Doncaster Free Press Column – Parish Council Meetings

We have all been entertained recently watching on television a recording of Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire.

They were meeting by means of video conferencing and the recording was put on social media and went viral.

The chair of the council had refused to call a meeting and two councillors brought in an experienced clerk, Jackie Weaver, to help get a meeting going and get through some business.

The side-lined chair and his deputy ranted at length, insisting, with raised voices, that the meeting was illegal – until Jackie muted them.

It was very funny – though also rather sad that relationships had degenerated to such a low point.

And it could lead us to think that what parish councils do does not matter.

That would be a mistake.

Their work in making our communities better places in which to live should not be underestimated.

Over the last few weeks I have been to several such meetings in the Doncaster district – from Braithwell with Micklebring to Barnburgh with Harlington.

They have all been well-chaired and members have been able to make their points in forceful but always respectful ways.

For me as Police and Crime Commissioner the parish council is one crucial way of finding out what is happening on the ground as far as crime and anti-social behaviour is concerned.

I do, of course, receive reports all the time from the police and officials of Doncaster district council.

But what parish councillors tell me can do two additional things.

First, they add ‘colour’ to these reports – they take me beyond the statistics to how particular acts of anti-social behaviour or neighbourhood crime impact on people’s lives.

The statistics may show that in this village or that community, levels of ASB or crime are low.

But that is not the whole story.

There is also the question of how they might be making a community feel less safe.

And second, parish councillors will often alert me to things that were not otherwise being picked up.

Several councils, for example, wanted to speak to me about speeding.

But this became a wider conversation about road safety more generally.

As a result I have had a number of conversations now with officials from the district council, the police and the Safer Roads Partnership.

In the coming year, I shall want to have a renewed focus on road safety.

This would not have happened if I had not met the parish councils.