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Sheerness Town Council Community Governance Review

What is Community Governance?

In essence it is the way in which local communities are represented and governed at local authority level and through the involvement of other statutory and voluntary agencies and community groups and by the efforts of local people themselves. It is also about the way in which individuals and groups within the community are listened to and able to influence decisions that affect them.

What is a Community Governance Review?

A community governance review enables a principal council such as Swale Borough Council to review and put in place or make changes to community governance systems and structures e.g. by creating, merging, abolishing or changing parish or town councils in the review area.

What is a town or parish council?

A town or parish council is an elected body made up of local people representing the interests of their community. The creation of a new town or parish council would be in addition to and not instead of Swale Borough Council.

Who can undertake a Community Governance Review?

Since 13 February 2008, district councils, unitary county councils and London borough councils (all principal councils) have had responsibility for undertaking community governance reviews and have been able to decide whether to action the recommendations made in those reviews. In making that decision, they will need to take account of the views of local people. Principal councils are also required to have regard to the guidance on undertaking community governance reviews published jointly by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Boundary Commission.

How can a Community Governance Review Be Instigated?

Community Governance Reviews can be instigated in two ways:

  • by a resolution passed by the principal council (i.e. the district or unitary council for the area);
  • by a petition signed by local electors as follows:
  1. for an area with less than 500 local electors, the petition must be signed by at least 37.5% of them
  2. for an area with between 500 and 2,500 local electors, the petition must be signed by at least 187 of the electors
  3. for an area with more than 2,500 local electors, the petition must be signed by at least 7.5% of them.

Who will undertake this review?

As the principal authority, Swale Borough Council is responsible for undertaking a Community Governance Review in its electoral area and must follow the statutory guidance. The full Council is responsible for overseeing this process and for agreeing the terms of reference, and draft and final recommendations.

How long does a Community Governance Review take?

Legislation requires Community Governance Reviews to be completed within a year from receiving the petition, so for this review the deadline is August 2018. Public consultation will start on 8 January 2018 and a report will be considered by the council in March 2018.

When would any changes come into force?

On the same day as the next scheduled normal parish and town council elections. For Swale that is Thursday 2 May 2019.

Why undertake a Community Governance Review?

The review has been triggered by a petition asking for a review to be undertaken by the council, and the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 places a duty on principal councils to respond to such a petition. Sections 39-43 of the Act set out prescriptive criteria, which the petition must meet in order to be legally valid. The objective of undertaking a community governance review is to ensure that local governance will continue to be effective and convenient, and will reflect the identities and interests of local communities.

Why do some areas of Swale have a parish or town council, but others do not?

The answer is largely historical. Prior to local government reorganisation in 1974, most urban areas of England had an Urban District Council serving a single town – e.g. Sittingbourne and Sheerness Urban District Councils. Since its creation in 1974, Swale Borough Council, in common with many Borough and District councils, has governed a larger area than its predecessors. While some of the local councils in urban areas, e.g. Faversham and Queenborough Town Councils, and the parish councils in the rural areas, have continued to exist following reorganisation in the 1970s, other councils, such as the Urban District Councils, were subsumed into the larger Borough Council.

Is the creation of new parish/town councils the only option in areas which don’t currently have one?

No. A review will also explore whether alternative forms of local governance would be more suitable for an area including:

  • area committees
  • neighbourhood management programmes
  • tenant management organisations
  • area or community forums
  • residents and tenants associations
  • community associations

What must Swale Borough Council take into account when undertaking a Community Governance Review?

Swale Borough Council is required to take into account:

  • the impact of existing community governance arrangements on community cohesion and
  • the size, population and boundaries of any local community or proposed parish or town Council.

In carrying out a Community Governance Review, Swale Borough Council must also consider the wider picture of community governance. This includes taking account of well-established forms of community governance such as local residents associations and community forums. These can be considered as either alternatives to or stages towards establishing parish or town councils. Guidance does, however, indicate that parish and town councils are set apart from these other kinds of governance by the fact that they are a democratically elected tier of local government and can set a budget and possess specific powers.

What are the criteria by which options for the future will be judged?

Government guidance indicates that characteristics of good community governance to be considered in assessing the options when undertaking such a review include:

  • a sense of civic pride and civic values
  • a strong, inclusive community and voluntary sector
  • a sense of place - with a positive feeling for people and local distinctiveness
  • effective engagement with the local community at neighbourhood level
  • strong leadership
  • the ability of local authorities to deliver quality services economically and efficiently
  • an area that is of a size that is viable as an administrative unit of local government.

Local people might consider these characteristics when submitting their views.

What will the Community Governance Review consider?

The review will consider whether there should be a Town Council for Sheerness.

Who will Swale Borough Council consult with?

Before making any recommendations or publishing final proposals, the Council will take full account of the views of local people. The Council will comply with the statutory consultative requirements by:
consulting local government electors within the area under review
consulting any other person or body (including a local authority) which appears to the Council to have an interest in the Community Governance Review (e.g. Kent County Council)
taking into account any representations received in connection with the Community Governance Review.

Is there a difference between a town and parish council?

No, they both have the same statutory powers and can provide the same services. The only differences are that a town council has decided that it should be known as a town council instead of a parish council, and a town council usually has a Mayor.

How are town and parish councils funded?

Town and parish councils are funded through a sum of money called a ‘precept’ – this is a separate charge which is added to, and collected along with, your existing Council Tax. The town or parish council will decide what it will need for the coming year and that depends on what services and facilities are needed by the local community.
Town and parish councils can also apply for grants and loans. As the precept will depend on the size of the town or parish council, the services it provides and the number of properties across which it is spread, it is not possible to say how much a precept would be for an area which does not currently have a town or parish council. Current precepts can be viewed in the terms of reference.

What does a town or parish council do?

A town or parish council has statutory powers which could include services, over and above those already provided by Swale Borough Council.

How many town or parish councillors would there be?

If it is agreed to establish a town or parish council, one of the issues that will need to be decided is how many councillors will be elected. Town or parish councillors can be elected to represent the whole of the parish area or smaller neighbourhoods within the area, called wards. Any councillors elected to the town or parish council would be in addition to the existing local ward councillors who are members of Swale Borough Council. It is possible for the same people to be elected to the borough council and a town or parish council.

Are town or parish councillors paid an allowance?

Parish and Town councillors are not usually paid an allowance, but may incur costs which can be reimbursed.

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