IN RECENT weeks more than one person has approached me in the pub and asked: “What’s all this I keep reading in the Advertiser about the ‘parishing of Swindon’ then?” As I have mentioned before, people often approach me in the pub and ask my thoughts about knotty local questions of the moment.
As I have also mentioned before, my reply tends to depend on how long I’ve been there.
Catch me fairly early, and I like to think I’ll respond with a reasonably coherent answer based on the available data.
Catch me later on and there’s a risk I’ll be too busy muttering about wildebeest and brushing invisible spiders from my clothes, all while having one eye looking at you and the other looking for you, to be of much help.
It’s sometimes better just to set my thoughts down here.
The dividing of the borough into small and medium-sized parcels, with parish councils instead of the borough running lots of local services such as street cleaning, is likely going to be the subject of a referendum fairly soon.
But what does it all mean?
Well, let’s use street cleaning as an example.
Street cleaning is currently run by the borough council and paid for using some of our council tax. When streets go uncleaned, what with the borough’s budget being slashed, a great deal of public anger and blame is directed at the borough council.
Under a parish system, this anger and blame would be directed away from the borough and on to parish councils consisting of local people – assuming enough local people could be found with the time and the inclination to do the job.
The borough council would give the parish councils some money from the council tax to pay for the street cleaning.
Naturally, the sum given would be nowhere near large enough as the borough itself doesn’t have enough cash. That’s why this whole parishing idea came about in the first place.
The parish councils would therefore be obliged to raise some extra money by adding a bit to our council tax bills.
Mind you, the amount of extra money they’d be able to raise would probably be limited by law, even if that meant they’d only be able to provide substandard services.
And of course, we’d still be handing over a sizeable chunk of cash to the borough.
If all that seems a bit confusing, here are some examples of situations and what might be said before and after parishing.
Imagine, say, that there’s a drift of litter the size of a New England snow bank at the end of your street.
Or flytippers have become so brazen that they turn up in trucks and have to draw up a rota between themselves to prevent traffic jams.
Or you’re scared to let your kids play anywhere out of your sight because you fear they're being carried off by rats the size of greyhounds.
Or the grass down your way hasn’t been cut for so long that the MoD has requisitioned the verges for Special Forces jungle warfare training.
Or the areas around communal bins haven’t been cleared for so long that some of the abandoned bikes are penny-farthings.
Under the current system, the borough council might respond to complaints by saying: “We are sorry about this issue, but we’re working with limited resources.”
Under a parish system, the borough might say: “Not our problem anymore, matey. That’s a relief!”