Volunteers lacking on majority of councils

The toilets on the Riverside at Rothbury.

The toilets on the Riverside at Rothbury.

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The large majority of town and parish councils across north Northumberland have spare seats that weren’t filled at last week’s elections.

Based on county council figures for the number of seats on each council and the candidate lists for last Thursday’s vote, less than three-quarters of the town and parish seats in the area are now occupied.

Taking into account all of the town and parish councils with six or more seats from Longhorsley in the south to Rothbury and Ingram in the west and up to Wooler, Lowick and Belford in the north, there should be 311 members across the 30 different councils.

But ahead of the vote, there were only 232 candidates, representing just less than 75 per cent of the seats.

And this figure drops further for serving councillors as some councils have a surplus of candidates, meaning a vote and some candidates missing out.

The councils that had more candidates than seats were Embleton (11 candidates for 10 seats), Longframlington (eight for seven seats), Rothbury (10 for nine seats) and Warkworth (14 for ten seats).

Holy Island also had to hold an election, althought wasn’t included in our figures as it only has five members. There were seven candidates.

There was also a vote for the Amble Central ward as this particular ward was oversubscribed, although there were nine candidates for nine overall seats, so the town council will fall short of its full complement.

Beyond the four councils with a surplus and Amble, a further four councils of the 30 are now full – Acklington, Glanton, Longhorsley and Thirston.

The remaining 21 councils have a shortage of members and it is not just smaller rural parishes that are affected; Alnwick Town Council has seven vacancies while East Chevington Parish Council, which covers Hadston and Broomhill, has three.

Others with more than one or two empty seats include Belford, Edlingham, Eglingham, Hedgeley, Ingram, Longhoughton, Lowick, and Newton on the Moor and Swarland.

Being a parish or town councillor is a volunteer role while county councillors are paid allowances – none of the 67 county council wards had anything less than three candidates going for one seat.

This comes at a time when more and more responsibility is being passed on to town and parish councils as the county council struggles to make massive cuts to its budget.

Services being transferred include public toilets, bus shelters, parks, cemeteries, churchyards and bins, although in some cases parishes and towns have refused to accept responsibility.

Certain of these services bring with them further complications such as insurance and administration, which critics argue shouldn’t be dealt with by volunteers.

Concerns have also been raised that residents will essentially pay twice for services as parishes raise precept charges.