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Letchworth's great council...

Philip Ross writes about the achievements of the town council 2005-9, its community values and the need now for the town to unite for the future.

 Letchworth did have a great town council, according to the National Association of Local Councils it was one of the best councils in the country that is why they made it a Quality Council in 2008. In 2009 we also won fair trade status for Letchworth. I believe we also had the best councillors and staff too. Our  adminstration acted prudently and sensibly, providing a range of support to old people, traders, families, disabled groups and upholding the rights of citizens in Letchworth and called for reform of the doubling planning mechanism in the town and suggested the creation of an independent appeals panel.

The precept charged was less than the average for parish councils (about £42 per household a year, the national average parish tax was £55) with it the council setup offices, employed staff and engaged in all those necessary start-up costs for any organisation. What has been forgotten is, prior to creating the town council, NHDC charged Letchworth an extra tax called "special Letchworth expenses".  NHDC lost its right to impose that stealth tax  that when the town council was set up - and there has been no promise that NHDC will not reinstate it".

People are quite rightly concerned about council tax. It is interesting that Micheal Heseltine's recent report has told the government district councils like NHDC are hindering growth- with business rates being utilisied to pay for them, putting pressure on businesses as well as households. He says that council taxes in areas that have county councils as well as districts pay higher council taxes than other areas and we need to remove them. In my opinion, one third of NHDC residents have clearly said they want to pay less taxes and the next logical step would be to remove NHDC as well and save residents around £125 a year. It will be interesting to see if the HELP group now direct their energies to removal of this unnecessary tier. If they don't I think we can all conclude that they had an ulterior motive.

The council wasn't popular with the old regime at LGCHF nor with NHDC whom it held to account on numerous occasions. Stuart Kenny's old regime resorted to regular legal action against individual councillors and delivered to me a high court writ in which they declared that the Foundation wasn't accountable to the people of the town. The ensuing High court battle debated democracy, freedom of speech and whether Letchworth still belonged to its people, or was now simply 'a property company like Grosvenor Estates in London'. The judge ruled in our favour and subsequent to that Mr Kenny and his old regime have left the Foundation.

The old town council represented a belief in garden city community values and now the new Foundation has to a large extent picked up that community mantle and is now pointed in the direction that Ebenezer Howard would approve of. It is those values of co-operation, self-help and empowerment that are important not the name of the organisation that helps deliver them. While I believe a town council would be good for the town in its absence I hope people will engage with the new Foundation and above all I hope that past differences among all can be forgotten and the town can unite go forward to a great future.