first place. Proponents will say that you get what you pay for, and you can get better if you're prepared to pay more.

At the last parish council meeting, we received notice from Warwickshire County Council of the gritting programme for the forthcoming winter period. I happen to think that the villages are well served by the gritting programme we receive. However, despite our continued protests, the one through road that will not be gritted is Shilton Lane (from its junction with Lower Road to the Coventry boundary at Lentons Lane).

Should this be gritted? Yes, especially for the cars travelling at speed from the Coventry direction into our area. Will it be gritted? No. So the parish council agreed to ask the county if they would grit it if we paid them the cost of doing so.

This doesn't mean that it's going to happen (and certainly not in time for this winter). The county council have got to agree to do it, they've got to tell us how much it will cost, and we've got to agree whether or not we want to pay this in order to get the enhanced service that we would otherwise not receive. But it's a good example of where ambitious parish councils can make a real difference to the lives of its residents (assuming of course, that its residents are happy to pay the price!).

If you have an opinion on this issue, leave me a comment below.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Temporary Road Closure - Shilton Lane

The parish council has received notification that Shilton Lane will be closed to traffic for one day on Wednesday 2 December whilst Warwickshire County Council undertake highway works.

The diversion for motorists affected by the closure is via Lentons Lane, Coventry Road, Top Road and Lower Road (and vice versa).

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Parish Plans and the Customer and Partnerships Committee

Last Thursday evening I attended a meeting of Rugby Borough Council's Customer and Partnerships Committee in Church Lawford.

The meeting was being held as part of that committee's review of the effectiveness of Parish Plans. A Parish Plan is a document produced by a community (normally through the parish council) that sets out how the people who live in the area want it to develop in the future. The plan will also set out the action that is needed to achieve this.

The Customer and Partnerships Committee is looking into how the borough council responds to Parish Plans, what could be done to encourage the preparation of plans in those parishes currently without them, and how the monitoring and on-going development of plans is carried out. The purpose of this particular meeting was to gather evidence from parish councils on these matters, which it would consider at its next meeting in December.

Of the 39 parish areas in the borough of Rugby, 11 had produced Parish Plans, and one (Shilton!) has one in production.

A number of parish councils were represented at the meeting, almost all of whom had produced a Parish Plan. The area of biggest contention seemed to relate to the extent to which the local planning authority (ie. Rugby Borough Council) would take into account planning policies and objectives contained within Parish Plans that were contrary to national planning guidance when it was considering local planning applications. Somewhat unhelpfully, the Warwickshire Rural Community Council said that Parish Plan policies should be taken account of, and Rugby's planning department said that they wouldn't be! This only confirms my long held view that the primary job of council planning departments is to apply national planning guidance, rather than show any significant local discretion in determining what should, and shouldn't, be approved (but that's a blog for another day!).

Addressing the committee, I made the point that that each community (and its parish council) faced their own particular challenges and had differing capacity to meet those challenges, and this would be reflected in the scope and ambition contained within its own Parish Plan. I hoped that Rugby would recognise this in the flexible way they supported the objectives of each plan, seeing that small scale progress can have as positive an influence on the community as more ambitious projects. I shall let you know what the final report says.

These sorts of meetings prove a good chance to hear about the work that neighbouring parish councils are doing, which in turn provides the motivation and challenge to achieve more with our own parish council.

Friday, 13 November 2009

So You Want to Be a Councillor?

Elections for 16 of the 47 seats on Rugby Borough Council (including one in Fosse ward) may still be 174 days away, but a seminar is being held later in the month for local residents who may be thinking about standing for election on 6 May next year.

The event, to be held on the evening of Thursday 26 November, will provide more information of what being a local borough councillor entails, the skills required, and the sorts of issues that a councillor gets involved in. Anyone considering standing for election to the Town Hall next year should seriously consider taking advantage of the event to find out more about what's involved.

I've reproduced the press release from the borough council for your information:

People interested in finding out about becoming a local councillor are being invited to attend a special seminar being held in the Town Hall later this month.

The 'warts and all' look at the lives of councillors will take people through the challenges faced by modern councillors in representing the community on the borough council.

The event's aim is to encourage people who may have previously thought they could not be a prospective candidate for whatever reason, to perhaps reconsider.

The programme for the evening will cover various aspects involved in being a local councillor including the responsibilities of the council and the role of the councillor, the skills that are required to execute the role and the time commitment needed to carry out the work.

The event will also offer a question time session with current councillors and is being held at 7.00pm on Thursday 26 November in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall.

For further information or to register your interest, contact Steve Garrison, Democratic Services Manager,on (01788) 533521.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rugby Rural Link Minibus Under Threat

Perhaps the local bus services have been that poor for that long, people have given up even thinking of using public transport to get about. I'm not sure what else could explain the woeful use of the Rugby Rural Link minibus service.

I blogged back in July about the launch of a new minibus service in the Shilton and Barnacle area for people who had difficulty accessing existing bus services and needed to get to the local shops. The minibus is jointly funded by Rugby Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council, operated by the Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action Volunteer Centre and for £2 per person each way (£1 for concessionary pass holders) will take local residents to a supermarket in Walsgrave. The minibus operates across the whole of Rugby borough, and serves our patch on Mondays.

At Tuesday's parish council meeting, Councillor Neil Campbell reported that in its first six months of operation, just 13 people had registered to use the service, of which only five had actually ever used it. Needless to say, Rugby are questioning whether funding a bus service for five people represents value for money. And with all councils having to look closely at what they spend their budgets on, this situation is not going to be allowed to carry on indefinitely.

So it's "use it or lose it" time folks. If you've ever thought about catching the bus to the shops on a Monday, register yourself on (01788) 539572 and help keep the service alive before it becomes something else 'that we used to have'.

Keep an eye out for more on this issue in the next edition of the BASIS magazine.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

WALC AGM - 29 October

Last Thursday night, I attended the 2009/10 AGM of the Warwickshire and West Midlands Association of Local Councils (WALC) in Warwick.

Representatives from more than 50 of the town and parish councils in Warwickshire met in Shire Hall to elect the officers and county committee of WALC for the forthcoming year. But the most interesting part of the evening was the guest speaker, Councillor Hazel Williams, Vice-Chairman of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).

Councillor Williams spoke of the new programmes that were being developed in partnership with NALC to further enhance and promote the role of parish councils, including new powers to create parish councils in areas where they did not currently exist, the promotion of the Quality Parish Council scheme, and the devolution of greater powers to parish councils.

Councillor Williams considered that all three main political parties were looking to introduce more localism into decision making - effectively taking powers away from the government in Westminster and giving it to local people to decide matters for themselves. I support this in principle, but expressed my concern that the talk was increasingly of delegating powers to "the community", rather than to town and parish councils. The tier of government closest to the public will only be taken more seriously when it is given greater responsibilities. I remain sceptical that any serious and effective delegation of responsibility can be given to the public in general (despite what the political parties say), not least because there is no mechanism with which to administer that responsibility. Parish councils are already here and need to be ready to step up to the challenge.

NALC shares this view and is lobbying the political parties ahead of the forthcoming general election to get them to commit to empowering local councils with more powers. In support of this, a 'Manifesto to the Political Parties on the Future of Local Councils' has been produced by NALC which it wishes all political parties to sign up to. The maifesto includes pledges to:
  • recognise local councils as the first tier of local government and the grassroots of our democracy,
  • ensure that local councils are represented on regional and county level strategic bodies,
  • establish local councils throughout all areas of England,
  • ensure that local councils are statutory consultees on all matters affecting their area,
  • increase funding to improve the capacity and effectiveness of local councils,
  • introduce a volunteering programme for 11 - 16 year olds with local councils as part of the citizen curriculum.