Parishes proposal: the electors must decide

This is written on behalf of Parks & East Walcot Community Forum, of which I am the Secretary.

Yesterday Parks & East Walcot Community Forum discussed the Community Governance Review being launched by Swindon Borough Council – the proposal to devolve some of its services to new parish Councils in the main body of the town (covering roughly 97,000 electors) where none currently exist.

It was agreed that the Forum would oppose introducing new parishes and call for a referendum of the non-parished areas on whether or not they should be set up.

The Forum felt strongly that such a significant reorganisation of local government in the town should not be a decision for a few dozen Councillors. The imposition of new parishes where no mandate exists would be completely undemocratic.

Concern was expressed that the transfer of services to parishes would mean that the level of service provided would depend on the wealth or poverty of local areas. Higher value housing brings in more income from parish ‘precept’. The advantage of providing services at the Borough level is that economies of scale apply. It is cheaper and more efficient than services provided locally. We fear that services once transferred would wither on the vine. Once the Borough has washed its hands of these services then if they decline or disappear the Borough will conveniently blame the parish Councils and say it is nothing to do with them.

‘Double taxation’

Members were opposed to the ‘double taxation’ implied by the refusal of the administration to commit to lowering the SBC Council Tax in line with the value of services being transferred. CT payers in the new parish areas would in effect be paying the Borough for services they no longer supply and paying the ‘precept’ of the new parish for the services transferred.

If services are transferred from the Borough to parishes then this moves away from the principle of universal service provision. Whether or not they continue depends on how much money each parish can take in.

One of the services under consideration for transfer is local street lighting. In a recent Swindon Advertiser article we heard that the administration was considering dimming or turning out some of the lights. The scathing Editorial made the point that if the Council ‘had no choice’ then it should “speak out publicly about the underfunding”. “Their first duty”, it said, “should be to us”. Clearly if a town the size of Swindon cannot afford to keep it’s lights on then the Council’s ruling group should be pressing the issue with its MP’s and its government.

Local organisations should work together for a referendum

Our Forum will seek to work together with community and other organisations to campaign for a referendum. Whilst there may be different opinions on the question of whether or not introducing parishes is a good idea, we can all work together on demanding that if the Council presses ahead with its proposal to introduce new parishes in the areas where they do not currently exist, then the electors should be given the opportunity to decide whether or not the proposal is implemented. You cannot ’empower’ local people by denying them the power to decide on this issue.

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Parks & East Walcot Community Forum

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