The nation has been captivated and fascinated by a video of Hanforth Parish Council trying and failing to hold a meeting. Whilst I join the general mirth and merriment at watching this farce it sadly rings a bell with me after several years’ experience as a local councillor.
For those of us who haven’t watched the viral video sensation it shows a parish council desperately trying to start a meeting and descending into a delicious farce. A motley crew of local politicians displaying many of the comic traits that used to inspire Charles Dickens in his portrayals of petty small-time tyrants are shown having a spat with each other and the now infamous council official Jackie Weaver.
The first we hear from Ms Weaver is when she declares she was delayed because she was washing her hands.
She then engages in a huge row with members of the council about the correct way to hold the meeting during which the wonderful and now immortal lines “you have no authority Jackie Weaver!” and “Read the Standing order read them and understand them!” are screamed at her.
After more than 15 minutes of this hilarious nonsense they are still no closer to starting the meeting.
Whilst there is no denying that this is indeed comedy gold the sad truth is it is by no means an isolated or unusual example of how local Government works or more accurately doesn’t work in our country.
In 2014 I was elected as a local councillor and as a Member of the European Parliament. By the end of my term of office as an MEP I had been part of a movement that achieved the referendum and our eventual departure from the European Union but had failed to get Dudley Council to trim back trees that were overgrowing to the point of blocking out the sunlight in parts of the ward I represented!
Indeed, I was exceptionally frustrated after one council meeting where the other councillors had endlessly debated the wording of a letter. The letter they wanted to send was to the Prime minister bemoaning the lack of women in authority positions, the Prime minister at the time was Theresa May!
Our local councils are led and driven by the council officers who spend most of their time making the systems so complex that nobody can understand them and any attempt at innovation or new ideas is strangled in miles of red tape and endless committees full of wise old heads sagely agreeing that it can’t be done.
Unfortunately, the argument to change that is massively diminished by the calibre of elected representatives in our council chambers. On that depressing note let’s look on the bright side. We have had a truly miserable twelve months since Covid-19 arrived in the UK but at least we have something to look forward to now as Hanforth Parish Council must be due another meeting.
Bill Etheridge, Sedgley
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