Parish Matters – a monthly column by Crowland parish councillor Peter Bird

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Can parish councils fight for you?

I was politely reminded when I joined the parish council that the council is not political. It was a disappointment to me because I am a member of a political party, I joined it because I agreed with the party’ policies, and wanted to employ them in a way that members of the public would know my party is working for them.

I do not know if any other member of my council is a member of another political party, but so far, party politics has never been exercised at any of the meetings, and especially at decision time, when the spending of the public’s money has to be approved. Except by me personally, but then the other councillors wouldn’t know that.

One could argue that parish councils are not life changing councils, and that collective decisions to spend the public’s money is more administrative than ivory tower building, but there are instances when the kind of collective thinking that builds real castles on terrafirma can be of real benefit to the community.

A modern problem found in many small towns and parish communities is the slow erosion and disappearance of retail trading, by small shops and market traders, hastened of course by the current recession.

Many might say that’s “Fait a compli”, a fact long established, about which no one can do anything.

But is it? I know of one small town where the majority of its councillors are members of the same political party, and consequently speak with one voice and purpose at council meetings.

One proposal, put on the table at a time when a supermarket had been given planning permission by a district council, was to help the small retailer and small stall holder, using the small amount of power available from the council. The result is the emergence of an indoor market and 17 trading stalls, a facility which this town could never have had previously.

In my town, retailers are fading fast, but its council of independently minded individuals would struggle to achieve the above. Please don’t misunderstand me, many of my council colleagues are very hard working, and give to our town more than they should, but it is in a series of independent directions, and sometimes collective decisions are better.

Some might argue that independent traders should fight for themselves, since it is they that benefit from increased sales.

But most of these little shops are not owned by wealthy businessmen, but by ordinary folks like you and I, and when their business fails, we all lose out, and our only recourse is to purchase from the multinationals, who when there is no competition will charge you more than enough for your goods, and for their mighty profits.

Collective power through political parties can be good power, and shouldn’t be dismissed.

For instance, my political party is able to muster power to fight the erection of wind farms. Will my council of independents do that?

Next month: Whips & Drinks