Wiltshire Publications

Council in a ‘good place’ as Mayor prepares to hand over baton

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 8th, 2018 at 10:35 am.

Mayor of Westbury Cllr Gordon King and duputy mayor Cllr Ian Cunningham

Mayor of Westbury, cllr Gordon King, has reflected on his year as mayor and the future for Westbury Town Council before he steps down this month.

He addressed residents and councillors during the Annual Town Meeting, on Monday 23rd April. The annual meeting is held for the town rather than the council, explaining the council’s recent audit, the challenges the council has faced, new initiatives and the waste treatment plant.

During the meeting the mayor said, “An independent audit of the council’s financial arrangements earlier this year confirmed that the council has excellent financial processes and that it is well managed and governed. We also engaged an independent consultant, LCS, to advise us on our strategic arrangements who came to a similar view saying, ‘Our headline conclusion is that Westbury Town Council is well managed with a sound financial and governance core. It is an ambitious council with both officers and members being eager to move the council forward for the benefit of its community. The findings show that the community is at the heart of everything the council does, and councillors demonstrate their preference for active community leadership’.

Cllr King continued, “Positive feedback and nice words are always welcome, but as a council we also recognise there is difficult work to be done. Westbury faces many challenges but there are also opportunities and we are keen to make sure that these are captured and either addressed (challenges) or seized (opportunities) to make Westbury grow and remain relevant in the modern world.

“To do that we have began work on our first ever medium-term business and financial plan, with the assistance of LCS, that will set out our vision for the town that will be open, transparent and to which we will be accountable. More about that later.

“My predecessor mayors have reported to you that the greatest immediate challenge facing this council is the transfer from Wiltshire Council of most of its non-statutory, place-based and street scene services and the cost of providing them. These services include; amenity grass cutting, street cleansing, waste bin emptying and disposal, planting (flower beds etc), cemetery and non-revenue generating car park management and community allotments.

“Already, we have already taken leasehold possession of the public conveniences, extended the provision of two hours’ free parking, and earlier this year I signed the leases for the transfer of 10 play areas and talks are under way concerning an eleventh. The town council has a strong desire to improve on the “bronze standard” of Wiltshire Council and has begun taking tentative contract costings. It is anticipated that taking responsibility for all these things is likely to cost the council more than £200,000 a year, though some relief from residual Section 106 agreements will lighten the load marginally.

“We have anticipated that you the community shares our desire to maintain and improve these services and in accordance with that belief, we began to prepare and plan for the bulk transfer of services due later this or early next year. That planning has involved yearly increases in the town’s portion of Council Tax which has caused concern.

“Westbury became the victim of large-scale speculative development over the past 18 months as developers moved in to take advantage of Wiltshire Council’s failure to offer sufficient strategic land in the housing management area and the lower land values and charges in West Wiltshire.

“We fought gallantly to resist, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Part of the reason, but not exclusively, why we were unsuccessful was that we do not have a Neighbourhood Plan. To address that issue and to provide a much better armoury, work on that plan is now progressing. A plan strategy day was held at the end of January and it is hoped that the steering group will be up and running soon.

“In addition to these things, the Council has its own programme of Highways & Street Scene initiatives including providing public benches, organising community litter picks, maintaining the play areas and the civic planting schemes including via hanging basket and contributing to community area transport and highway schemes. This is a snap-shot of the work of the Highways, Planning, and Development Committee and its working groups.

“The council also spends a lot of time thinking about how it is managed, its governance, its policies and processes and not least its engagement with national Government, the unitary authority and you our public including via our events programme. This work is overseen by the Policy & Resources Committee and its working groups.

“This year we have given thanks for our community (civic service) organised the Christmas lights switch on and Christmas in Westbury celebrations and successful civic reception. The committee also oversees the council’s grant-giving to other organisations and charities, and in turn it scrutinises every penny spent to make sure best value is attained.

“A public meeting was held in this room in February to consider the proposal of Hills Waste Solutions Ltd and Bio-Energy Infrastructure Ltd to operate a gasification plant on the Northacre Business Park. Both these organisations were in attendance as was Friends of the Earth and the Environment Agency who will ultimately issue the operating permit. Many questions relating to the safety of the processes and procedures, the reliability of the technology, and the effects on “air quality” and “public health”, were asked and answered.

“This meeting was followed up by an extraordinary meeting in March of the council when it was agreed that we would write to both Wiltshire Council and the Environment Agency and ask them to bring forward the permit assessment processes. This council firmly believes that before this facility is built or permitted, it must go through the most stringent of public scrutiny possible and we will take the lead in doing that.

“There has been much regret in the town concerning the closure of the town’s main Post Office. This has been acutely felt in the town council where a working party was established to look at all the options. However, this council lacks the necessary powers to affect a quick solution which must come from a commercial business. We have nevertheless written to businesses and other parties and made it clear that we will do anything within our powers to help make things happen.  I understand that Post Office Counters Limited are currently evaluating at least three applications.

“It has been a very busy, very challenging year and we do not expect the next or future years to be anything different. What I can say is that the council has, as LCS stated, the future of the town and its people very much to the heart of everything that it does. I have been proud to be Mayor over the last year. When I leave office next month I will pass the baton on, knowing that we as a council are in a good place, working hard for our community, and providing value for money.”

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