More power to the wards says council leader

THE Leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr John Kent, has outlined the way he wants power and spending devolved to ward councillors.

He answered a question from Conservative Leader, Cllr Phil Anderson at Wednesday (22 June) evening’s meeting of the council, and spoke further afterwards.

Plans to devolve £2,000 spending to all 49 councillors fell during March’s debate on the council’s budget, but Cllr Kent re-launched a pilot scheme in three wards at June’s cabinet meeting.

On Wednesday he said: “This pilot scheme will provide seven councillors in three wards – Stanford East and Corringham Town; South Chafford and Tilbury St Chad’s – with a budget of £2,000 each to spend on local projects.

“Ward councillors hold the democratic mandate for an area and the ward councillor must be at the centre of any policy decision where there are local implications.

“All too often, ward members can see how a small investment could make a local improvement, but they are then faced with finding a suitable budget to support local works. These budgets are intended to enable councillors to address local issues and priorities that matter most to residents.”

He explained that legislation insists that guidelines on how decisions are to be made at local level have to be agreed to “define the scope of local improvements that can be considered, and the process to enable spending following the agreement of a decision”.

Cllr Kent said he has asked officers to meet with members of the Community Engagement Task and Finish group that looked at community engagement along with the portfolio holder, to agree these principles.

“Guidelines for the pilot should be in place as soon as possible,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Kent said: “There are some key principles, first and foremost is genuine community engagement. Councillors must explain the need that their proposal aims to solve, and how community agreement to that proposal has been secured through consultation.

“Councillors in the pilot areas must inform their constituents that this funding is available and seek resident input into making their ideas for improvement known.

“Secondly, the budgets must not commit the council to ongoing costs. I expect the guidance to support small improvements such as street repairs, activities to encourage youth activity – or small grants to community groups that want to improve their areas.

“The suggested area of spend must be identified and supported by the local community, but councillors can choose to pool their allocation with all councillors representing a particular ward, or can pursue a number of smaller improvements.”

The Leader added: “Finally, all decisions must be recorded and the impact of spending evaluated. This is a pilot scheme to inform how devolved budgets might support improved community engagement.”

He said he hoped that in the longer term specific areas of the borough would be created so that more than two or three councillors could pool their money and that perhaps, over time, further decision-making processes could be devolved to these areas.

“We are committed to improving community engagement in Thurrock in order to design and deliver the best services we can, meeting genuine resident need,” he said.

“This pilot scheme will help councillors solve local issues as community leaders, and I look forward to hearing about the results and impact achieved as a result.”

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