Inside the Council column with Councillor Sophie Whittaker

Coun Sophie Whittaker.
Coun Sophie Whittaker.

Democracy is a great thing, allowing anyone to have their say in how they are governed and how the local area is run.

Have you, however, ever tried to request a pothole repair, to arrange a bulky item collection in a timely manner, or get a road gritted?

Potholes: Cuts to the road maintenance budget were advocated.

Potholes: Cuts to the road maintenance budget were advocated.

Dealing with requests like these on behalf of constituents is part and parcel of being a councillor.

One thing becomes clear, the smaller the democratic bodies we create, the more bureaucratic they seem to become.

Take the new ‘Brighouse’ Town Council which seems to include parts of Elland, yet strangely excludes parts of Brighouse. The boundaries encompass an area inhabited by 30,000 people.

Yet, rather than consult these 30,000, just five people decided that, if you live in this area you will be governed by the town council and have to pay (based on comparative town councils) around £80.00 per year for the privilege.

Totally lacking in anything even remotely resembling a consultation, the ‘Brighouse’ Town Council has utterly failed as an exercise in democracy before it has even left the drawing board.

The town council lacks local support, in fact a recent survey by undertaken by Craig Whittaker MP, found that out of 575 people who took part in the survey, only 27% support the idea of this type of authority.

Well, you might say that while undemocratic and expensive that at least a Brighouse Town Council would be another body ‘investing in our community’, but you would be wrong. Take Hebden Royd Town Council as an example, of its tiny £337,937 budget for 2018/19, £123,400 is spent on salaries for people working for the Town Council – over a third! £3,600 is spent on holding elections, the mayor gets an allowance of £4,000, Human Resources eats up £3,000 and insurance gobbles up another £4,000.

Only £77,000 gets spent on ‘Community Funding’ and it costs £10,000 to pay for Christmas lights every year.

What I am trying to say is when you consider it would cost £1.43million to resurface Birds Royd Lane, can a Town Council with a budget a fraction of that, actually invest in the area? The answer is most certainly “No”.

So what will the Brighouse Town Council provide?

Well it will provide a convenient talking shop and political springboard for aspiring Labour candidates, like the ones who stood in the local elections last year, who strongly supported the Local Mass Housing Plan for Brighouse and Rastrick.

These are the same candidates who backed the Halifax-centred Labour Calderdale Council in raising parking charges in Brighouse and who advocated cutting the budget for keeping the streets clean and maintaining our roads.

The reason Labour can find money for a new town council, but not for old worn out roads in Rastrick is because it’s your money, not theirs.

When added to the increase of around 5% in council tax expected this year, along with the increases in police and fire precepts (don’t get me started on how much money they both sit on in reserves while raising their precepts), Brighouse can ill afford a town council.