Parish Council put on probation as Chair’s dubious claims raise eyebrows

Our erstwhile parish Councillors really are philanthropists it seems, donating nearly £40,000 of unpaid work to the parish every year.  That’s according to the Parish submission to the Community Governance Review in March, and one of several surprising claims made in its battle to escape abolition.

The full council meeting of Slough Borough Council rubber stamped the recommendations of the Community Governance Review on Tuesday, putting Colnbrook with Poyle Parish Council on probation to up its game or face abolition.

As revealed on these pages the review recommended the abolition of Britwell and Wexham Court Parish Councils following a highly acrimonious period characterised by public in-fighting and even police callouts.

However, Colnbrook with Poyle Parish – which has also had its share of controversy – will be told to act less like a private club and reach out more to residents, with the Council leaving the door open to review its decision following the next local elections.

“… the Council reserves the right to test public opinion at/after the parish council elections in 2015 if it is not satisfied that the Parish Council is engaging more widely with local people.”

Councillors in a quandary

Just 35 responses relating to Colnbrook were received during the six month consultation appearing to leave borough councillors in a quandary about what to do.

The deadline for the consultation was extended one month to May 30 in view of the low responses and Chair Peter Hood’s submission to the review was finally published on the parish website on June 11th, following the end of the consultation.

It had originally been promised following the Annual Parish Meeting on May 3.

Taking the form of a 58 page PowerPoint focusing on the “exceptional value for the precept it collects”, it included the extraordinary claim that councillors’ unpaid work amounts to £39,200 annually.  That’s over 6,300 hours at today’s minimum wage.

Double-counting of funds and achievements

Dominated with pages of photographs of the Jubilee celebrations and HRH Camilla’s visit to unveil the Diamond Jubilee Clock last year, the presentation tells the story of a parish council very much active in every aspect of life in the village: from rewarding schoolchildren with awards to managing a conservation zone neglected by Slough, to leading the fight against SIFE and marauding transport companies using the High Street.  5 pages of photographs of overturned HGVs and other accidents illustrated the threat.

But other than the twice-weekly Colnbrook Connect bus service and increased doctors’ surgeries in Colnbrook the presentation lacks specific accomplishments and talks instead about the aspirations of the “parish plan”.

And the “double-counting” of funds raised by and achievements of other village groups like the CRA, CCP – and even the CCA – has raised more than eyebrows in the drinking holes of Colnbrook since the document was revealed.  Even the CCA’s new Youth Club features as an achievement attributed to parish councillors.

The CCP: an unelected quango

The Parish has claimed it is responsible for nearly £100,000 of “matched funding” and indirect grants, re-opening the debate about the relationship and influence wielded by the Colnbrook Community Partnership.

The CCP, an unelected quango controlled by councillors and former councillors, benefits from direct relationships with the big local polluters while it’s nominal independence means it spends that money without accountability to residents.

Also absent from the report was any discussion on the Parish’ campaign to keep local boundaries unchanged.  Unsurprising since its anti-SBC stance and lobbying managed to block the creation of a new Colnbrook and Langley East ward and thwart Slough Chief Executive’s plans to equalise wards with 3 councillors each.

The chair’s views were not endorsed by councillors but councillors were taken through it.

What they said and what they meant

On support for the Parish Council

What they said…

“The recent Parish Council Election was well contested indicating a strong local support for such a body”.

… and the reality

Public are no show at Parish AGM and official figures confirm 14.3% election turnout

On new Localism powers

What they said…

“Parish councillors … have been an important part of Localism long, long, before the word was coined by the Government. … Half the council have already attended Localism seminars.”

… and the reality

Parish rejects new Localism planning power

On councillor training

What they said…

“Councillors attend appropriate training sessions provided by SBC or BALC”.

… and the reality

Colnbrook Parish Council rejects re-training demand

On the Clock

What they said…

The Diamond Jubilee Clock “fulfils a wish of the local community first spawned nearly 40 years ago.”

… and the reality

Parish criticised for taking cash from McArdle and TGW for the Jubilee Clock.

On the Village Hall

What they said… 

“Additional uses of the village hall now include Colnbrook Residents Association, Badminton, Community Lunches, [and] Meetings”

… and the reality

Councillors fail to address mismanagement of Village Hall while badminton closes down after just a few sessions

On the Green Belt and SIFE

What they said… 

“We have now become part of The Colne Valley Park Interest Company with a nominated Cllr taking up the role as a Director”.

… and the reality

The Parish Council has not been represented on the board since Cllr Jarret resigned, pre-dating Cllr Hood’s report submission! Parish councillors have failed to sign the Government e-petition.

On Colnbrook Youth Club

What they said… 

“Several of our councillors have been working with other groups … to kickstart a new Colnbrook Youth Club.”

… and the reality

The CCA has set up the Youth Club with St Thomas’ Church while the Parish has made no progress in any youth provision of its own.

On PCSO funding and Crime

What they said…

Extra PCSOs in the parish have “reduced both crime and the fear of crime.”

… and the reality

Merger of policing neighbourhoods hides dramatic increase in FIVE crime categories

On value for money

What they said…

The Parish Council has doubled the value of the precept raised by £150,330 through: “£33,000 matched funding; £39,200 from councillors unpaid work; £18,130 sponsorship; and £60,000 Indirect grants received”

… and the reality

Funds raised have largely been existing S106 or Landfill Tax obligations, raised through the CCP and, in the most part, would have come anyway.

On community engagement

What they said… 

“We are always open to constructive suggestions and welcome any assistance others wish to offer.” 

… and the reality

Cllr Hood publicly refused to engage with the CCA but said “I wish we could all co-operate”once the Community Governance Review began.

What do you think of the Community Governance Review findings?  Did you contribute and, if not, why not?  What would you like to see happen next?

 

Related Articles

Britwell Parish Council come out fighting following abolition decision

 

 

External Links

Read the Parish Council’s submission to the Governance Review here.

 

 

 

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