PROTESTERS gathered on the steps of the Civic Offices ahead of a cabinet meeting last night.

They came to voice their opposition to plans to introduce an additional layer of local government across Swindon.

Proposals to create four new parish councils in the half of the borough that is not currently parished have attracted widespread criticism from those who say the move is undemocratic and nothing more than a stealth tax.

The need for parishes stems from an urgent requirement to reduce council spending on the delivery of services that they are not required to provide by law.

Central Government is to reduce the funding provided to councils in the coming years and by 2020 all local authorities will be expected to be self-sufficient – paying for the provision of services through council tax and a share of local business rates.

In order to achieve this, cabinet members voted earlier this year to approve the withdrawal of funding from next year for some local services.

These include grounds maintenance, litter collection, street cleaning, low level graffiti removal, maintenance and, crucially, any other services that the borough council decides it can no longer fund.

Given the expectation from residents that such services will be provided, the council launched a community governance review to look at introducing parish councils where there are currently none and passing the responsibility for those services down to a more local level.

The advantage with that move is that the parishes can set whatever precept they feel is necessary – a power that is not limited in the way that the setting of borough council tax is.

Former independent council candidate Tony Hillier said: “It seems like it’s an attack on democracy to impose parishes where it seems like they’re not wanted or needed.”

Anti-parishing protestors were joined at the civic offices by users of the Dial-A-Ride disability bus service.

Subsidised transport is another area that will see a partial reduction in the coming years with no council funding at all expected by 2020.

There are fears that Dial-A-Ride may not be able to continue in its current form when the contract with the council is renewed at the end of the month.

Helen Jackson, 61, of Moredon, said: “It’s our first opportunity to speak to Conservative councillors directly.

“We’re here to show our support for Dial-A-Ride.

“I would like some clarification, it’s all been very muddy so far.

“Even if they want the service to go, at least we’ll know what we’re fighting for.”