Monday, 19 September 2016

Kirklees Democracy Commission - A Huddersfield Town Council?

Huddersfield's Coat of Arms
  As part of our evidence gathering for the Democracy Commission we took evidence from a representative from the National Association of Local Councils. This body represents the myriad Parish and Town Councils around the country from the very small village councils (the Dibley Model) to Councils representing many thousands of people. The largest Town/Parish Council in the country is the newly created Sutton Coldfield Town Council which has a population of around 75,000 electors and came into being following its first elections this year.  It occurred to me as we received the presentation that there may be some mileage in applying a Town Council model to Huddersfield and perhaps other separate Town Councils for the other large towns in Kirklees.

Kirklees Council will never be loved. It is an artificial construct of disparate communities and towns brought together under local government reorganisation in 1974. Kirklees has done some marvellous things and made some mistakes over the years but it we'll never achieve the semi mythical status of the Huddersfield Borough Council in the eyes of many older/voting resident. Comparisons aren't really fair as the pressures and responsibilities of the old Huddersfield Council doesn't compare with that of modern day Kirklees. You also have the misconception in North Kirklees that all the money goes to Huddersfield and in Huddersfield that all the money goes to North Kirklees. Around the margins some areas may get a bit more money based on whoever happens to be running the Council at the time but largely the increasingly meagre pot of money is distributed according to need. As funding for the services Kirklees provides is withdrawn by Central Government a greater proportion of that funding will have to be directed at those in the greatest need and so the Council will be largely funding adult social care and vulnerable children's services. Funding for things people care about in their communities such as libraries , museums, roads, street cleaning will all diminish hugely. It doesn't look like Kirklees Council will be loved any more any time soon! Nor will it be abolished. Requests to halve it quarter it and establish new councils have been rejected by Governments of all hues over the years. Love it, or more likely, loathe it, Kirklees isn't going anywhere fast!

So why and how a Huddersfield Town Council? We have a Town Council in Kirklees now. Meltham is a Town Council. We also have Parish Councils in Mirfield, Kirkburton, Holme Valley and Denby Dale. In Kirkburton through a  Green Party initiative, supported by Independents and most Parties, we developed a successful plan to save Kirkburton Library (there was no other plan!) Without the Parish Council it is unlikely that the building would have remained open and would probably have ended up as a large private bungalow or a small supermarket. Similarly in Skelmanthorpe there has been another asset transfer of the Library to Denby Dale Parish Council. So these bodies can act as lifeboats for the retention of local facilities and services and to be a way of promoting more local priorities.

Attempts at devolving power to Area Committees and now District Committees covering different parts of Kirklees have never really worked and I guess never will. However enlightened and willing teh chairs and members of Huddersfield District Committee are they are still beholden to the Kirklees Cabinet and have to operate within their priorities. Whoever happens to be in power at the time. Issues like the future of Huddersfield Town Centre are regarded as outside the scope of the District Committee and responsibility for it is jealously guarded by the Cabinet. A new political body representing Huddersfield once established could see responsibilities and some funding transferred to it from kirklees as part of new political settlement for our area. Whatever decisions were made by Huddersfield Town Council would be those established by the representatives elected by Huddersfield people. Town Councils have the same status as  charities and voluntary organisatuions and are able to apply for funding that Kirklees would not have access to. So we could get more 'bang for our buck' than we ever would with KMC.

Highly symbolic, but nethertheless real, would be the moment the Council was established and it adopted the coat arms of the old Borough Council of Huddersfield. The people of Huddersfield could begin to believe they had got their Town back and greater control of their own destinies.