Monday, 3 March 2008

"Drest in a little brief authority"

Today I became a co-opted member of Coedffranc Community Council, which covers Skewen. Community councils form the lowest tier of elected local government, and not all areas of Wales are served by community councils. For instance, the Port Talbot part of this county borough has no community councils, while Neath (including parts included in the Aberavon parliamentary constituency) is completely covered by community councils.

The English equivalent is a town (a term also used in Wales, as in Neath or Cowbridge Town Councils) or parish council. CCs concern themselves typically with community safety, street lighting, allotments, cemeteries, playing fields, community centres, litter, war memorials, seats and shelters, and rights of way. CCs in Neath Port Talbot are also asked for their opinions on some planning applications, though the final decision remains with the county borough council.

Co-option is undemocratic, and should only be used as a last resort. The situation here is that several councillors have left the area and the vacancies need to be filled. The law does not allow for elections to community councils (or unitary authorities, for that matter) within six months of the date when regular elections would normally be held.

So I am to be a community councillor for just two months, attending two meetings: one this Wednesday, and another in April.

I'll throw my hat into the ring for the elections on 1st May, hoping to obtain a democratic mandate. However, I hope that more than the "usual suspects" come forward. It is a good way for public-spirited citizens to serve their community, without being submerged in all the paper-work which is increasingly swamping councillors on the CBC.

Sadly, the lower age limit of 21 prevents the people who could make a vital contribution directly to the council, but one hopes that will change in the not-too-distant future.

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