3 Apr 2017

Hedge End Town Council, Annual Parish Assembly 2017

As my niece had been nominated for the Town Council's "Young Persons Serving The Community Award", I decided to go to the Annual Parish Assembly in Hedge End this evening.

This was the first time I had been to any kind of Town Council meeting in nearly two years, having decided that with a handful of Tories elected to the Town Council in 2015, the dynamics were now better than the 20-1 majority that the Lib Dems held previously. Quite frankly, I was happy to let them all get on with it, pleased to retire from the position of (usually) being the only member of the public in the public gallery ..

In case you don't know, the Annual Parish Assembly is a meeting where the public are invited to listen to reports from the Chairman of the Parish Council, the District and and Borough Councillors and from the leaders of any other groups that the council gives significant funding to. There is also a chance for members of the public to ask questions....!

In Hedge End at least, the Parish Assembly is not usually very well attended, with maybe 50 people attending this year out of a population of over 21,000. And many of that pathetically small audience were the Councillors themselves and their partners, or the friends and family of the people who are up for some kind of award. Even worse, about half of the winners in the "Best Cultivated Allotment" awards didn't turn up, causing the Town Clerk a certain amount of embarrassment as he announced their achievement. I was wondering why we all bothered, but this meeting is actually a legal requirement. The law requires it to be held every year. For historical reasons I presume...?

If that wasn't depressing enough, I thought the meeting got off to a very bad start, with the Chairman of the Town Council having a personal rant at the audience over the misuse of the Ambulance services. When he eventually moved on to his formal report, in his capacity of Chairman of the Town Council, I thought it was a little better. He highlighted some of the ongoing problems, difficulty upgrading the paddling pool for instance, and although the outlook was generally optimistic in tone, it wasn't as rose-tinted as some reports that I have heard previously.

Particularly pleasing to me was the report that the location of the Xmas lights switch-on had been changed, to reduce traffic safety concerns. I remember expressing exactly those concerns in a "Culture and Community" meeting previously and although I didn't get anywhere at the time, it seems that things did change a couple of years later, after the obstinate Cllr Bloom resigned from the council and the chair of that committee changed. That tells me that it is worth making these comments at Council meetings, but I should expect to play the longer game rather than achieve instant results.

For once, the reports from the Borough and County Councillors were quite interesting. Both seemed to adopt the same kind of tone that had been set by the Chairman, not shying away from the difficulties, but generally optimistic without being rose-tinted. They were not too long either this year, which is always a bonus...!

The financial Report was interesting, revealing that the Town Council is now digging it's own graves. I had heard that idea proposed a few years ago and was pleased to see that it had now come to fruition, with the purchase of some additional equipment to allow the Town Council's groundsmen to dig holes in the local cemetery. It saves the expense of having to get contractors in to do that, so it is a sensible change (in my opinion), helping to keep our Council Tax down in the long term..

There were surprisingly few reports from the local organisations, with the Hub (Youth Services) and Kings Community Church being the only two of any significance.

The Serving the Community Awards were a little more interesting than usual this year, as there was some family interest. I was slightly surprised to learn that were only two nominations in each of the categories. I would have expected a few more than that, from a population of 21,000. Did the Town Council have to drum up a few nominations I wonder..? They don't exactly seem to have been inundated with them and (apart from my niece) the nominees would all have been well known to the Council ...?

Anyway, the adult winner was a lady who maintains raised flower beds for the Council. Deservedly so, as those beds are much better kept than they used to be. The junior winner was a teenager who has been doing some good work at the Hub (Youth Services). My niece was runner up and was given a really nice certificate in a frame. There will not be too many youngsters getting one of those, and it is a real achievement. Something to be proud of.

Inevitably, I couldn't restrain myself from asking a question when the opportunity arose. What more can the Town Council do, to advise the public when ad-hoc vacancies occur and encourage them to put themselves forward as Councillors..? Having put the Chairman of the Town Council on the spot, my question was batted across to the Town Clerk, who competently fielded it by referring to various technicalities and the fact that the Town Council is only required to do a limited range of things. Which they do. Not entirely satisfied with that, I suggested putting a flyer in the Hedge End Gazette and I think I got a commitment from the Chairman Cllr Paul Carnell and Cllr Jerry Hall to raise the subject in a future Town Council meeting.

So I will have to go along to that meeting and join in the discussion, It will be just like the old days...

Meeting over, the best was yet to come, with various Councillors happy to chat to me as old friends. I really appreciated that, more than they realised perhaps, and that for me was the most valuable part of the evening. In particular, Cllr Dan Clarke was particularly generous with his time.

But I won't report all that we discussed here. Just that it was a really enjoyable chat with a local Councillor on topics of the day, national and local.