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Wellow Residents Group

rev- 10.4.16

A Possible Future - Is this where we want to go?

There would seem to be a perpetual state of conflict between central and local government, the former
wishing to reduce public expenditure, and the latter wishing to maintain its services. Expenditure reduction
is expected to be achieved by concentrating upon the provision of only those mandatory services required
by law, and therefore cutting out optional services. There are however services which may not be required
by law but are essential for the well-being of the community for example the enforcement of planning.
This has progressively led to a fall in public confidence in the local authoritys ability to effectively manage
service provision. Central government tends to direct what the local authority can and cannot do which
conflicts with what the local authority believes it should be able to do, and be funded appropriately. Local
authorities, faced with this situation, are finding it increasingly difficult to establish a balanced budget i.e.
where expenditure is within the income resource.
The outcome of the above tends to be that local authorities are being forced to close down optional
services, such as public libraries. What the local authorities seem to have difficulty doing is cutting down
their own internal costs. This state of imbalance needs to be faced and resolved if public confidence is to
be restored. However, none of the above is within the remit of the general public to alter to any great
extent other than through the ballot box at the appropriate time, so alternatives need to be found.
One possible option which seems to be gathering favour nationally is for residents at district and parish
level to take matters into their own hands because if they do not, then the situation is likely to worsen,
hence the rise in the number of community groups such as this one to advance community amenity.
Community Groups have little access to funds, although they can be run along democratic lines due to their
closer proximity to the resident community, often better than the established local authority bodies where
tales abound of inaction. The fact that a resident group has little access to funds is the best possible
remedy to help solve accusations of corruption. However, such residents groups are not aimed at
providing an alternative to the local authority which would need a fundamental change in the law, but
provide a better linkage with the community they are supposed to serve.
There would seem to be a role for resident groups in this supporting capacity particularly because they are
composed of local residents who are closer to the main population than the local council and its members
are. They are motivated by seeking higher quality services being provided to the community because they
are the recipients. Further, because a resident group has by definition a relatively large number of
members compared with the proportionate number of councillors, there is the opportunity to get more
people involved and hence spread the workload so making the functioning of the group more effective.
Many public services are inter-connected and so require considerable manpower to deal with effectively.
Local residents may well be motivated to involve themselves in such service provision by becoming expert
in a relatively small facet of the service with other people joining in to connect up the links so providing a
service epitomised by joined up thinking. A particular service may therefore not be provided by an isolated
or handful of council members and employees, but be supported by a group of like-minded residents so

spreading the workload and bringing a wider area of enthusiasm and expertise to the matter. A group of
like-minded people would need to be coordinated and this could well be provided by community amenity
assessors. His or her task would be to assess the quality of the provision of a particular service and, with
their colleagues assess whether the service provided meets local community aspiration and need. The
assessor would need to understand the issues surrounding the provision of a particular service where the
costs are incurred, the trends in demand, how the service is measured, and how decisions are made to
enable effective provision. Island Roads do have a somewhat similar system in place for monitoring the
performance of road maintenance although their effectiveness is unknown, and the link between the
assessor and resident community seems somewhat tenuous.
What is required to get such a system off the ground is to identify those areas of local authority service
provision which impact upon the community most, and could benefit from wider resident support and
involvement. It may be that each service area may have an assessor and a support team of say 4 whose
job would be to understand the component facets of a service and how these may limit or enhance service
delivery. For example roads are currently an emotive issue, composed of connected elements of potholes,
surface, drainage and flooding, hedging and verges, road signs, speed limits etc. In this case we would
have a Mr Roads (the Community Amenity Assessor for Roads) supported by Mrs Hedges and Verges, Mr
Drainage etc. The entire team would be in a strong position to integrate their enthusiasm with Island Roads
experts bringing a local understanding to roads problems upon which Island Roads could draw and
particularly provide a sound communication link with the community which at present seems pretty fragile at

The same principles could apply to most areas of local authority service provision, particularly

those not meeting local needs, and could include health, public transport, education, housing,
environmental health, street cleaning etc. each with their own community amenity assessor and team.
This may all seem quite reasonable and achievable, but so far ignores the reality of demand outstripping
resources to meet it which is where we started. Prioritisation in the use of resources is one of the primary
functions of the Council but often does not reflect local sentiment. Decisions, and particularly where the
principles employed, adversely affect a whole community do not create community cohesion which is
another aspect of Council responsibility. This is where another aspect of the residents group has value
and that is in lobbying. This pressure group role can be quite powerful in getting our elected
representatives, as the link between the community and the service provider, to apply real measures of
scrutiny on the service providers they employ. If properly conducted the above can provide a win-win
system which benefits all.
The above is very much a cursory look at the issues where residents may feel they are too remote from
decision making affecting the services they need and are not being heard. Considerable discussion needs
to be undertaken to arrive at a sensible way forward but, as stated at the beginning, if we want the sort of
services we believe are necessary to achieve the quality of life we should be able to expect, then we have
to get involved ourselves.