Marlborough’s town clerk reveals new powers for the council – and a search for new councillors
With the four-year term of the present Marlborough Town Council about to come to an end, Monday’s annual parish meeting is not likely to be an inquest on its work but more an opportunity to consider the future.
And a chance to discuss new Localism Act powers the new council be able to use for the first time, among them the ability to develop affordable housing.
That is the expectation of Shelley Parker, Marlborough’s new town clerk – its fourth in those four years – who has already made a significant impression since she arrived from Cricklade town council in February.
And she hopes the meeting – at the town hall at 7 pm – will be an opportunity for residents to consider being co-opted on to new council since only 14 people were nominated for its 16 seats, leaving two vacancies.
“I have already seen one person who is interested,” Mrs Parker, disappointed that there has been no voting contest for the new town council, told Marlborough News Online. “We will be advertising the vacancies after the current council comes to its official end on May 7.
“And I think that is the right approach. I did the same when a full set of councillors weren’t elected by ballot in Cricklade. After May 7, in just a fortnight’s time, we can spread the word in the hope that people will come forward to play a part.”
She believes that public disillusionment with politics – and a lack of trust – has had an effect across the country with a failure to find willing council candidates the result.
Six current Conservative seats for the Wiltshire’s own unitary council elections will be uncontested at the May 2 elections, thus denying 24,000 residents the vote in southern wards in the county.
Concern too has been expressed about the “toxic” atmosphere created by a handful of individual councillors at Marlborough town council meetings putting off people wishing to play a positive role in the local community.
But Mrs Parker believes that happens unhappily through local government generally, the more so in current tough economic times of austerity, although she hopes that can be avoided.
“Life on local councils should be less confrontational,” she said. “I want to turn the whole image of the town council around so that it is seen as more approachable and seen as one of the first places people call for help, whether they are a visitor to town like Marlborough or a resident.
“These clashes between individual councillors in Marlborough do have a bit of history because some parts of the media have focussed on them. But the people involved might like to think about the reputation it leaves Marlborough with – and their own personal positions too.
“We should try to turn it around but, to give councillors their due, they are volunteers and some of them work extremely hard at it. There are a couple leaving this time who have done a hell of a lot for Marlborough.”
Her hope is for councillors to take a positive initiative is encouraged by the Localism Act, which gives town and parish councils a “new power of competence” and enables them to raise funding outside of the rate precept for new projects.
"At the moment, the town council has very limited powers and though many don’t realise it, a budget of just £421,000,” she explained. “The Localism Act gives town and parish councils a new power of competence that enables councils to do anything within the scope of the law.
“For example, if we wanted to be involved in the development of a small affordable housing project we can now do that. We could work with a housing association and apply too for a variety of external grants available for other things.”
“That makes the scope of what the town council can do much broader – if the new council is happy to go ahead with this new power of competence.”