Yesterday our Chairman, Councillor Michael Chater, and I attended South Gloucestershire Council’s inaugural conference for local councils. The turnout was very good indeed – around 80 hardy souls turned out to come together to discuss all things local government in this part of the west country. Even the weather forecast, with snow predicted in the evening, didn’t put off clerks and councillors, voluntary and community sector officers and others from attending.
Following an introduction from Steve Evans, Head of Community Services, Jeff Bishop from BDOR Ltd gave a presentation on influencing local planning and the decision-makers. Jeff has experience in rural grant aid programmes and has supported the development of village design statements and community led planning. He discussed benefits from central government policies, community plans and partnership working.
A range of workshops were held throughout the event on subjects such as engaging with young people, understanding consultation processes in the planning system, planning enforcement and support to local councils. The latter workshop was facilitated by me and ran twice, with suggestions and ideas on the support needed for local councils and individual clerks and councillors giving plenty food for thought for us, SGC and colleagues at the Avon county association of local councils.
Following the buffet dinner, the keynote contribution from our Chairman and I complimented some of Jeff’s earlier presentation. Our theme was the future of local councils. We were keen to reinforce both the crucial role that local councils play in communities as well discussing as the current opportunities and challenges presented to the first tier of local government. In addition to some background on NALC and our wider work we flagged up a number of key themes to prompt debate and discussion such as the political context, powers and precept, partnership working, training and development, Quality Parishes Scheme and sharing ideas and good practice.
One of our first questions came from a local council clerk who was interested in induction training for 7 new members of the council. We were only too delighted to point him in the direction of the Avon (and Somerset) county training partnership who deliver the nuts and bolts ‘Being a good councillor’ course as part of the National Training Strategy.
The event came to a close just as the snow really started to fall so people were keen to make a swift exit. Hence Steve Evans very quickly thanked everyone for coming and wished everyone a safe journey home in the snow!
After packing up our exhibition stand and helping clear away, Michael and I retired to our nearby hotel via a short taxi journey to reflect on the event and the wide variety of issues covered.
Hubert H Humphrey (the 38th Vice President of the United States serving under President Lyndon B Johnson) once said, “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.” Hopefully yesterday’s event will have enabled local councils in South Gloucestershire to have been both heard and, more importantly, taken seriously.