Sunday, November 21, 2021

Creeting St Peter - can you really go on doing things the same old way?

Our Parish Council has seen rather a lot of change lately. Two resignations have led to two newcomers joining our group, and leave me as the sole directly elected member - and I was elected unopposed, which is barely but importantly different from being co-opted. And, with our Clerk having handed in her notice - it wasn’t acrimonious, I’m glad to say - it isn’t the Council that I once chaired.

I find myself with the sense that, whilst finding a new Clerk is obviously essential, there is the question of what sort of Council do we want to be, and how do we get there?

Under my somewhat idiosyncratic leadership, we’ve possibly been more active in terms of our responses to planning applications, and my active engagement in SALC has had the benefit of opening my eyes to other possibilities. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering if we couldn’t organise things differently. That’s slightly awkward, as I am still wholly determined to stand down as Chair at our 2022 Annual Parish Council meeting.

When I first became a councillor, portfolios were the thing. I had finance and wildlife in my portfolio - I always assumed that the wildlife element reflected my almost total lack of knowledge in the field. In my second incarnation, they had been given up, and Council was more collegiate in its approach. That said, we may have devolved too much to our highly capable Clerk.

Whilst I wouldn’t have wanted to have to replace her, her departure offers an opportunity to reflect, especially with a much changed Council with a new range of skills and experience. And, given that someone is going to have to take over as Chair, it offers scope for a Chair-elect to emerge as part of the process.

It will be interesting to see who comes forward, and how they fulfil the role. Having done the job for nearly four years, I’ve learned that I really wouldn’t describe myself as a Leader figure, more an administrator attempting to maintain good order. I find confrontation stressful, and have a tendency to delay decisions until the point where they can’t reasonably be delayed much further. Here in Creeting St Peter, that hadn’t proved to be much of a hindrance - how heated can things get when you’ve got a budget of £5,500 to spend each year, much of which isn’t particularly discretionary?

That tells me that I’ve possibly found my level in local government, as I can easily imagine life at District or County level to be more intense, more stressful, with decisions that, potentially, impact significantly on people’s lives, and much larger budgets. If you like, I acknowledge that at this time in my life, I’m something of an enthusiastic amateur. You can probably get away with that as District or County level too, but I’m not sure that I’d want to test the theory personally.

But I do want to see things done well. Even though our budget is small, our discretionary spend even smaller, we can at least run our affairs and serve our residents as best we can and, with District and County Councils seemingly ever more remote, we should try to encourage residents to take advantage of the services and facilities that are available, many of which they pay council tax to support.

So, there is much to think about, even if some of it feels a bit philosophical in nature. I’m a liberal, and I believe in good governance, openness and personal responsibility. Perhaps that offers a framework for a new way of working, here in the Gipping Valley?

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