Copeland council has now launched a consultation on whether Whitehaven should have a Town Council. The consultation paper and questionnaire are available in the Borough Council foyer, at the council website and at various other places. The council's consultation paper reads as follows:
"Copeland Borough Council has been considering proposals for a Whitehaven Town Council and is looking to hear from you with your views prior to making a decision whether to go ahead.
What is a Town Council?
• It is a separate tier of local government and does not replace the Borough or County Councillors;
• Elections are held to appoint town councillors who meet and decide on how to
undertake the town council’s functions;
• It has powers to provide or maintain community facilities;
• It is able to comment and lobby on matters of interest to local people;
• It decides its own budget and sets its own Council Tax which is added and collected over and above the existing Council Tax;
• Depending on its size, it could employ administrative staff to operate its affairs;
• It has access to financial resources that are not available to the Borough Council that can be used to provide facilities for its area.
What will it cost?
At this stage it is not possible to say how much it will cost. The decision on whether to set a precept and at what level in addition to the existing Council Tax is a decision that the Town Council would make if established.
How many town councillors will there be?
We are suggesting that 25 town councillors would be suitable based on current Borough Council Wards.
What are the arguments for and against a Whitehaven Town Council?
• Improved representation of interests of Whitehaven residents
• Opportunities to influence the delivery of services
• A focal point for pride in the town
• A means to facilitate and promote community action
• Opportunities to access Grant Aid not available to Copeland Borough Council
• Opportunities to influence Planning Decisions
Arguments against a Town Council
• Additional cost to Council Tax Payers
• Increase in bureaucracy
• An extra layer of Government
• Difficulties in demonstrating accountability to electors
• Possible difficulties in attracting capable people to serve on a Town Council
Please take this opportunity to let us have your opinion by returning a completed
questionnaire no later than 1st August 2008."
Personally I am a little disappointed that alternative and possibly cheaper means of improving democracy in Whitehaven were not mentioned in the consultation as options for the public to consider. For example, there used to be regular meetings of the Borough councillors representing Whitehaven wards: it would be an option to reinstate these meetings as an area committee under recent legislation, and delegate powers to them to deal with some of the things a town or parish council would do in areas which have them. This would provide a degree of local decision making without the cost and hassle of electing another tier of politicians.
There are also some issues of financial equity accross the Borough but these could be dealt with by a means called "special expenses" which is widely used elsewhere in the country to ensure that council areas with and without a parish or town council pay their fair share of the cost of local government.
If you are a resident of Copeland, particularly in Whitehaven, and have views on this, please do return a form by 1st August or let your councillor know what they are.