Chairman's Annual Report 2012/13
When the current council year began last May there were only eight councillors and three of those resigned between now and then. While councils should always be forward looking, the lack of experience in the way the Council operates, the respect in the way people should be treated, and the realisation of the amount of work being a parish councillor can now entail, has contributed to this being a difficult year. These difficulties have been compounded by the number of problems that seem to have deluged down on the Council this year.
Each month seems to bring some government edict that affects Parish Councils. This is why it is not only important to be represented on local organisations like Denby Grange, the National Mining Museum, Thornhill Charities and the Coxley Mill Project, but also keep ourselves informed by attending the Wakefield Council Town and Parish Council Group and also the Wakefield Branch of the Yorkshire Local Councils’ Association.
By deciding not to increase the precept the Council realised we would be on a very tight budget. It will be even tighter the next 12 months. There will be very little in our account to help local organisations. The decision has been taken on the assumption that our precept will return the same amount of money as previously. If this is not the case then the Council will be in serious financial trouble. There is certainly no guarantee in future that the precept will yield the same amount and the Council could find in future years that it has to considerably increase its precept. (Since I wrote this report we have learned Wakefield MDC have added a 7.3% increase to our precept, presumably to make up for the Government’s lowering of the tax base.) If the Government decides to cap parish councils in future I can foresee great problems as the amount of capital required to run the council may be more than the parish is allowed to raise.
One of the cuts already made has been to halve the amount paid for the Police Safe Scheme.
Throughout the year the Council has kept a close watch on planning issues and has objected to any that were felt to be detrimental to the parish. Maintenance of cemeteries has also been ongoing. It is most important that cemeteries, as important places for those whose relatives are interred there, are maintained to a high standard. Families are reminded, however, that each plot is their responsibility for 30 years (100 years in the old parts). If headstones become unsafe it is their responsibility to make them safe. The Council does fill in graves where there is subsidence, often caused as the coffins collapse, and keeps the cemeteries tidy but unsafe headstones that are unrepaired have to be laid down for health and safety reasons. At one time the Council could afford to repair them but this is not possible in the current financial situation. There are standards that all monumental masons are required to fulfil when they install a headstone. Another problem is where families with graves in the new plots are gardening the graves. This is not allowed as it impedes the grass cutting in the cemeteries.
Another problem the Council faces is Stevenson House. Now the parish office is set up and the assistant clerk in post there are definite advantages in taking over the ownership of the club. However the Council cannot afford to subsidise the building. If it is to remain as a community building then it must be self supporting. The rent from the house pays for the loan repayments but the Council must eventually lease the club to whoever produces the best business plan. Sorting a satisfactory agreement is a priority, as items like the condition of the car park are becoming urgent.
Attempts to streamline the Council have been made with a reduction in committees and the recent decision to appoint councillors to Committees not on ward membership but on interest and ability. The appointment of a lead councillor on each committee should also help to reduce the workload of the Clerk.
The concerns about the construction of wind turbines is now a thing of the past. It became a lost cause when it was realised that the parish council would not benefit from any money realised. That should not stop the Council looking at other forms of renewable energy, like solar panels, in the future.
One area that needs attention is Emroyd Common. The Common needs regenerating as Himalayan balsam is spreading and Wakefield MDC still have not reported back about the recent flooding.(Again events have caught up with me and someone should have been down to investigate the problem last week.) It is an area popular with walkers and riders and its wildlife and plants need preserving. Ideas are being considered to make the Common sustainable and even provide money to help improve it.
Another problem is Netherton Village Hall. Savings have been made with the reduced hours of the caretaker. Problems like the leaking roof have been mainly solved and the hall partially redecorated, but the hall is reaching an age when things are beginning to break down. The heating problems have not been solved. Rents have been raised but it does not help the hall’s finances or the groups if it is continually unfit for use. The Parish Council has agreed to continue as Trustee for another year but, like the Club, the Parish Council cannot afford to continually subsidise it. The hall has to become self-sufficient, which is why the help of the newly re-formed Friends of Netherton Village Hall is important. Funds must be raised by volunteers.
The large waiting list for allotments is another problem. Allotments always become popular when financial times are hard. The Parish Council can no longer afford to create new allotments but some larger allotments have been split into two.
Among the successes has been the improvement to Blacker Lane. The Parish Council has been able to support Cllr Kirkpatrick and the members of the Blacker Lane Action group. Councillors have helped in the traffic monitoring and showing how unfit the lane is for the vehicles that use it.
Netherton Play Area continues to be well used and the creation of the Albert Barlow Memorial Garden has also been a popular initiative.
Efforts to make parishioners more aware of the Parish Council and its work are being made and a recent decision has been to hold surgeries.
As can be seen, a lot of problems arose with a lot of new councillors having to face them. Whether you are a paid administrator or an unpaid councillor you are only there for one thing. That is to serve the people of this parish and provide what is best for them. This may not always be popular, but we are not here for popularity nor self-advancement. We can only serve our parishioners by working as a team. This does not mean we necessarily have to agree all the time but, once the Council has made a decision, we all have to accept it and work for it. It also means we have to respect each other, accept our weaknesses and other people’s, and try and help each other instead of criticizing. The only people who never make a mistake are those who do nothing.
I would like to thank all those who have helped me in any way over the past year. My only wish is that any past differences among our group are quickly forgotten and everyone works together in harmony.
Councillor John Newsome
Chairman, Sitlington Parish Council
2nd April 2013