One of the features of my role at NALC is regularly getting out of the office and around the country to see our councils in action. My trip to Billericay yesterday followed several other visits to local councils over the last few weeks to see firsthand the positive contribution and difference very local government is making to local people.
Shrewsbury Town Council are one of our newest local councils, created in April last year as a result of local government reorganisation in Shropshire. Quite rightly the town now has its own council to represent the interests of local people and focus on their needs. A few weeks ago the Town Council hosted our third joint seminar with NABMA on markets, devolution and localism. Encouragingly, a growing number of local councils are running markets of all kinds, and the event was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues from the Town Council about how they are getting on, the market they are now running and their ambitions for the future. This is a council to keep an eye on.
Closer to home I went to along to the annual parish meeting of Stone in north west Kent, the home of one of our many Quality councils that has caught my eye. Stone Parish Council have featured as one of my social media local councils of the week for their foray into the digital world. The council’s hard hitting dog fouling campaign, making good use of Facebook, has attracted interest from across the country. Their experience of using social media is so far positive and I am sure they will continue to push the boundaries in the future. But what struck me during the well attended parish meeting was the level of support for the council’s wide ranging work from residents. Thus proving that good communications and community engagement are critical to satisfaction levels with local people.
Another new local council created last year is Salisbury City Council, which I visited with other colleagues from NALC two weeks ago. The new council has taken on an extensive range of responsibilities and has done well out of negotiations with Wiltshire Council. From our discussions with the Town Council it is clear they have big aspirations for the town, especially the renovation of the fabulous Guildhall, so this is another council I will be tracking with keen interest.
Can we make a difference? Yes, we can all make a difference. That was the message from yesterday’s Green Day in Billericay facilitated by the Town Council. Billericay Town Council are another one of our Quality councils, so I was delighted to take the family along to see how they are working with a wide range of community groups on a Greening Campaign. Inspired by the national campaign led by Terena Plowright to raise awareness of climate change and implement small actions, this was the Town Council’s second event this year. The first gathering of over 100 people and 40 community groups in March came up with ten ‘small actions’ everyone could start implementing – ranging from turning off lights when leaving a room to walking distances less than 1 mile to showering for one minute less.
During yesterday’s event I caught up with Councillor David Knight, Chairman of the Greening Billericay Working Party, who told me and my video camera more about their campaign and story so far.
‘Each step we take, however small, lead to changes overall’. This is a line from a poem written especially for the campaign by Tony Bertolla, a local poet.
More than ever before, very local government is going to be needed to play its part in taking steps, small or large, to meet the economic, social, environmental and political challenges facing our country.
So can local councils make a difference? Yes, they can all make a difference, and they are. I know because my recent visits once again told me.