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'No powers to step in' over Holbeach Parish Council

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Bosses at the district authority have no legal powers to step in to address concerns with the running of Holbeach Parish Council.

Long-serving South Holland district councillor Francis Biggadike asked senior officers about the potential for action on Wednesday night.

He was speaking at the district’s full meeting after members had been asked to agree to a review into cutting the number of councillors on Holbeach Parish Council from 18 to 16 given the fact that the there had not been a ‘full complement’ of members for a ‘number of years’.

Couns Francis Biggadike, Tracy Carter and Nick Worth
Couns Francis Biggadike, Tracy Carter and Nick Worth

He said: “At what point would a district council get involved when a parish council is not functioning as it should?”

Assistant director Mark Stinson said there were ‘very limited powers’ for this and that the district council was responsible for investigating complaints into individual councillors and assisting with standards matters.

The authority can also appoint district councillors to the parish council if there are not enough members.

However, he said: “In terms of intervening, we don’t have a legal power to do so.”

Coun Biggadike asked how many members of the community would be needed to sign a petition in a bid to get the district to consider acting.

Mr Stinson replied that he did not know the specifics of petition numbers but said: “Even if a petition were submitted, we don’t have any legal authority to intervene in the operations of a parish council.”

Councillors Tracey Carter and Nick Worth - who both represent Holbeach - said they would support a review but that they did not agree with reducing the number of members of the parish council.

Coun Carter said it was a ‘shame’ that Holbeach had not had a full council and pointed out that the town is growing. She said: “I am not personally convinced that reducing numbers is the best way forward.”

If agreed, the review would see one seat lost from the town ward and one from the Hurn ward.

Coun Worth said he was particularly ‘disappointed’ that one member would be cut from the villages. He added: “We don’t have a lot of representation on there at the best of times.”

He also said: “It’s not an issue getting councillors, the issue seems to be holding onto them.”

This drew laughs from members in the chamber.

Cowbit Parish Council is also requesting that its numbers increase from five to seven.

A statement issued by Sophie Hutchinson, vice-chairman of Holbeach Parish Council, after the meeting said: “The number of councillors on Holbeach Parish Council hasn’t been reviewed for a very long time. For over a year now we haven’t had 18 councillors, however, due to the changes we’ve made in our council structure and processes we have been functioning more efficiently than ever before. Having looked at the NALC guidance for number of councillors to electors, for a parish of our size we should have 16 councillors. We are aware that the number of electors is growing, however we feel that 16 councillors would be enough to deliver services effectively for the parish.

“We are delighted that South Holland District Council have agreed to this review, so that the public can have their say on how many councillors they have, as their view is the most important one. We also look forward to meeting with our county and district councillors for a meeting that is long overdue so we can work together on building a better working partnership to benefit all our parishioners.

“Parish councillors are all volunteers. With our vision we hope that members of the public will see an opportunity to join us. Anyone that wants to become a parish councillor should contact clerk@holbeachpc.com for more details.”

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