Response to Swindon Council Leader on Parishes

I write in response to the Leader of Swindon Council, David Renard’s, column in the Adver on June 23rd regarding new parish councils.

Firstly I think it is worth providing a background to why the council has got itself in such a black hole and the long term damage Conservative Councillors’ decisions are having on Swindon. Since 2010 when the government’s cuts agenda started the Conservatives have been reducing the level of local services provided in Swindon. We have seen the extent that services have been cut back with the state of Swindon’s roads and the length of grass in Swindon’s green areas. It is no coincidence that services have been gradually cut back while satisfaction in the quality of our services has declined. While services have cut back, the Conservatives argued for no council-tax increases for 5 years and racked up huge levels of council borrowing, with council debt reaching £155m leading to the Council spending £10m annually on debt management.

All this has led to the Council being in a terrible financial position, while with dramatically declined services, all for the Conservatives’ short-term political benefit. However all these short-term decisions have led the Council going beyond the tipping point where the Conservatives argue the council are no longer able to deliver many local services like grounds maintenance.

So it in this context and background that Cllr Renard is proposing the introduction of new parishes in order to offload the operation of many local services. Do not believe him when he says the introduction of parish councils is anything other than a way to get Swindon Council out of a financial mess.

In Councillor Renard’s article he referred to the recent consultation on parishes that took place. He indicated that of those who responded nearly all expressed concerns and opposition to the imposition of new parishes. He is of course correct with this assertion and this reinforces the fact that the Conservatives’ proposal to impose new parishes on people without offering them any democratic say, is so unjust.

Councillor Renard mentions the fact that he and his colleagues wish to impose new parishes on people in order for them to increase people’s council-taxes through a precept. Cllr Renard described the increase as only “small”. Yet, in years gone by Cllr Renard and his party colleagues considered any increase in Council-tax as too much, let alone a £75 increase through a new precept. And this fails doesn’t take in to account the likely Council-tax increases Swindon Council have budgeted to make in the future that will be at least an additional £30. So expect a council-tax increase of more than £100 in just one year- that’s more than a 7% increase.

However, there is another option. The Council could raise the additional funds it thinks it needs to run local services without having to introduce a permanent new layer of bureaucracy- Parish Councils. By law, this would require a local referendum of the people. The Conservatives do not want the people to have a say but if we learnt anything from the recent EU referendum, surely it is that politicians have for too long been willing to ignore the will of local people and as a consequence, subvert democracy.

These Parish Council will be permanent, once services are removed from Swindon Council it would be very difficult if not impossible to bring them back and this further reinforces the need to let local people.