My week in Sturminster  – The life of councillor Pauline Batstone

Sturminster Newton-Home

Pauline muses on the complexity of her life as a councillor in the Town.

I wrote this half way through a fortnight of having a young person “shadowing” me – Laurence Hayward is one of our two UK Youth Parliament Members for Dorset and has been with me on his work experience. Laurence is aged 15 and attends Sturminster High School. We have two UK Youth Parliament Members for Dorset and the other one for this year is Rory Baird who attends Gryphon School.

Having to show another person what I do and how I do it makes me much more aware of what a varied job being a councillor is and what a privilege it is. Poor Laurence has had a week of early starts and generally late finishes. We started the week at 9.30 a.m. on the Monday by going to take photos of an overgrown field which it is hoped can be bought to be a nature reserve and allow the Trailway to be extended beyond Stur.

After a quick introduction to the Sturminster Newton Town Clerk, he learnt about the Wyvern Credit Union and also Wheels to Work, both of which may be of value to young people going into work. Along the way he also met our Grounds Team Manager. He then found himself discussing a million pound project, the hope of developing a business hub in Stur., which could provide more and better paid work for our young people if it comes into being.

The following morning he was back in the field again with me at 8.00 a.m. meeting the County Rangers whose responsibility this will be. After a full day of training he was with me at Hazelbury Bryan Parish Council at 8.00 p.m. for two hours where a lively meeting took place with residents and councillors engaging in heated discussions about the Neighbourhood Plan, speeding issues and pig grazing. He has participated in the Corporate Parenting Board which is concerned with the well-being of children in care and a review of the Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service. He was bemused by the County Farms Liaison Committee, not being a farming lad. He has attended training sessions on how we attempt to combat anti-social behaviour, followed by training on Corporate Development. He spent a day at the Verwood District Council By-election including attending the Count and was surprised by how well we get on across the Parties and how friendly everyone was. In the coming week he will be spending two days in London with our MP Simon Hoare and three more with me. Before that we will be at the Special Educational Needs Development Group followed by a briefing on Treasury Management and then a Conservative Group Meeting on the Monday. He will be addressing the full County Council on the Thursday and following that with an information session on Diversity in the County and the Town Council’s Planning and Environment Committee that evening.. The final delights on the Friday will be a meeting of the Shadow Executive Committee which is the main decision making body for the Shadow Authority and an afternoon trip with me to Boscombe in my role as Chairman of the Dorset Race Equality Council. He did decline to come with me on my weekend work but I can forgive him that. We still have some things to do we could not fit in, notably going for a trip round my Division with the Community Highways Officer to look at potholes, a visit to the Highways control room, a meeting with the Gypsy and Traveller Chaplain at Hilfield Friary, and a meeting at Stur. High School in the autumn about their desire to get an astroturf pitch. Its all in a fortnight’s work for a Councillor.

And now for something completely different that concerns all of us

As we move towards the new Dorset Council there is concern being expressed by the public about how it may save money, about the harmonisation of council tax and whether the Council and Councillors will be more distant from the residents, as Dorchester will be the headquarters.

Dorset has been a poor relation as far as Revenue Support Grant from Central Government is concerned and is about to cease to get any, indeed in 2020 it is expected to pay money from our Council Tax to central government. So any savings from the unification will not mean a reduction in Council Tax, they are to fill the hole left by the loss of grant, whilst endeavouring to avoid cuts in front line services. Support services, including the most expensive staff, will be centralised to avoid duplication and make savings. Currently there are 174 County and District Councillors across rural Dorset and this will be reduced to 82 Dorset Councillors. The head office of North Dorset District Council has already gone and Councillors rent a village hall or rooms at West Dorset’s headquarters for meetings. Similarly East Dorset’s head office has gone. Some office space will remain by way of “hubs” in the rural area for the public to meet officers or bases for staff to go out from within their areas. All councils have been reviewing their assets, selling what they can, and trying to make best use of modern means of communicating. The numbers of staff allegedly earning high salaries is quoted by critics but numbers quoted include school staff employed by the County Council, not just people at County Hall. Salary levels are set in line with national measures and Dorset’s have traditionally been comparatively low.

“Harmonisation” means that residents across rural Dorset will pay the same Dorset Council Tax at each band level, because the former Districts will have gone and we will have one, rural Dorset wide Council delivering the same services across the county. There will still be local variations in the amounts precepted by individual town and parish councils.

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