Parish Councils, we are told, are the first tier of Local Government, and as such are closest to residents. Parish Councils are required by law under “The Transparency Code” to publish details of their expenditure and financial statements and accounts. The Smaller Authorities Transparency Code came into force on 1 April 2015 and “requires the online publication of certain information which the Government requests, to provide taxpayers with a clear picture of the authority’s activities, spending, and governance, and will improve the ability of communities to hold local public bodies to account. This includes any information on joint committees. All smaller authorities must make sure they are compliant”.
One of the parish activities is to set a budget that will give a clear focus on what residents really want to see in their community when considering any future projects. And to help the community there is participatory budgeting, a process which allows members of a community to participate in making spending decisions about local things that affect them. But for those who don’t participate in the budget process the community will probably not be able to see the budget at all.
Some parish councils DO publish their full budgets. Most do not, merely issuing summaries. They do publish the audited accounts which show the spending and governance. Having recently asked to see the Aughton Parish Council budget I was supplied with a summary. I then asked under Freedom of Information Act 2000 for the full budget, offering to pay for the copies. I eventually received what I had asked for, but was mildly admonished in public for my requests, after all, the clerk is only part-time and very busy! I was also reminded there is a public budget meeting I could have attended. But when I did, a year or two ago it was held in a small meeting room that housed very few people and had no room for the public. That’s how to keep it secret! Why should the public know what will happen to total value of cash and short term investments of £109,239, that’s almost twice the annual precept of £56,903 we are charged.
What can you expect from your parish council? As an example Downholland Parish Council contributes to KIT, the Downholland Newsletter. Its most recent issue includes “Road Safety-We are always concerned about speeding, whether along the main road or in other locations and so we have decided to invest in some “SPID Smiley Face” speed indicators. We will have one to begin with, which can be moved round to preserve its impact. More can be acquired in due course. Owen Connolly Chairman”. Yes, SPIDs for road safety!
And from County Cllr David O’Toole-“I have received a note of thanks from the Haskayne Downholland Community Association saying “Just to say many thanks for your continued support and for the sum of £500 received from your Member’s Grant. This will help towards the maintenance costs to keep our Village Hall in good order”.
And the Community Orchard. “The Community Orchard within The Jubilee Playing Fields is stocked with many apple, pear and damson trees. These have been donated to the community by the local authority. The trees are growing well and bearing fruit, but they would benefit from the attention of someone who has some knowledge of the care of such trees. The Parish Council is seeking a volunteer or volunteers who would ‘adopt’ the trees and attend to their care and pruning when necessary. If you are interested in helping in this way, please contact any Parish Councillor for further information”.
Some parish councils really do serve their communities.