We welcome comments, posts and pictures from everyone who has an interest in Letchworth Garden City. If you have something to say, please contact us or send articles to yourLGCforum@gmail.com

Ex-mayor in bid to save council

Philip Ross, the former mayor and chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council, has written to Cllr Lynda Needham at NHDC explaining why he believes that they should not grant HELP's request for a governance review, which HELP would exploit in its bid to abolish the council. 
  With elections due next year, he asks: would it not be better to wait and let the people decide through the ballot box? He writes:

AS THE former chairman of Letchworth Garden City Council and a Letchworth resident, I write to ask you to ensure that this letter is considered by your council during any discussion to start a community governance review of Letchworth Garden City Council.
  I specifically ask you to ensure my letter is placed in front of any councillor called on to make that decision or any officer called on to give advice.
  The council has received a request from a political group that seeks to abolish Letchworth Parish Council. A review of governance is a statutory process. 
  The Local Government and Public Health Act 2007 sets out arrangements for governance reviews of parish council areas.
  It is clear that abolition of a parish council is a very unusual and extreme proceeding. A statutory process should certainly not be started in relation to a political request. There is detailed ministerial guidance on governance reviews and it specifically warns against politically motivated decisions.
  The Act sets out that a governance review may come about in one of two ways.
  The first is that the principal council may take a decision of its own volition. The guidance points out that there should be regular programmed reviews.  NHDC currently has no programme of scheduled reviews (contrary to ministerial guidance).
  When NHDC does comply with the guidance it would be extremely doubtful that Letchworth could be at the forefront of it. Any newly-created parish should receive the support and encouragement of its principal council as it prepares to take on new services.
  That cannot be compatible with a principal council suddenly deciding, in the absence of a planned review, that a new council must justify its existence in only its second term, while other longer-established town councils continue un-reviewed.
  The second way, set out in detail in the statute, is for a community petition in which at least 10% of the electorate calls for a review and sets out what aspect of the matter they wish to see reviewed.
  There is no such call in this case. Instead, the call comes from a group of people, narrowly elected after misleading information was placed in front of the public, a fact that NHDC is fully aware of.
  The town council was only created in 2005. It should undoubtedly have an opportunity to establish itself. There was a parish poll in 2008. Only 15% of people took part and of those 76% supported abolition. By the time of by-election in January 2009, as the request from the political group itself records, support for abolition had plummeted. There was at best a slim majority in most wards.
  There were full council elections in June 2009. At that point, support for abolition was reduced yet again. Two wards returned town councillors who supported the idea of a council.
  Meanwhile, the number of spoiled ballot papers exceeded the difference in votes cast between a successful and unsuccessful candidate.
  Most recently, in 2012 there has been an opportunity for a by-election.  No anti-council candidate came forward. Instead, a newly created councillor willing to serve his community has just been returned.    
  The guidance also sets out a requirement to demonstrate sustained informed opposition over at least two full terms. By definition, this political request cannot meet the test set out in the guidance.
  The current town council reported to the public in 2009 that NHDC has already advised them about a governance review, soon after their election. The town council reported that NHDC referred to the “two complete terms” test.  The town council made a series of decisions based on that information.
  The Letchworth Democracy Association then requested judicial review of those decisions, setting out their belief that the true aim of those currently running the town council was to have an unlawful winding up of the council ahead of time before elections could be held in 2013.
  The Association’s request was refused but it is interesting to see why. The judge recorded that it was argued before him that the transition plan was not leading to the council being wound up. He specifically noted that the council would continue to be subject to the legal requirement to hold future elections.  He said the fact the council was continuing, and not being abolished, was the basis for deciding that their decisions were, in his opinion, lawful.
  Elections are of course now due in May 2013. This political request for a governance review asks NHDC to make a decision that would have the effect of a) avoiding the course of democracy by removing elections and b) running  contrary to submissions made to a High Court judge, by those people who now make this request.  
  I consider that the political administration now running the town council wants to avoid the requirement to have elections in May 2013 because they are concerned that they will lose the election.  Whether I am right or wrong, that consideration must occur to any right-thinking councillor who is called on to make a decision that in effect means they should suddenly, of their own volition, start a statutory process in February 2012.
  That right-thinking councillor would therefore look to see evidence of continuing and very recent support for abolition to justify that request. There is no evidence before NHDC that opposition to the existence of the council even continues at the 2009 level.
  Despite misleading attempts to claim otherwise on the part of those seeking review (duly reported in the press), nothing has changed since advice was given by NHDC that a governance review was premature.     
  The only sensible response that NHDC can realistically make in the light of the Local Government and Public Health Act, ministerial guidance and the history of fact relating to Letchworth Garden City Council, is to decline this political request and ensure that there is compliance with the requirement to hold elections in May 2013.
  The outcome of that election will permit an informed decision. It would also give NHDC the opportunity to consider its approach to governance reviews across its whole area and to ensure that it complies with the general requirements of the guidance.
  This political request is clear attempt to by-pass the safeguards contained in a new and recently adopted statutory procedure and NHDC should refuse it. NHDC is fully aware that in 2009, substantial numbers of the electorate voted in favour of candidates who supported a town council.
  It could lead to the absurd situation where public money is wasted on a governance review, only to followed by a new petition by 10% of the electorate within 24 months.
  That petition would automatically re-instate the town council by virtue of the 2007 Act because, as Letchworth has a population of more than 1,000 voters, NHDC must create a town council on request by electors following any new petition.   
  I would hope that as a democratically elected politician you will resist those who would seek to subvert the democratic process and that you share my view that elections should held in May 2013.