On May the 4th we have the chance to select who we want to represent us on both the Faversham Town Council and Swale Borough Council.
The Faversham Eye has carefully read all the literature produced by the candidates and, with a varying degree of success, directly asked some of them for more details.
What is somewhat baffling is the fact that the vast proportion of the candidates have declared their political allegiances to a particular political party whilst at the same time producing manifestoes that exclusively concern themselves with promised actions that often seem unrelated to, or even in conflict with, their party’s national agenda.
For instance, despite the damage being done to our quality of life, do our local Conservative hopefuls endorse the national government’s current actions and policies? Do they support a hard-line approach to dealing with Europe? What about the current National Planning Policy for housing? Are they happy the decade long reduction in local authority funding? If not, why stand under the Conservative banner?
Later in this issue, we list those standing, comment on their manifestoes and make our own selections.
One of the common misconceptions of a large proportion of the electorate seems to be about how much power our local council has in determining how we are governed. This often leads to Faversham Town Council being blamed for things over which they have no control.
Below we print a short article from John Irwin an outgoing member of the current Town Council.
ON BEING A TOWN COUNCILLOR
By John Irwin
On rainy Tuesday evening in early April, I received a certificate from the Mayor in the Guildhall. It was for “…meritorious and distinguished service to the Town of Faversham” and the occasion was my last meeting as a Faversham Town councillor. It was indeed an honour to be elected and serve residents in Watling but even the most honourable endeavours can sometime leave one disenchanted. Was it worth it?
Firstly, the positives. Being a councillor has brought me into contact with the multitude of people in our Town who give freely of their time to make our home a better place. Those who volunteer in our charity shops and museums, our community centres, our Youth and Community groups. Those who pick litter, clear streams, make food for the elderly neighbours, lobby to save our green fields and our built heritage. They are too numerous to mention but you know who you are, and I thank you for your meritorious and distinguished service.
Secondly the negatives or more specifically, the frustrations.
Town councils and therefore Town Councillors have few direct
responsibilities. We are responsible for neither housing, planning, waste collection nor roads, libraries, social services, and education. If you don’t know this when you’re elected, you learn very quickly that decisions around so hugely important issues are not yours. As an example, one of the huge frustrations from working on the neighbourhood plan was the requirement to design policies “in general conformity with” the Local Plan and National Planning Policy Framework. Solar panels rather than gas boilers in every new build? Pretty obvious right? But could we demand it, No. Not in conformity with national (read current government) policy.
But does this render the role (and by extension the council) irrelevant? No in doesn’t, but to understand why not, we need to think about what the Town Council actually does.
Faversham Town council is an unusual animal. Each seat at the council table is vigorously contested by political parties for what is that quintessentially English invention, a Parish council. The first level (or lowest level depending on your perspective) of Local Government. It is officially responsible for bus shelters and allotments, but it has the luxury of being able to direct its budget (raised as a precept on council tax) to support things that enrich our community but are unfunded. Events such as the Transport Festival, and actions such as tree planting and public realm improvements and grant support for local charities. Perhaps most important of all, it has the ability to influence, pester and cajole. It does its most important work communicating and representing the interests, needs and concerns of residents and hold other bodies to account for the actions and inactions.
In my experience, Town Councillors irrespective of the colour of their Rosette, are people who genuinely care about our Town and spend many unpaid hours trying to make it better. Although I have not always agreed with everyone, I have never doubted their sincerity or integrity. So why am I stepping down? Effecting change is slow and hard and requires new ideas and energy. Mine, for now, are spent and it’s time for someone else to have a
go. I wish all those newly elected in the coming election the best of luck.