By Steve (Starlord) Fisher
IT isn't absolutely clear to me why Tameside Council decommissioned all 8 District Assemblies on 24th May 2016, but I can guess that it's got something to do with a lack of money, rather than the official line that they've had their day. They've now come up with the idea of nine new 'Town Councils' which started last month when Stalybridge Town Council held its first meeting on Wednesday 15th February at Stalybridge Civic Hall.
The meeting that I attended was advertised in the Tameside Reporter about a week earlier and was well attended. Around 80 people turned up including ten councillors. The meeting commenced at 6.30 pm and went on for over two hours. A lot of people questioned the validity of Town Councils as the councillors tried to sell the idea to a sceptical public who wanted to know - 'What can it do, what is it for and basically, what is the point?'
One person asked about the sale of the Aldi car park and why councillor Dave Sweeton had voted for it, even though it wasn't clear, who it had been sold to. A number of people were angry about what they perceived as the neglect of Stalybridge, by an Ashton-centric Labour controlled council and some wanted to know, what the council was going to do for small businesses in the town. An elderly lady expressed her concern about the proposals to introduce do-it-yourself self-service libraries (Open+) which constitutes part of the 'Tameside Vision'. Other people asked about the legitimacy of the meetings - it seems that some Stalybridge residents had been petitioning to set up an independent Town Council for Stalybridge - while others were angry that the Mayor, rarely ever came to Stalybridge.
Someone else asked if minutes were being taken of the meeting. I asked if there would be any powers devolved to the Town Councils and do these bodies have the full support of the Executive Cabinet of Tameside Council. Councillor Jim Fitzpatrick said there would be no devolved powers and that a majority of councillors had voted to support Town Councils.
While the Stalybridge meeting was well attended the same cannot be said of other Town Councils. Only two members of the public attended the Dukinfield Town Council meeting and just seven members of the public at Droylsden. Councillor Brian Wild - a local property speculator and labour councillor from Dukinfield - told the local press that Dukinfield Town Council, couldn't afford to hire the town hall for an evening meeting and therefore, had to meet in the afternoon. We understand that Cllr. Wild, a retired window cleaner, is reluctant to drink in Dukinfield, because people ask him questions about his extensive property portfolio.
Dukinfield Property Speculator - Cllr. Brian Wild
Although the official mantra of Tameside Council is that they are bringing democracy closer to the people with their Town Councils, that would help to create a bottom up form of government, instead of a top down one, where the public could influence decisions, my overall abiding impression of this meeting -if you cut out the official bull-shit - is that the council are seeking to co-opt members of the public as volunteers to do many of the jobs that were previously done by paid council workers, under the pretext of civic obligation, known euphemistically as 'ACTION TOGETHER!'
Last November, Sir Richard Leese, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council told a meeting of the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations (G.M.C.V.O.) that it was the role of voluntary organisations, to 'fill in the holes' left by public service cuts. Personally, I cared very little for District Assemblies and was unperturbed by their demise. However, they did have financial resources to fund community groups and to pay for such things, as street cleaning. With no real powers, the Town Councils, have been allocated budgets of around £2,000 per annum. If the future is one of volunteers, cutting grass and picking litter, why don't we go back to the era, of volunteer unpaid councillors who did an excellent unpaid job in their Urban District Councils?