Reflections on being a Parish Councillor

Lin Smith, Hughenden Parish Councillor, writes:

“I am aware that there is a move to get more people to stand as candidates for the Local Parish Council at the Elections on 5th May.

I think that this is a really positive move. For too long, we as Councillors have either been ‘returned unopposed’ or like myself, co-opted to fill a vacancy that basically no-one else wanted to fill. While that is not our fault, you cannot lay public apathy at our door, it can lead us into thinking we are always right. After all if no-one stands against you, they must approve of you.

But now, interest is revived, and for better or worse we have a fight on our hands, or should I say seats.

For those possibly teetering on the brink of throwing your hat in the ring, perhaps you will allow me to give you my ‘warts and all’ perspective on being a Parish Councillor.

Let me say at the outset, I love the work. And would heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys working as a team to maintain some of the infrastructure and ethos of our Parish. We live in a beautiful area, surrounded by lovely countryside, which I as a London girl, even after living here for nearly 30 years have never ceased to wonder at. The people I represent are, for the most part, friendly, reasonable and intelligent.

Our Parish council is made up of 4 Wards as follows:- Hughenden Valley (including Bryant’s Bottom and North Dean), which has 4 members; Naphill and part of Walter’s Ash, which also has 4 members, Gt Kingshill which has 3 members and finally Widmer End, which has 4 members. At elections each ward vote for its own members only.

The hours of work are not usually onerous and many of our Councillors have full time employment as well. There is one Full Council Meeting each month which falls on the second Tuesday at 8pm. There is no Full Parish Council Meeting in August.

There are also 3 Committees.

Firstly, Services which looks at the jobs which need to be done around the Parish and reports back to Full Council and it comprises 2 members from each Ward. These meetings are held 4 times a year.

Secondly, Finance and Administration, whose remit is obvious from its name. This also reports back to Full Council and it comprises 2 members from each ward, and also meets 4 times a year.

And finally Planning which looks at Planning Applications and sends its observations to the Planning Dept at Wycombe District Council. It is the only Committee which can act before reporting back to Full Council first, although it does make a report to them each month. It is important to accept that the Parish council Planning Committee only has an advisory role and cannot directly affect the decisions of WDC, although we like to think that they take our comments into account when considering Applications. This Committee only has 1 member per ward and meets every 3 weeks on a Thursday.

Most members sit on only 1 or 2 Committees so you see that the hours of work need not be huge.

For those with the time and interest, there are outside bodies on which you can sit to represent the interests of the Parish. These might include Wycombe District Association of Local Councils, WDALC to its friends. The North West Chilterns Local Area Forum, (NWCLAF). The Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG), which is also open to non-councillors. And there are others which I cannot call to mind at the moment. You do get used to a proliferation of acronyms, which change as soon as you have learnt them. But attendance to these is not compulsory.

Parish Councils in general have a very interesting and possibly challenging time coming up, when we shall all be on a steep learning curve if the new Localism Bill is enacted. We may possibly find ourselves with more responsibilities and we may have to fight for the funding to carry them out.

What qualities do you need?

Well I suppose you need a reasonable level of intelligence, but no formal qualifications are necessary.

I would say that you need to be able to accept that when there are contentious issues, a balanced view is helpful. It is important to remember that when people get upset it is usually for a reason. Check it out for yourself. If you feel that they have a good point, represent it in council. If you feel that their concerns are unfounded then try to explain why. You will not be able to please everyone all the time. People want different things and sometimes these things are not compatible. On these occasions you have to do what you honestly believe to be for the greater good, and live with the consequences.

You must be honest. If you try to gain advantage from your position you will be found out and the consequences are severe.

It definitely helps if you like your fellow man/woman.

It does not help if you have an inflated ego. It will be punctured in short order.

It helps if you have a sense of humour, and can take the job seriously but not yourself.

Those, I think cover the main points. I think the name Local Government is a misnomer, it is more Local Servitude and that is fine by me.

I hope that these musings have helped to clarify the main issues for prospective candidates, and if you decide to go for it, then good luck I will see you ‘in the ring’.

At least if we have a proper election, whoever is returned will be able to say without fear of contradiction “WE HAVE A MANDATE”

And finally remember on May 6 the new Councillors must not be saying ‘Job Done!’
It is job beginning.”