Just a few months ago, I would not have imagined that I would be standing for election to the Town Council. Though I have a lot of skills that I think would be a great asset to the Council, the idea of standing didn’t seem realistic. The Council, as with many up and down the country, felt like a closed shop, and not something that an individual can have much of a say in. In all honestly, it felt a bit pointless to even consider it.
The recent issue with the Pearl Exchange made me sit up and pay more attention. As a passionate advocate for Arts and Culture in a community, and as someone who has been involved with working with young people through education, I felt this to be a vitally important organisation in the community. However, this is not about whether or not I agreed with the outcome, but about the processes – how the Council debates, how it meets and what it discusses. Who is involved and – crucially – who isn’t involved. What information is given to the public before, during and after a meeting, and how the public can contribute. How is the whole thing structured? Does the Council look and feel like a collaborative group, working together for the best interests of the town? Is the Council accountable for its decisions? I’ll be frank and say that for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t terribly impressed. It made me think deeper and look further into the way things worked, and asked the question ‘does it need to be this way?’ I’ve looked up legislation, read through accounts, studied minutes and seen how other councils do things, and the simple answer is, ‘no, it doesn’t’. Changes can, and should, be made to the way the Council works. Changes which require ambition, collaboration and bold thinking, but that would have the effect of opening up the Councils workings, making sure that the Council truly listens to the concerns of the community before finding and implementing the best solutions and opportunities.
As I have detailed elsewhere, the beginning of these changes come from amending the Councils ways of working from the ground up – its internal rules, what financial information is published, how and where documents are available, how meetings are run, where and how information surrounding issues is presented. A bold, clear and strategic change to the Council’s ways of working would open up the Council to the public, making it fully transparent and accountable, improve collaboration and make for a more positive, responsive and ambitious Council, with the entire community represented. Further changes to council documentation (alongside the ones that have to be published legally) would make the whole thing clearer. This applies not only to meetings, but to finances, committee decisions and future plans. If the information is clear and accessible, more people are empowered to be involved. With more empowerment comes better collaboration, and with better collaboration comes better outcomes. These changes would influence the whole culture of the council, and transform the relationship with the community. I honestly believe that once the town and the council can work together in a properly managed way, with strong leadership informed by a fully collaborative relationship with the community, truly great things can be achieved.
Personally, I would like to see the Arts and Culture scene in the town rejuvenated, with spaces opened up, events created and communities born. For an area our size, we are underserved in this area, and an ambitious Council can foster and nurture those communities, and benefit from some great things happening in the town – to say nothing of the economic benefits it can bring. I would like to see a wide-ranging consultation on the issue of local housing, and come up with some solutions which look to address the growing problem – from Community Land Trusts to restrictions in the neighbourhood plan, the Council has a duty to identify what can be done to tackle this key issue. I would also like to see greater collaboration between the Council and local community groups, and with Councils in surrounding areas who share many similar problems. A number of amazing groups have sprung up in recent years, with more coming to the fore during the pandemic. I believe this shows two things – first, the generosity of spirit and kindness in our community, but also that there are gaps in our local social support structure, which should be guided, nurtured and helped by the Town Council
Before a single vote has been cast, there has already been a big shift to local politics in Bude-Stratton. For the first time in many years, the next Council will be fully elected by us. There has been a massive increase in awareness and engagement with the Council on local issues, and a lot of discussion, both online and in the real world, about what the Council is, what it should do and how it could be improved. Whatever the results on Thursday, the changes we have already seen will mean more accountability, more debate and more engagement, and it is my sincere hope that the new council – whether or not I am a part of it – will see these changes, and recognise the positive impact this increased awareness has on local life. Scrutiny is not something to be scared of, accountability should be welcomed, and engagement should be seen as the huge positive that it is. Though I would love to be a part of the next council, making positive changes, seeking out opportunities and improving our local area, my greatest wish for this election is that it marks a sea change in the way local politics is done, and that the council is no longer a closed shop, making decisions in a bubble and marking its own homework. That the Council becomes an open, welcoming and nurturing environment for fresh ideas, with all voices being heard and the town – led by its ambitious council in collaboration with all its residents – is taken in a direction that allows it to unlock its potential.