A close knowledge of the needs of their communities. The ability to act on issues quickly. The opportunity to deliver value for money and improve the local facilities that matter to people. These are all benefits which the 47 communities represented by town and parish councils that already exist in South Gloucestershire have chosen to take advantage of.
We want to see as much decision-making on local priorities and spending as close to communities as possible.
For Charlton Hayes and Stoke Park & Cheswick Village residents, and as part of our Community Governance Review, people in these two communities can have their say about the idea of creating a locally-focussed parish council with elected councillors in their two areas from May 2023.
Why have we chosen to do this now? When the first few homes started to be built, it was impossible to consider them fully-fledged communities that could sustain their own parish councils. The natural choice was for those new homes in Charlton Hayes and Stoke Park & Cheswick Village to fall under the administration of Patchway Town Council and Stoke Gifford Parish Council respectively. Today, the picture is much different, with thousands of homes, thousands of people, and more coming soon in neighbouring developments.
Having gone door-to-door in these communities, I have received feedback from some residents that these communities now have their own distinct identities. People from all walks of life with different interests could potentially fill the positions to run representative, cost-efficient parish councils in both areas. Both communities now can shape their own destiny with their own elected representatives.
An area of discussion on town and parish councils is the costs of a new council to taxpayers. For Charlton Hayes residents, they may consider the decision a few years ago by the nearby community in Stoke Lodge to demerge from Patchway Town Council and create their own parish council which resulted in a Council Tax Band D parish charge of £83 in 2021/22 for the new council compared with £183 when they were still part of Patchway. That’s an overall £100 annual saving to residents and the new Stoke Lodge and The Common Parish Council has since gone from strength to strength.
A key issue that applies to both new proposed parishes is managing the ‘double charging’ challenge. As new developments, most residents will pay fees to a management company to look after open spaces in addition to a parish charge. By forming their own parish, these communities can set a charge that considers that management company fees already cover a significant proportion of expenses. A town or parish council would usually budget for these expenses. This would create the conditions for lower parish charges and therefore lower Council Tax bills overall.
The openness and transparency of parish charges being published on Council Tax Bills combined with the democratic incentive of standing for election every four years (and being voted out of office) usually mean that town and parish councils run a tight ship. For instance, Downend and Bromley Heath Parish Council rent space from the local library to save on office costs. Like most nationwide, they do not pay elected members an allowance. I would expect a no different approach from the new proposed parish councils.
The accountability means there is no financial room for pet projects. Councils spend money on services after listening to what their residents want at a grassroots level. And they can be creative when something the community wants cannot be easily afforded by using their local knowledge and networks, like volunteers.
For residents in Charlton Hayes and Stoke Park & Cheswick Village, they can have their say on this opportunity by responding to our consultation before the end of Friday 7 January at https://consultations.southglos.gov.uk/CharltonHayes/consultationHome or https://consultations.southglos.gov.uk/StokeParkCheswick/consultationHome
Leader of South Gloucestershire Council, Cllr Toby Savage