For some time Scarborough Borough Council has been threatened with extinction as a local authority. At present within the Borough there are three tiers to the decision making process. County, Town and Parish. Whoaaa!! Arguably, there are two tiers ie County and Borough as these are the ones that offer payment for holding office. Parish Councillors do not get paid so they don't matter? Wrong. Parish Councils are the first rung on the ladder for members of the public to become engaged with and participate with local democracy and the decision making process aka Local Authorities and sit alongside Officers (public servants specialising in management of local authorities). So, Parish Councillors give up their time freely to get involved in local community issues. They are volunteers that carry out duties. The only paid member of a Parish is usually the Clerk to the Parish, who receives a nominal salary for keeping records, accounts etc. and generally keeping the Parish to good order.
In 2007, North Yorkshire County Council (County) was shortlisted by the Department for Communities and Local Govt. to be a unitary authority. wiki 'If the bid had been successful then the Borough of Scarborough would have—along with all other districts and boroughs in the present county of North Yorkshire —been abolished. The bid, however, was unsuccessful and the districts remain as they were previously constituted.'
Much has been said about 'two-hatted' Councillors claiming expenses alongside their allowances and indeed a 'Career Councillor' (you know who you are :-)) can earn quite a packet, depending on how many committees they sit on and roles they are 'elected' to. For Scarborough Council Allowances see here:http://www.scarborough.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=12242. (and enter Councillors Allowances in the search box! ) For County Allowances see here: http://www.northyorks.gov.uk/article/23654/Councillors---allowances
However for many Members of Council, the allowances do not equate to 'compensate' much in monetary terms for the amount of time needed to attend meetings, nor to engage fully with the elected roles and duties of respresenting their 'ward' or 'area' communities. Indeed many Councillors go over and above their 'remit' and work hard, often going the extra mile, to contribute and immerse themselves in their communities, and the allowances they receive are inconsequential.
On a visit to County Hall and looking at the Hall of Fame, ie gallery of elected Councillors, a flock of 'greys' and 'nays', it was commented on by one of the admin staff that it was a real shame that not many young people stood for election. It would seem that the majority of Councillors are retired and/or sufficiently financially established to support their erm, extra curriculum activities. That said, there are also a few say, more youthful, elected Members, some of whom run their own business, and still find time to engage in meeting the challenges of maintaining Democracy. Others are finding it extremely difficult to find balance with work and growing families, (and wont be standing again) whilst others relish the prospect of 'escaping' everyday work and family. Clearly being an elected Councillor is not all its cracked up to be. On top of that, being open to public scrutiny, on call to the public 24/7 and the constant sniping and criticism by a few unelected armchair internet warriors one can imagine that the life of a councillor can sometimes be a bit harsh. Councillors are not responsible for worlds end, they are not responsible for criminal activities within the community, they cannot get involved in police investigations, they are not there to pick up dog poo, mow your lawns, fix your fence, or round up known drug gangs, loan sharks, nor act as judge jury and executioner!
So what do they do? In 2011 pre-election SBC offered a 'wannabe' workshop/seminar (whatever) on an 'Insight into the role of Councillor' : http://www.scarborough.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=15866 . With the 2015 Borough elections looming ever closer and candidates for the 'politically' affilliated currently under process, it is worth a quick glance. Leader of the Council Tom Fox said “Even though being a councillor entails a lot of hard work, it is a privilege to serve the community. I would urge anyone thinking of standing for election, no matter what their political persuasion or beliefs, to come along to this session so they can see the type of work a councillor does and the benefit it can have on the community.”
Indeed many former Mayors of Scarborough have taken deep pride in holding that status and talk of a bestowed honour placed upon themselves. The 'privilege to serve the community' should not be underestimated. Afterall these 'elected' individuals do hold the mandate of the people. ie people voted for them ... it takes a lot of ego then? Well not if your part of a political machine. Sometimes Members are voted in by 'accident'. A shortage of candidates can result in the unexpected, straw candidates (god forbid) do sometimes get through, even political affiliation cannot protect you from the claws of the critters ... (I will stand there because I don't want to win) some have even called for local authorities to be none political and cross party decisions on wider issues have become more commonplace. The toe the party line or else attitude will hopefully one day become consigned to history. For the two main political parties (Lab & Tory) candidate selection is a massive process driven by political legions and loyalties, whereby 'power' to the decision making process is the key. Arguments against independent candidates range from "you don't know what you are voting for" to "they have no real values or policies" (on which to base their foundations in making decisions), to "they can say what they want because they will never get in and even if they do will change their minds" etc etc. And then of course there is the rise of UKIP. What do they stand for? (here I will keep my personal opinions to myself, for now) What is relevant is that no matter what political party or faith or whatever candidates subscribe to, they are not all bad, cough, and here is a UKIP Councillor that has actually proposed something rather interesting and useful: ( from: http://www.ukipharrogate.org/news/ukip-harrogate-call-for-creation-of-un... Coun Cross added: “Currently North Yorkshire has eight authorities, each with its own chief executive and senior directors, all of whom receive executive pay packets. Departments are not just duplicated, they are ‘octoplicated’!” County Councillor Simister said: “My county council division, which encompasses three district council wards, is represented by eight councillors – two county councillors and six district councillors. Unitary authority status would see this number being reduced to a maximum of three! By becoming a single-tier authority there are huge savings to be made and I believe it will result in better public services. Our notice of motion calls for the county council to take the lead role in talks with the seven district councillors and explore the creation of one, new authority or even two – made up of Harrogate, Richmondshire and Craven, and Selby, Ryedale Scarborough and Hambleton. What we don’t want to here are reasons why it can’t be done, but reasons why it can be done!”
Indeed, fighting talk. However this is nothing new: " The Labour Group has therefore agreed that to protect frontline services, the Council must open formal discussions with other councils in North Yorkshire to consider the establishment of a unitary system of local government in the area, which means reducing the number of councils from eight to possibly just two or three." source: http://www.labour4scarboroughandwhitby.net/?p=392
Along with latest reports that: "Subject to the completion of due diligence and the finalisation of a plan for implementation it is hoped that the shared system will go live on April 1 2015" from the Whitby Gazette: http://www.whitbygazette.co.uk/news/local/council-services-to-be-shared-...
Now, this WG report is extremely interesting, because the talk of Unitary Authority has in the past been stalled by questions of "Who with?" ... should Scarborough be part of a larger North Yorkshire authority, we are afterall the 'poor and deprived' part of North Yorkshire ... would our needs be met? Indeed the adjoining of Scarborough Borough Council with Ryedale District Council was put on the table when the Town Hall was put up for sale. (http://www.real-whitby.co.uk/an-informed-decision-by-tim-thorne). (spit) Ironically it was the East Riding Council that put a stop to that nonsense :-) . However East Riding does share much and many local issues, particularly towards seasonal (tourism) economies and of course more recently towards inward investment from the EU, and from technology and industry (windfarms, fracking and potash) (read the rest of this blogg!).
Now to pause and take in a deep breath (as I gaze into the crystal ball) The NYMNPA is tied in with NYCC. Whitby, perhaps via the York Potash project is becoming more aligned with Redcar and Cleveland Council. Will Scarborough lose Whitby as the Jewel of its coastal borough? Is this why Scarborough has not been included in the public consultation exercises. Further more nor are they liekly to be included by the NYMNPA in their forthcoming round of Parish Consultation exercises! What happened to Scarborough Town Central parishes? Is Scarborough Town the 'put up and shut up' majority. Where is our Parish? Answers on a postcard, please. (saucy, obviously)
In short Parish Councils (Townships) are important. If the future lies in Unitary Authorities, who will represent local communities. They are, imo, the grass roots of democracy. Or are Parishes both the nurseries and graveyards of the aspirational and ambitious? Parishes need to be preserved and not perish.
Anyhow for all those wannabe Candidates for the 2015 Borough elections - It could very well be the last chance to represent the Borough of Scarborough and all that privilege and power that that entails, or not, go on take a chance:
If only I could find mine ;-) (parish) planting seeds and splitting pips ...
can't believe I am linking this, but hey, if the hat fits ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wfpXI5PKlw&list=RD9wfpXI5PKlw
to be cont'd.