Earlier this month, we saw the 2019 Annual Meeting of Draycott-in-the-Moors Council. (The council oversees not just Draycott, but Cresswell, Totmonslow, Draycott Cross and Draycott Waste).
During such an annual meeting a council will often look back over its last few years, especially the last twelve months, to see what has been achieved…. if anything. In an election year (as this one is), it will also look back at the achievements of the outgoing council … if there were any.
This year, the summary of such achievements was presented by the Draycott Council chairperson, Pat McLaughlin.
Naturally, this summary (being presented by a politician as it is…), will often mention the good stuff, and often ‘forget’ the disappointing stuff – so it is left up to us, the residents, to remember the other side of the coin, and make sure it is not forgotten.
Having said that, we do now have a ‘new’ council – nearly half the members are only recently elected,since the election only three weeks ago -, so it is a bit unfair to load on it too many of the failings of the past – but, for the sake of the record, and in the hope that the new members will avoid the mistakes of the old members, here goes…
Summary – Draycott Council 2014-2019
What we have thought is to do is to look back over the last few years, i.e. over the time of the outgoing council, and check out the different categories in which village councils have duties, and to see how Draycott Council scores…. and then mark each aspect out of five * (stars).
This scoring is subjective and ours alone – other residents may have other views.
*Control of finances – 2*
~ Over the last six years, Draycott has demanded huge tax increases; in one year (2014) it even demanded a 24% council-tax rise for itself! In fact the council’s average annual tax-rise demand in this period has been 8% … at a time when inflation in the country as a whole was floating around 2%…!
In contrast, other comparable councils, such as nearby Dilhorne, have stayed under the inflation rate.
However, the extra money has not been used for unexpected or ambitious projects. The only significant project has been in maintenance, with the repair of the roofs of two bus shelters.
The council is now sitting on a large reserve.
Communication with residents – 1*
One of the most frequent promises made by politicians is that they wish to reach out to their public and ‘communicate’. It’s also one of the promises that is hardly ever kept … especially in Draycott.
~ Despite repeated promises (the last one being by the chairperson in 2017), Draycott Council has not issued any newsletters to the community for six years.
~ The council’s website is just a ‘bare minimum’ affair; it is barely up to what it is required to do by statute. In 2018, it only published one post. The council simply don’t take it seriously.
It just looks very untidy too – compare it to websites of other nearby councils which have much more informative and tidy websites (see Milwich Council’s website or Fulford Council’s website , or indeed websites of all our surrounding parish councils).
~ It is within the council’s remit to set up working-groups, in which local residents and councillors work together to solve particular problems. Draycott Council only has two such groups – up to last month, both had not even met.
~ The councillors refuse to publish their email addresses either on Draycott Council’s own webpages or the official Local Government webpages. Compare that to the openness of neighbouring Milwich councillors’ approach or Checkley councillors, who all reveal their email addresses. As for those registers of interests – some councillors didn’t even list the address of the house they live in.
It is worth noting that the national body for parish councils, the NALC is so worried about the lack of community engagement seen in semi-rural councils like Draycott that they have set up a working party to urge local councils to develop this side of their work.
Leadership – 2*
Draycott village council has very few direct responsibilities; its main two are to consider planning applications and to monitor the local footpath network. It has an incredibly poor record on both.
~ Draycott Council has put in a response to only one major planning application over the last five years. It made no official response to: the Cresswell Housing Estate proposal (for 168 homes); the Staffordshire Moorlands Local Plan 2018-2031 Final Version; the Cresswell Roundabout proposal; and the Blythe Vale Housing Estate proposal (for 118 homes).
This February (in election year…!) , it finally did make an official response to an important proposal – to the second Blythe Vale Housing Estate proposal (for 146 homes).
Over those same years, only one time has a Draycott councillor gone to Leek to voice the residents’ case at a planning meeting.
In contrast, one can name numerous other Moorlands parish councils who have risen to the challenge of large planning matters – Bagnall village council even commissioned reports, while others have led demonstrations.
~ There have been no published parish-footpaths surveys and/or annual reports, despite promises, in the last five years.
~ While other Moorlands villages press on gradually with their ‘neighbourhood plans’ processes, we have got nowhere here; in fact, here in Draycott, the process has collapsed three times over the last few years. At the last attempt, £2000 was spent on consultants before that attempt was wound up. The current, fourth attempt looks doomed to go the same way.
~ A drive by the council to recruit residents for a speedwatch scheme also failed.
Transparency – 2*
Since 2015, when the government had to force secretive councils such as Draycott to openly publish the records of their meetings, ‘transparency’ has been a key word in how councils should behave.
However, the NALC is very worried that transparency is simply not being taken seriously.
Again, we would urge Draycott Council to start to be transparent.
~ On four occasions over the last five years, the council has decided to go into private session (when the public has to leave the hall). On all but one of those occasions, it was later proved they had no right to do so.
~ Publication of relevant documents. The council is required by statute to publish, by strict deadlines, a select list of documents on its website. For example, it must “publish the finalised (or draft) minutes from all formal meetings not later than one month after the meeting has taken place”. Over 2015-19, Draycott failed to do this on twelve occasions; residents continually had to complain about the issue.
The council is also supposed to publish ‘supporting documents’ on the website. It almost never does. In fact, the records of one of its sub-committees, the Personnel Sub-Committee, have never been published.
In contrast, nearby Milwich Council has made it crystal clear that they know their responsibilities and will stick to them, by publishing s stand-alone Transparency responsibilities webpage on its website.
~ In 2018, the councillors refused to reveal what public groups, other than the council, they are personally associated with. The council has also refused to reveal which members have (or have not) undertaken councillor training sessions. By contrast, Checkley parish councillors are completely open.
~ But, to be fair, some reforms were introduced in 2017, mostly at the insigation of the then clerk. It became easier for members of the public to get soemthing placed on a council agenda.
Conduct – 3*
~ The last couple of years have been pretty bad for Draycott Council’s reputation. Some unpleasant behaviour within the council was even exposed in the local papers (the clerk at the time even resigned in disgust). Separately, a councillor resigned in 2016, partly because of the treatment she said she’d suffered.
You’d have expected the council to launch an investigation into what exactly was happening and what was at the root of it. They didn’t.
~ But, to be fair, most recent council meetings have been conducted without acrimony. At least recent meetings are (on the surface anyway!) polite.
However, the NALC is so concerned about the behaviour of councils generally that it now wants a compulsory Code Of Conduct for councillors – to get them to behave with due respect for the proper ways.
Major Achievements – 1*
Here in Draycott-in-the-Moors, the council collects almost £10,000 a year in council tax from residents. So, has the council any major achievements to show for that over the last few years?
~ Earlier this year, the council applied for funding for a speed-sign, and has been successful; it is to be hoped that a sign will be installed later this year.
~ The council’s Great War Commemoration effort was underwhelming.
~ Maintenance jobs in the district have been neglected over the last five years, because the council took that long to appoint a ‘lengthsman’ (aka odd jobs person). The role has now been filled – so let’s hope things start to look better.
~ The council do though employ a litter-picker, whose job is to keep the village tidy, and Mr Price has been continuously in post for quite a few years.
(However, in the same period, a local community group established an information centre, installed a defibrillator, organised tidy-up days, built an information board, and commissioned reports to challenge unwanted housing development. Quite a contrast!).
Looking to the future
We hope we’ve been fair on this page in our review of the council’s record. The trouble is, it’s not a very good record.
However, perhaps it is up to all of us to draw a line in the sand and put the past behind us and let the new councillors do their best.
We wish the ‘new’ council good luck.
Have the new Draycott councillors the energy, the vision and the drive to start to make significant things happen?
We would urge the newer councillors to try to inject some energy into the system… and perhaps, one day, someone will profile Draycott as a model council. Wouldn’t that be good?
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