The Portishead Town Council (PTC) is a statutory body and is the first tier of local government in Portishead. Above it sits the unitary authority of North Somerset Council, England.
It is elected and raises a ‘precept’ – a form of council tax – from the local community. It activities fall into three main categories:
• representing the local community;
• delivering services to meet local needs; and
• striving to improve quality of life and community well-being.
Town Councils have an extensive range of discretionary powers. They can provide and maintain a variety of important and visible local services including:
• bridleways, footpaths, commons and open spaces
• litter bins, public toilets and burial grounds
• bus shelters, car parks and community transport schemes
• community safety and crime reduction measures
• events and festivals
• leisure and sports facilities
• street cleaning and lighting
• tourism activities
• traffic calming measures
• youth projects
Here are the main problems with party politics at this level:
Party manifestos have little or no relevance at Town Council level. Have a look at the role of the Town Council.
Yet Town Councillors are often or always expected to follow the ‘party line’. In particular, this may mean that they follow the lead of their party at North Somerset Council level – without considering what is in the best interests of the residents of Portishead.
The Town Council has discretionary powers that should be used to improve the quality of life in the local area. Councillors should take account of the views of the residents and the local context. Yet, party-based election manifestos cannot anticipate, or be appropriate for, the level of powers and decisions within Portishead Town Council. In addition, ideology may take priority over individual knowledge and understanding at a local level.
Elections to the Town Council take place under a ‘first past the post’ electoral system. Consequently, many people’s views are not represented at all, or are represented poorly. In addition, because most people vote consistently for one party, it means that only marginal seats offer the possibility of change.
A District Council, as a unitary authority, has a range of responsibilities that extend much further than those in a Town Council. For example, the District Council is responsible for education, health and social care, housing, planning and a host of other key services.
Yet, in a District Council such as North Somerset, the governing Conservative party is well-established and has exercised long-term control. It is easy for complacency to take hold. The District Council needed a constructive opposition that challenged the governing party.
Portishead Independents believes this challenge can most effectively be provided by independent councillors because they are not constrained by the policies of national political parties and they are not reliant on the support of their resources.
Therefore, independents offer a more democratically accountable alternative because:
• Independents must put the needs of their community first in order to gain credibility and get elected
• Independents must listen and engage with their community in order to properly represent those needs
• Independents must be prepared to make their own decisions based upon the information available and what is in the best interests of their community
• Independents must be open to persuasion and new ideas reflecting the diversity of the community they serve as well as the need to pursue positive change in a dynamic environment
• Independents must operate as facilitators rather than controllers of their community