LETTER: Good practice for parish councils

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I have followed with interest the ‘value for money’ exchange between M. Smith (letter 12.3.15) and Mrs Leslie Wilding letter (19.3.15). As the discussion clearly centres round Billingshurst Parish Council whose members will be facing additional scrutiny at election time, I, as a longtime Billingshurst parish resident, would like to make some specific comments :

1. M. Smith intimates that the Billingshurst Parish Council has failed to give value for money but he has produced no relevant, quantifiable evidence for such a charge.

So let’s take that expression and see what it means : I think high value has to be placed on the 14 volunteer councillors who give their time freely for the good of the community.

I have read the chairman’s annual report and the work done on behalf of our community this year is impressive. Yes, there are administrative costs but I think it is reasonable to assume that these are in proportion and specific to the work done on behalf of our village.

M. Smith seems to feel that an amalgamation with other parish councils would produce a better value for money. There might be an overall saving on administrative costs but we certainly wouldn’t get the unique value which we receive from having our own parish council working specifically for Billingshurst, with no conflict of interest.

We’ve already got one set of ‘district councillors’; we certainly don’t need another! Amalgamation of services is a better idea but I think this initiative is being implemented where possible by the present council for example in the sharing of a youth worker with Pulborough.

2. Mrs Wilding referred to the claiming of an allowance by one of the councillors. I suggest that all councillors should be able to claim specific expenses, as is the practice in most organisations ‘employing’ volunteers. The claim for travel expenses, (car plus fuel) for example, seems to be 45p (maximum) a mile.

Therefore if a councillor claims an allowance of £100 we have to assume s/he has legitimately incurred that itemised level of expense.

I do not think that councillors should be given the option of an allowance without proof of expenses incurred. As the Taxpayers’ Alliance states: there is no government money; it is all taxpayers’ money; the councillors, as with politicians, ‘have a duty to take what they need and spend it wisely, effectively and efficiently’. To take an allowance where there has been no justifiable expense could be considered a morally questionable decision.

3. Mrs Wilding states that the electorate have the capacity ‘to assess situations and draw sound conclusions’. I presume that refers to the exercising of our votes. Well, there is a caveat here : we need to be able to make informed choices. For this, we need information about our candidates .

I would particularly like to know the track record of a candidate who has been a councillor before , relating in particular to the level of attendance at meetings and whether s/he has previously failed to complete a four year term of office. Ultimately we need to have sufficient number of candidates to be able to exercise choice!

4. To conclude, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Billingshurst Parish Council for the work they have done over the past four years. I know some of them have worked very hard for the community and have fought our corner when necessary. They have listened to views of the residents and have made conscious effort to be open and transparent. All best wishes to our candidates in the forthcoming election!

ANN RODWELL

Forge Way, Billingshurst