Lydford Sunset

Lydford Parish Council

On May 7th 2015 the parlimentary elections were held. The turnout in Torridge and West Devon was 72.23% On the same date the turnout for the Bridestowe ward (which now includes Lydford) of West Devon Borough Council was 72.26% Both these are healthy turnouts and show a good deal of interest in politics at national and local level.

By comparison not one single vote was cast for Lydford parish councillors. It was the same in 2011 and 2007. For this parish one has to go back to May 2003 to find a contested election. Then nine candidates stood for the seven seats.

Why the difference? One can hardly blame the voters if not enough people stand in order to trigger an election. The high turnout in the national and borough council elections show that public apathy towards politics is not the reason.

People have tried to take an interest. In April 2009 a parishioner attended a Parish Council meeting having previously raised an issue concerning breach of the Councillors' Code of Conduct. The member of the public was shouted at, aggressively cross-questioned and one councillor appeared to make a completely false and groundless accusation. The minutes of the meeting contained a false, but different, accusation against the parishioner. That accusation could not possibly be right but when this was pointed out to the Parish Council they raised the threat of legal action.

Also in 2009, in a completely separate matter, the Standards Committee of West Devon Borough Council found that one of the Lydford Parish councillors had breached the Code of Conduct. The behaviour was described as “...unacceptably rude and offensive behaviour that lowers the public’s expectations and confidence in its elected representatives.”   The reaction of the Parish Council was interesting. Instead of reflecting on what had happened and how to ensure it did not happen again they questioned the cost of the Standards Committee procedings.

Then there was the farce of the parish plan proposed by the Parish Council in July 2006 and finally abandoned in December 2009. The council blamed lack of interest from parishioners despite the fact that questionnaires from at least 85 housholds had been returned representing at least 175 parishioners. There was also the proposed new sewage treatment works, supported by the parish council but apparently not needed after all.

The precept (the amount of money from Council Tax) for this parish is over £6,000 per annum but little of this goes to provide services to the community. There is a bit of grass cuttng done in the parish but very little else of tangible benefit comes from the parish council. A significant amount of the precept goes to support local charities such as the Sports Field Committee. Whilst the Sports Field is a great asset for the community one might think that parishioners could make up their own minds to support this or not. Giving to charity should be optional. Paying Council Tax is not. One pays or risks imprisonment. There should be no need for money to be extracted in the form of Council Tax just so the Parish Council can give generous grants to their favoured charities.

Given the attitude shown by the Parish Council towards any criticism and the lack of tangible services they provide, it is hardly surprising that few want to stand for election. Things might yet change. After the May 2015 elections there were some hopeful signs but these soon faded. There needs to be a more tolerant attitude towards those who see things differently from the councillors. They need to encourage discussion rather than try to shut it down. They need to be aware of the seven principles of public life and the Councillors' Code of Conduct and act appropriately. It is easier to lose trust than to gain it back