So how do Parish Councils really behave?

I’ve been a parish councillor continuously since September 1985 on Maghull Town Council and in more recent times on Lydiate Parish Council so you won’t be surprised to hear that after the carryings on at Handforth Parish Council, so beloved of the internet and media in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked by folks whether I’ve ever witnessed or even been a part of such ‘entertainment’.

I’m happy to say that I’ve not. Yes I’ve seen the odd flare of temper and odd inappropriate/rude remark, the odd bit of disrespect but usually it’s been directed at parish councillors by frustrated members of the public lobbying for help/support over a matter of importance to them. Driven by frustration over whatever matter brought the member of the public to a parish council meeting and quite probably because the angered resident quickly found out that whatever was buzzing in their bonnet could not actually be fixed by the parish council, can tip someone over into impolite commentary.

I do recall one chap who for a period of time would come to Town Council meetings and his tone and rudeness was regularly over the top but everyone kept their cool and the responses from the Town Councillors were firm but polite. My view was that he came for arguments on various matters and was deliberately provocative but as I say the councillors did not rise to the bait. That’s not to say many of us weren’t tempted!

In my 16 years as a Sefton Borough councillor I had at one time 5 parish councils within my Borough ward and they were all very different in how they went about things as parish councils usually are. District, Borough and County councils are pretty much of a muchness no matter who or what party is running them as 95% of what they do is the same as any similar council. However, parish councils can be very different animals despite existing under the same basic law and rule book.

I spotted Jim Hancock’s remarks on this very subject yesterday (on his Hancock’s Half Page Blog site) where he said:-

‘LYMM NOT HANDFORTH.

I see the councillors in the Handforth parish were making fools of themselves again this week. I spent a recent evening watching the proceedings of Lymm Parish Council. The councillors dealt efficiently with issues from flooding to litter with a smile on their face.

I suspect that’s the case with most town and parish councils. After we’ve had our fun over Handforth, we should acknowledge the selfless work at this level of our democracy.’

I like parish councils and their diversity. Yes some can become akin to private members clubs where they don’t hold elections every 4 years (this happens where there are insufficient nominations to trigger an election) but they are the bedrock of our democracy as they are the closest form of governance to the electors. Yes I would change them if I were in government by giving them more powers and responsibilities over very local matters such as street cleansing, the running of parks and gardens and the like.

I bet for every bad parish council you could come across there’d be 20 or more which are a credit to their village, neighbourhood, community……..