Article date: 13 September 2017
From now until 13th October 2017, Rother District Council is holding the second phase of its Community Governance Review. They are asking you to decide if you want Bexhill to have more representation, and have put forward four options for your consideration.
We'll start this article with an introduction to the four options and I will then go on to explain why I believe a town council is the best option to take Bexhill forward, and how you can cast your vote. It is worth noting that Bexhill is currently the only part of Rother not to have either a parish or town council. Following a 4,000-strong petition from residents, Rother District Council are now holding this Community Governance Review to decide how the town should be governed moving forward.
Rother's deputy leader Martin Kenward is quoted as saying that an ‘overwhelming response’ will be required from residents in order for a change of governance to be backed...
Decisions about services provided to Bexhill residents (detailed here) are made by Rother District Council's 38 councillors. It is worth noting that at present only 18 of those 38 councillors making decisions about Bexhill live in Bexhill and the remaining 20 live in other areas of Rother.
Each one of the 38 councillors has equal voting rights on Bexhill issues.
Also worthy of note is that whilst Bexhill does not have a town council, both Battle and Rye, the other major towns represented by Rother District Council, do. They clearly see benefits in continuing to have this extra tier of governance.
An area committee would involve the 18 councillors from Bexhill wards meeting together regularly to discuss Bexhill-only issues in a consultative committee. It is important to note that no additional power or decision-making ability would be given to this committee - it would simply be advisory. This option would not be without cost to you, the tax-payer, as additional staff would be required to manage it. Rother has estimated costs to be in the region of £45,000 to £90,000 per year.
I would suggest you might be hard-pressed to spot the benefits in this one. However, if you would like to find out more, this page will explain it.
A proposal put forward by the governance review is for Bexhill to be split into four new parish councils - North, South, East and West Bexhill - with 17 councillors elected to each parish. Some quick multiplication will show you that 4 x 17 = 68 councillors. With minimum costs for running each parish council estimated to include "employing a parish clerk to manage the money, any staff, contracts and services, rent offices and meeting rooms and meet day to day operating costs," you will see that the costs appear to rise extensively.
When compared to the 18 councillors for a single town council, you'll perhaps figure that this seems a step too far.
As with the Four Parish Councils option above, a single Bexhill town council would establish a first tier of local government above Rother District Council - a tier that is closest to the people. Rother District Council have tagged this option as the creation of one parish council for the whole of Bexhill (to be styled as a town council).
There are currently around 9,000 parish, town, community and neighbourhood councils across England. In this case, the town council would be a single entity - one council for the whole of Bexhill, rather than 4 separate parishes.
In addition, other town (and parish) councils around the country have been able to assist with:
As a local council, a Bexhill town council would also have the opportunity to apply for grants; opening doors to new sources of finance for the town.
The message seems to be that you can look upon a town council as an enabler to provide enhanced benefits and services especially for Bexhill and its residents.
As discussed for the parish council option above, having a town council would cost money. Although the 18 town councillors would not be paid, additional yearly costs would be incurred for hiring a parish clerk to manage the money, plus any extra staff, contracts and services, rent for offices and meeting rooms and day to day operating costs. The additional costs for a town council would be charged as a 'precept' through your council tax bill.
Rother has published figures suggesting the annual increases in council tax for a town council could be as follows: (5)
However, Rother estimates that the running costs of a Bexhill Town Council would be in the region of £100,000 per year. This works out at £6.17 per year* (12 pence per week) per Band D property.
The remainder of the £22.75 additional council tax for a Band D property appears to be based on Rother's assumption of what services currently administered by Rother would be transferred to a Bexhill Town Council with no corresponding reduction in the Rother element of the Council tax.
One of these services is public conveniences. The inference could therefore be made that, should the "no change" option be selected, Rother could shut all its public conveniences in Bexhill and no other public body would be able to save them.
* figure based upon £100,000 divided by 16,200 tax base.
You only have to have a quick scout around the internet to find case studies showing the benefits of town councils. Having formed a town council in Aylesbury (population 40,000), they were able to form an agreement with the local county council to deliver minor maintenance to footpaths and road surfaces (3). In addition, Aylesbury town council now maintains street furniture and signs and tackles what they call 'grot spots'. A funding package was also agreed with their county colleagues to match the spend of the town council, opening the door to investment in staff and equipment for maintaining and regenerating the appearance of the town.
Battle has a population of 6700 people, compared to the 43,000 residents of Bexhill, and it already has a town council providing a first tier of local government above Rother District Council. This means that Battle councillors, rather than Rother District councillors, are making key decisions on functions and services that include: (4)
In my article following the Bexhill Roaring 20s, I discussed the need for a change in funding policy for Bexhill's major events to survive. From my point of view, as an investor in Bexhill and its events, I believe that a town council could open up great opportunity to really get behind Bexhill's community events.
People have said to me - with current cuts and austerity, is now really the right time to be doing this? To that I respond that now is precisely the RIGHT time to be taking more control over how the money generated from your council tax is spent in Bexhill. As a Bexhill resident, you want your council tax money to be used in the most efficient and best way for you and your family to see the benefits.
If you live in or work in Bexhill, this governance review opens up a real opportunity for you to help shape a new future for the town. Indeed, everyone of any age is able to express their preference.
Click on the 'vote now' image below to go directly to Rother District Council's survey (it takes only 2 minutes to complete). To vote for a town council, simply choose option two.
Should you not wish to vote online, you can contact your local councillor for a response postcard or you can collect one from the Community Help Point at the Town Hall.
I always love to hear your comments, so please do leave one below. Note that you can post without having a login - simply select the 'guest' checkbox.