The following are just some of the things that I will try and do as your elected District Councillor. I stood as a Liberal Democrat as I believe they have policies that address the needs of the area but local government should not be about unquestioning loyalty to a political faith. It should be about working with the communities it serves to solve problems in a sensible and realistic way and I will work with colleagues of all political colours for a better run, more accountable, open and transparent Council.
I will hold regular so called ‘surgeries’ around the area so that anyone who wants to meet to discuss any issues affecting themselves, their family, their business, their community or wider concerns will be able to. I promise to always listen and to do whatever I can to help.
I will attend all Parish Council meetings and work with Parish Councillors to make sure their concerns are properly dealt with and they are kept full informed. I believe Parish Councils are an important tier of local government and their voice needs to be heard and properly taken account of.
I will keep all residents informed of what is going on in your District Council via surgeries, and via a range of social media.
Overview and Scrutiny
One of the most important committees of our district council is the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (O&S). It is the job of O&S to hold the Executive and all other branches of the Council to account. The role of O&S is defined in legislation but it has been said that they are “the lion that failed to roar”.
I will work to ensure that the O&S Committee roars. I will also ensure it uses its authority to ‘co-opt’ people onto the O&S so that local organisations have an opportunity to influence debate and policy, as recommended by the Centre for Public Scrutiny.
Meetings of the Full Council
The Full Council, is the one time when all 31 Councillors are together to discuss the business of the Council and to exercise the democratic process. Currently, meetings of the Full Council are held every 3 months plus occasional extraordinary meetings. This is nothing like sufficient for proper open and transparent local government.
I will work to have this changed to be a regular monthly meeting. Some business may need to be in so called ‘closed session’ but this should be minimised (see Confidentiality).
The Council needs to protect confidentiality for legal and also for good practical reasons. However, far too often confidentiality is used as an excuse to avoid revealing information that could be questioned and to make life simpler for the Council.
To ensure that the Council conducts itself as openly and transparently as is possible I will work to ensure that confidentiality is only used where it can be shown to be necessary and that, where it is, a full and detailed explanation is given. It will be insufficient to say “Sorry I can’t tell you that because its confidential”.
Councillor Call for Action (CCfA)
Councillors have the the power to invoke a Councillor Call for Action, often abbreviated as CCfA. In my experience, very few councillors are even aware of this. However, it is an important power that allows Councillors to require the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to consider an issue.
I will work to ensure that all Councillors are fully aware of this power and encouraged them to use it when appropriate.
A parish has the power to hold a referendum on matters that directly affect them. While the result is not binding on the Council, it can be a very good way of sending a strong signal if the people of a parish don’t feel they are being listened to. I organised one some years ago to stop an inappropriate and damaging development which seemed to be heading for approval. It had the desired affect and the application was withdrawn. This type of referendum is not to be confused with ones for the Neighbourhood Plan.
As with a CCfA, these powers should not be overused but I will work to ensure that all Councillors are aware of how these powers might be used to help protect and advance the interests of their ward.
There is a real and pressing need for better Social Housing and Affordable Homes across the district. I am aware of this partly from the many cases that I have seen as a volunteer with Citizens Advice. I have written an overview about the complexities of this subject that can be seen at https://mckay.sh/social-housing-overview/
Planning: The Council’s Village Housing Initiative needs to be expanded as it is clearly insufficient.
Council led development: The Council needs to develop a strategy to deliver social housing and to examine accessing government funding through the Public Works Loan Board.
Funding: Help for developers (eg Community Land Trusts) to access government funds through Help To Buy South West funding ( https://www.helptobuysw.org.uk/ ).
Zero Carbon Council: There is a growing number of Councils that have committed to reducing net carbon emissions in their area to zero. An example is the Lib Dem run South Cambridgeshire District Council who have vowed to “show responsible climate leadership” in the design of new homes and energy and to reduce local carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
I will work to ensure SHDC showed similar leadership and committed to achieving zero carbon emissions.
Farming: Farming is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions but to tackle this problem we need to help our local farmers. Farming is being challenged on all sides and many are struggling. The industry has many initiatives like for instance the Nature Freindly Farming Network which need encouragement ( https://www.nffn.org.uk/ ).
I will work to ensure the Council develop policies and funding to help our local farmers find ways of reducing carbon emissions, increase sustainability and to become more profitable.
Regulator’s Code: There exists a considerable body of legislation to protect and enhance the environment, yet time and again it is ineffective. There are many reasons for this but one common cause is the lack of proper coordination between the various agencies who’s job it is to implement and enforce the legislation. These agencies are the regulators; like SHDC, Natural England, the Environment Agency and others.
I will work to ensure the Council leads the way in protecting and enhancing the environment and in promoting coordination between the agencies that goes beyond the basic compliance with the Regulators Code, which requires regulators to cooperate.
Accessing Funds for Local Projects
Sustainable Community Locality Fund: Each District Councillor is given an annual budget to enable them to support a wide range of projects that meet one of the priorities of the so called South Hams and West Devon Connect Strategy (Community Life, Economy, Environment and Homes).
Communities Together Fund: This Council administered fund provides grants to projects that encourage communities to work together.
Other Funding: There is a range of funding sources available for projects that benefit the community, the environment or the local economy.
I will do my best to support local projects and help them gain access to any available funds.
We live in a beautiful area that on the face of it seems quite affluent. But this disguises the fact that there are a significant number of people who are struggling. One very telling statistic from the charity End Child Poverty, shows the level of child poverty across South Hams as being one of the worst in the South West at 29.3%, while even in our local ward of West Dart it is an unacceptable 16.2%. Child poverty is just a manifestation of wider hardships issues that your Council needs to address.
Social Housing: The cost of accommodation is prohibitive for many people and the need to develop more social and affordable housing is key to alleviating hardship as well as developing the area’s economy.
Living Wage: Many people are on minimum wage but it is insufficient to pay the bills. The level of minimum wage is set by government and is based on a formula that does not reflect people’s basic needs. For some time there has been an alternative approach called Living Wage championed by ( https://www.livingwage.org.uk/ ).
I will press for SHDC to show leadership and to become an accredited Living Wage employer, as other Councils have done, and for the Council to develop an educational programme to promote its benefits across the district.
Food Poverty: Like child poverty, this is symptomatic of many underlying social problems which need to be addressed but is clearly a problem in itself. The need for food banks across the area is quite startling.
I will press to ensure the Council supports all food bank organisations but also works with them to develop policy that address the problems that create the need for food banks in South Hams.
Fuel Poverty: In South Hams over 12% of households spend more than 10% of their income on fuel, which is a definition of fuel poverty. The cause can be bad housing conditions, but it can be many other things most of which can be fixed.
There are many charities that are trying to deal with this problem and I will work to ensure that the Council supports this work and that it develops its own strategies for dealing with this issue.
Benefits: The Council administers Discretionary Housing Benefit which can be used to top up Housing Benefit or the Housing component of Universal Credit where there is hardship.
It should be a priority that the Council has a proactive strategy to ensure this benefit reaches people in need.
Council Tax: From 1 April 2019, Council Tax Reduction scheme will change. These changes will affect many people. The minimum CT payable is 25% which for some is too high and the Exceptional Hardship Fund does not exists as a long term solution for people’s circumstances.
While it is hoped that the new scheme will work and that it will help more people, like any new scheme it will need to be carefully monitored along with the use of the Exceptional Hardship Fund to ensure that it does.