Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Latest Update from CSW Broadband

The Coventry, Solihull & Warwickshire Superfast Broadband project team has produced a briefing on the latest developments in the plan to bring superfast broadband to homes in the county. The briefing is set out below:
CSW Broadband Project Gets Results
A project that aims to improve broadband across Warwickshire has made improvements in some areas before a penny of the project budget is even spent. CSW Broadband has been gathering information from communities about the broadband challenges that they face and where the local infrastructure, such as communications cabinets, are located. As a result of the information received the project has been able to convince BT to upgrade cabinets at Coton Park in Rugby and at Warwick Gates so that those communities are now able to access superfast broadband. Furthermore, as a result of information received from parishes around the county a further 45,000 properties are now to be included in the commercial broadband roll-out, meaning that the project funds can be utilised to help more communities in harder to reach areas.

Looking ahead, the contract should be awarded in May of this year, and then the work can start on the design of the network. The solution chosen will depend to a large extent on which bidder is successful as they use different technologies, but in any event roll-out should start this year and is due for completion by 2015.

CSW Broadband still needs businesses, individuals and community champions to engage with the project. There are areas where the levels of survey returns are quite low. This may be because there is little demand for faster broadband, or it may simply be that everyone is assuming that someone else is taking action. It will be easier to justify investing in those areas that show a high level of demand than in those were there appears to be little requirement. This has been evidenced by the fact that it is those areas that have been most active in completing the surveys that have now been included in the commercial roll-out. For more information about the project, including maps showing where surveys have been completed and the surveys themselves, please visit CSW Broadband.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

WALC County Committee AGM - 22 January

Last Monday, I attended the AGM of the county committee of the Warwickshire & West Midlands Association of Local Councils in Leamington Spa. I, along with three other colleagues, represent parish councils within the Rugby area on the county committee.

The first item of business was to appoint Eric Knibb from Castle Bromwich Parish Council to be chairman of the association, and for Vaughan Owen from Burton Green Parish Council to become vice-chairman, for the forthcoming year. Vaughan Owen had been the chairman during the previous year, and a vote of thanks was taken in recognition for the work he had done representing parish councils within Warwickshire on the local, regional and national stage.

I was appointed to sit on the Policy Advisory Sub-Committee for the next year, which meets occasionally to consider and make recommendations to the county committee on any changes to the policies of WALC.

Amongst other business considered during the meeting, the latest financial position of the association was reviewed, details of WALC's annual briefing day for parish councils on 2 March were agreed, and there were update reports from the Vice-Chairman on his attendance at the National Association of Local Councils meeting in December. The county committee also agree to request Ron Ball, Warwickshire's newly elected Police & Crime Commissioner to appoint a representative of the town and parish council sector onto the county's Police & Crime Panel, whose role it is to provide scrutiny and challenge to the Police & Crime Commissioner. As the tier of government closest to the people it represents, town and parish councils are very much aware of the safety and security concerns of the public, and could have an important contribution to make as a member of the panel.

There was also much discussion over the government's recent decision to localise Council Tax benefit support. One of the less obvious consequences of this was that parish councils would receive a reduction in the amount of money they were able to raise from their element of the Council Tax, and were then reliant on borough councils passing on grant funding from the government to make up the shortfall (which boroughs were under no compulsion to do). Fortunately, Rugby Borough Council stuck with its commitment to pass on 100% of the grant funding to each parish (which in the case of Shilton & Barnacle Parish Council equated to around 10% of its annual budget). There is concern that if this process is repeated again in future years (as is expected), borough councils will come under increasing pressure not to pass all of this grant funding on to its parishes, leaving parish councils having to decide whether to increase its share of the Council Tax or to cut back on services, for reasons none of which are of its making.

The association wrote to the government expressing the difficulties this has caused parish councils. A response received from Brandon Lewis MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was not particularly encouraging, choosing to say:

"It is the Government's clear expectation that billing authorities will work with parish and town councils to pass down funding so that their precepts can be reduced to reflect reductions in their council tax base. Precisely how much funding should be passed down will depend on a number of factors ....... which could change from year to year."
It seems that we should prepare ourselves for an annual round of financial uncertainty as we plan and prepare budgets for the years ahead!

The next meeting of the WALC county committee will be held on 24 April.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

New Year, New Name

The lack of posts on this blog in recent weeks shouldn't be taken as a lack of news to report from the world of the parish council - just my tardy efforts at spending a bit of time on here keeping people informed at to what's going on, and sharing my views on the world of local councils! However, it is my intention that normal business will now resume, and so I'll use the next few posts to bring everyone up to speed as to what's been happening over the last few weeks.

The purpose of this particular post is to let everyone know that, 118 years after it was established, Shilton Parish Council is no more, to be replaced by Shilton & Barnacle Parish Council. Actually, everything apart from the name has stayed the same, and in reality it's business as usual!

I blogged back in July last year that the parish council was considering changing its name to better reflect that it represented the villages of Shilton and Barnacle. The parish council itself voted unanimously to change the name, and residents were consulted to seek their views. No responses were received to an article in the BASIS magazine, and an online poll on this blog suggested a 2 - 1 majority in favour of changing it (although disappointingly for me, none of the five people who voted to keep the name as it was actually said why they favoured the status quo - which might have allowed the parish council to address or allay their concerns).

The power to change a parish council's name actually rests with the local borough council, so at its meeting on 11 December, Rugby Borough Council - on the advice of its Legal & Elections Manager - voted to approve the change in the parish council's name to Shilton & Barnacle Parish Council, and from the beginning of this year, the new name was adopted.

A small change perhaps, but if a parish council is to speak on behalf of a community with authority, then part of that authority comes from the community feeling like the parish council is their parish council, and that it represents their best interests. Reflecting in the name that it's the local council for two villages in the borough will, I believe, help it to strengthen the authority with which it speaks.

As a consequence of the name change, the parish council's logo has undergone a refresh, which will be particularly useful as it seeks to increase its online presence (more of that later!) As ever, comments, criticisms or suggestions are very much welcome regarding the new name and/or its visual identity.