Thursday, October 28, 2021

SALC: the Board meeting!

I have to admit that I've rather gotten behind with my reporting of events. You know how it is, you look at the blog and think "I really ought to write something" but never quite get round to it. I ought to do better...

But enough mumbling, and on with events.

I've now served a whole year on the Board of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils and, having been re-elected by Mid Suffolk South Area last month, I got to return for another term. The first item of business? Elections.

We've got a new Chair, Andrew Lewis, from Walberswick Parish Council, where he's their Chair too. He has a tough act to follow in William Sargeant, the Chair of Botesdale Parish Council, whose calm, dry wit and sense of ordnung served us so well. I think that Andrew will be just fine though - he's not one to allow meetings to drift into anecdotage, which I appreciate, and he brings a sense of professionalism to the task which suits our needs well.

I admit that I rather leant on Julie Bell, the Chair of Gislingham Parish Council, to take on the role of Vice-Chair, having noted how nice it would be to have a gender balanced leadership team. The fact that Julie is highly experienced in local government helps and she's a good meeting chair too, having had the pleasure of working with her at Mid Suffolk joint meetings.

Russ Rainger gamely agreed to continue as our representative on the East Suffolk Council Community Partnership Board, and I was reappointed as our representative on the NALC National Assembly - I think that my rather curious enthusiasm for the role surprised my colleagues.

I reported back on National Assembly matters before we turned to our finances. We're lucky in that we have a good Finance Officer and, being Suffolk, a cautious sense of the possible when considering expenditure, so it's fair to say that all is as well as one might hope.

We then turned to the knotty problem of membership subscriptions, something I've experienced before in other organisations. The challenge is to create a fee structure that is fair, relatively easy to explain and likely not to repel potential and current members. And, just as in my days on the Financial Advisory Committee of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, the basis upon which members are billed is a bit of a moving target, especially as development leads to sudden, dramatic population increases in relatively small communities. I believe that we have a workable solution, but we need to communicate it to member councils rather than just drop it on them from a height.

I was able to offer a solution to the question of pay awards for our professional staff which allows us, hopefully, to somewhat reflect their hard work and dedication in the face of the pandemic. Sometimes, being a mathematician by training comes in handy.

We considered the activity report and I continue to be impressed by the sheer volume of activity generated by a small team of dedicated professionals, including increasing collaborative working with neighbouring counties. There are definite advantages to pooling some services on a regional basis and, if we can develop sufficient capacity to play a leading role in that, I am sure we will.

There's a new Code of Conduct to consider, developed in conjunction with the Local Government Association, and whilst it can never resolve all of the problems that arise in the various tiers of local government, it at least offers a set of guidance that it consistent across the tiers, especially welcome to those amongst us who operate at more than one level.

We ended by renewing our Complaints and Motions policies, making sure that they're as up to date as they can be. Something that the pandemic has brought is a greater appreciation of different ways of doing things, especially through technology. I accept that, especially at Parish level, not everyone is comfortable with online working, but it offers access to those who might otherwise be excluded from the opportunities and training we offer - those with caring responsibilities, or disabilities, or who simply might not find it easy to get across the county to a physical meeting.

So, all in all, a very successful evening. Next up, our annual strategy meeting in February, which should be interesting and another step on my personal learning curve.

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