Seahouses Probus Club

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Chairman Roger Howell opened the meeting of Seahouses Probus Club with a rather tongue-in-cheek reminder about tax returns.

He continued with a short On This Day, the most notable perhaps was the birth of football wizard Sir Stanley Matthews on February 1, 1915. He welcomed Ian Wilkinson as a full member.

The meeting this month was rather depleted with five members sending apologies and three members missing because of long-term illness.

Forbes Grant informed us that our funds are healthy and Bill Godfrey gave details of two possible trips – a visit to Coastal Grains at Belford in March and a trip to Trinity House, Newcastle, in April.

Roger then introduced our guest, Isabel Hunter, who gave us her experiences to date of the new set-up for parish councils, made up of people who volunteer their services without pay.

As they are local people they can understand the problems brought to their attention by the residents and where necessary pass the concerns to the next layer of local government.

The new responsibilities of parish councils have resulted in a work overload and ventures into areas where their expertise is limited. Training is provided.

Older members, usually retired, are giving up because of the workload and feeling uncomfortable with the new spread of responsibilities, while younger members cannot afford the time.

The clerk to the parish council receives a small stipend but here again the workload has increased to the extent that it is becoming a full-time job. Documents may be sent from County Hall on CD and may contain 70 or 80 pages to download and copy to members.

Not all parish councillors have computers or want to read large quantities of material from the screen and paper copy may be needed to take to meetings. All of this cost has to come from the precept.

Although housing, transport and schooling are the most often raised problems, planning applications can be the most difficult to deal with. The county council may approve an application purely on planning grounds but the local community often raise concerns which are outside this technical remit. This can cause rifts within the parish.

The conclusion drawn is that we may have to go back to rural and urban district councils as parish councils struggle or even disappear within other nearby parish councils.

Questions were invited and lively discussion followed. Brian Brand, in proposing a vote of thanks, said it had been an excellent and absorbing talk.