Town Councils: the Pros and Cons by Ray Evison

Most of the highlighted political news stories in the press come out of national, county or district council decisions. However there is another level, a primary level of government that is less often in the news but is just as fundamental to the way we are organised in our communities. This is especially true in the rural but also increasingly in the urban areas. That level of course is the Parish and Town Council level, the Local level.

The question was recently posed, ‘Should Canterbury have its own Town Council ?’. It was raised, partially I guess, because rather oddly, at present there are no City based councillors determining the policies that drive the City or control its future. Those councillors are all elected by other parts of the district.

I rarely use the terms ‘Canterbury City Council’ and ‘Canterbury Councillors’. Perhaps it would be helpful to explain why.

Canterbury City Council, (C C C) is the body, the members of which meet and debate in the Guildhall. I call them Canterbury District Council and Canterbury District Councillors so that they are not confused with Ward Councillors who represent areas within the City walls. But I do suspect that those who reside outside the City walls, (and even outside the district in one case), like to be known as Canterbury City Councillors because it gives them a certain kudos, y’ know, when mentioned alongside the rest of the county districts.

So should Canterbury have a Town Council, or as an alternative, should it have several Parish Councils for each of the Wards within the City walls ? Those resisting such propositions will no doubt  tetchily respond by saying it’s just another layer of burocracy and will cost us more…….and from experience, I think that would be the limit of their argument.

I would counter by saying that unlike district councillors, parish and town councillors don’t get paid.  Though elected, they perform all their statutory duties as volunteers for the good of their local community and for the sake of their neighbourhoods, without recompense.

Local Councils are elected every four years and depending on the size of the community represented can have various numbers of councillors from the local community. There must be a minimum of five councillors on a local council but for the largest town councils there will be dozens of councillors.

The great majority of small local councils will have five members but Folkestone or Plymouth or Sutton Coldfield Town.Councils.( the latter being the largest town council in the country with more than 120,000 electors), will have dozens of councillors all responding to the needs at the neighbourhood level.

Most of the costs associated with Local Councils are used in securing the services, through a modest salary, of a Clerk. Clerks in my view are the salt of the earth. They facilitate the work of councillors,( who might otherwise have an assorted collection of diverse opinions), in order to focus on a common agreed representation of their views and of those in the locality. They manage all correspondence and construct a rational argument to persuade other bodies to do something constructive for the neighbourhood, the parish or the town.

Clerks are the channel through which communities can be formally and legally represented. They also receive information from district or county authorities as well as businesses and disseminate that information swiftly and appropriately. In my time as a parish councillor I have worked with eight Clerks, every one of which has been at the heart of our village community, easily available and  representing us and informing all and sundry. Clerks grow into being the focal point of decision making in the community.

Whether there should be a single Town Council for all of the Wards within the City walls or separate Parish Councils for each is a moot point, – one to be determined at the local level rather than the district level. All I would say is that those residing in the Binnewith, the Dane John or Northgate areas, for instance, would significantly gain from having the option to exercise their democratic rights, to discuss and debate, in a formal but a local setting.

As a footnote I would mention that in one part of the district there is already a pre-existing Town Council. Fordwich has a Town Council and a Mayor. It is the smallest Town Council in England.

Surely what is good enough for Fordwich is appropriate for the City itself

Ray Evison,
Hackington Parish Councillor
Former Chairman Kent Association of Local Councils

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