Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Local Government for Beginners

I was talking to some people in Oxfam the other day, and they had very little idea of which part of local government was responsible for what, partly because it's very confusing, and partly because they've been getting on with their lives and not noticing how local democracy works. One of them suggested that I should have a go at explaining it.

So - this is not a definitive explanation, but I hope it makes things less confusing.

The lowest level of local government is the Town Council. We are supposed to have 11 coucillors in Hay, one of whom is chosen to be Mayor every year. They are not paid for all the hard work they do - and it is a lot of work, and a lot of official documents to read. The Town Council are responsible for the recent work to improve the Glis, and the Woodland Group that looks after the Riverside Path. They check that the playground equipment is safe, and get to comment (but not make the final decision) on planning applications. Recently, they have been putting together a Town Plan, which will help when they are negotiating with the County Council. They will be able to point to the Plan and say "This is what the people of Hay have said that they want." There are two vacant seats on the Town Council at the moment.
The Town Council is also getting the responsibility for certain things that used to be done by the County Council. They now run the public toilets (the County Council wanted to close them down), and with the local sports associations, they run the Sports Pavilion (again, if they hadn't taken it on, it would have been closed by the County Council).

The County Council has 72 county councillors from all over Powys - they are paid for their work. In Hay we are only able to vote for one of these - our county councillor at the moment is Gareth Ratcliffe. However, most of the decisions of the County Council are not taken by the 72 councillors debating an issue, but by a Cabinet of six or seven councillors, who are chosen from the party with the greatest number of seats on the County Council. We in Hay have no way of voting for or against these people - we can only vote for our own county councillor - even though they are making decisions that profoundly affect Hay and the area around it.
They have responsibility for the provision of education in the county - so they are the ones to blame when we look at Hay School and see that a new school hasn't been built yet, and they are the ones who want to close Gwernyfed High School and merge it with Brecon High School in a new super-school in Brecon which they don't actually have the funds to build yet.
The County Council were also responsible for the Community Centre (now a pile of bricks on a bit of waste ground) which was supposed to be incorporated with a new school, which we haven't got yet. They also closed several small rural primary schools over the last few years.
They are also responsible for the Library.
They are also responsible for things like rubbish collection and street lighting.

Complicating matters on the planning front, we are also part of the National Park in Hay, so they have responsibility for planning applications, such as the 80 houses due to be built on Brecon Road, and the 19 houses due to be built on the site of the old community centre.

Complicating matters even further - we are on the border with Herefordshire, and Herefordshire County Council have responsibility for planning over in Cusop, including the Booker's Edge housing development which is due to be built in the field opposite the Co-op. They don't seem to speak to anyone in Powys, even though houses there mean that there will be more children to go to Hay School, and more people in the catchment area of the local doctors and dentists.

Oh, and Bronllys Hospital comes under the Health Authority, which is separate again, and again we in Hay have no vote in whatever they want to do with the site.

At the next tier up, there is the Welsh Assembly. Our local AM is Kirsty Williams, and the Welsh Assembly has funds from central government for things like education provision, which the County Council can apply for.

And above that, there is Parliament at Westminster, and our MP Chris Davies, who has very little influence over what happens at the local level, but has recently voiced approval for the building of intensive chicken rearing sheds at a local farm on the other side of the river in the name of diversity - even though this will impact negatively on the farmer next door, who has been diversifying into tourism and a caravan site (will anyone want to stay there, next to chicken sheds?).

So that's pretty much what we were discussing the other day.


Mary R said...

Lovely clear explanation.

Eigon said...

Thank you!

Hay Community Woodland Group said...

Hi, just to clarify although the Woodland Group was originally set up by the Town Council it has run as a separate community group with its own constitution for the last couple of years & is not under the control of the Town Council.