FOR generations, town and parish councils have played a vital role in community life. It would even be fair to say that they are the bedrock of democracy in this country.
But since local government reorganisation took place in Northumberland, replacing the district and borough councils with a single unitary authority, the pressure on these little bodies of well-meaning volunteers has become enormous – and for some, unbearable.
Almost in the blink of an eye, in April 2009, they unwittingly and unwillingly became the new second tier of power, but the role they would play was unclear.
The first suggestion was to create ‘Belonging Communities’, an amalgam of elected members and private interests which would somehow sort out local affairs and filter decisions back up to the supercouncil. It failed miserably, generating talking shops which have gradually fizzled out of existence.
The budget crunch has called for more drastic measures, however, and now we have towns and parishes being asked to take over the running of key services by the county council.
In effect, they are being asked to adopt the roles of paid professionals – for free. Unlike county councillors, they cannot claim expenses, so it’s little surprise, then, to hear of resignations and retirements at town and parish level because of this pressure. What remains to be seen is whether this will become a mass-exodus.
You can only expect people to do so much, before they finally have enough.
Relying on goodwill to bail the county out of this mess is a sad indictment of a woefully thought-out system.