25 November 2011
These must be uncertain times for you as on the one hand national government and the other economics and big business are impacting on your power and influence.
Where to start?
You have lost power to the South Downs National Park. Small towns like Hailsham are seeing their centres declining, income from business rates falling, and major retailers calling the shots. Libraries are closing as people buy books cheaply on-line or use e-books. Schooling will no longer be provided locally to the majority, as private education expands, look at St Bedes in Upper Dicker and Free Schools grow in number. Police Forces are joining together in the name of economy of scale and we are heading for a national Police Force. Local planning is being devolved to parish councils and will be useless against property developers and major industrial concerns.
I know you are not directly responsible for many of these but it illustrates how our local democracy is being rendered ineffectual and will in future wither away.
I feel passionately about this and have voted in every local and national election since I was first eligible, when I hitch-hiked from Sheffield, where I was a student, to place my first vote in Hull, where my parents were living.
I have paid all my taxes, as a PAYE employee I had no choice. I have never defaulted on a council tax payment. I am a net contributor to the monies spent by national and local government.
I can list some of the services I don't use:
- Street lighting
- Road Sweeping
- Snow clearing
- Swimming pools
- Community centres
- Bus transport and bus shelters
- Local shops
I could go on...
I can list the things I have to use:
- Waste Bins
On these two I have come to the conclusion that as much as I value democracy, at both local and national level, one should go.
My question is what can you do for me to restore my belief in local government and local democracy, I feel let down and cast adrift.
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
Your paddle-less constituent,
Dear Mr Hill,
Thank you for your email of the 25 November and I am sorry you feel cast adrift and trust I can persuade you that the garden is more rosy than you think, although it is certainly challenging.
The steps the Government are having to take to eradicate the structural deficit have certainly had an effect on Local Government. However we did predict the situation and launched our Transformation Programme three years ago. This programme has reduced the running costs of the Council, reset our priorities and savings of £3m a year (on a budget of £20m) will be delivered with a minimal affect on services to the public.
The South Downs National Park has taken responsibility for planning within its area which, as you know, is a relatively small part of Wealden. WDC still remains a significant consultee and retain responsibilities for all the other services we provide within the WDC part of SDNP.
Planning and waste services are indeed the services that most residents would readily identify but there are many other things we deliver often unheralded. This includes Environmental Protection which covers statutory duties regarding food hygiene inspections- noise pollution control and Licensing including liquor and mini-cabs. Strategic Planning through the Local Development Framework(LDF) is a major piece of work that will influence the way the District will look over the next 15 years.
I could give you a long list of services we provide.
Towns and parishes are already part of the planning process as a consultee. The neighbourhood plans, introduced through the Localism Act, will extend that involvement but have to be in conformity with Wealden's LDF as likewise WDC's plan must be in conformity with the National Plan.
We will continue to work closely with Towns and Parishes. Our market towns, such as Hailsham, will need to adjust the product they offer as people buy differently especially with more internet shopping. However it is still our aim to ensure High Streets remain as vibrant as possible.
It is in the nature of Local Government that not all residents avail themselves of all services. This, of course also applies to national taxes. Whilst you have listed a number of services, not all delivered by Wealden, that you don't use they are nevertheless important facilities for the District. For instance investment in leisure centres has a health benefit for all ages.
Local Authorities are given more flexibility in the Localism Act and I welcome the opportunities it will bring to delivering the services required by local communities.
I applaud your commitment to voting in every national and local election - It is often disappointing that so many choose not to use their vote.