Present: Councillors Shelim (Chairman), Cannon (Vice Chairman), Davies, Knowles and Story
Officers: Karen Shepherd (Head of Governance) and Suzanne Martin (Electoral & Information Governance Services Manager)
Also Present: Richard Endacott and Andre Walker (Windsor Town Council Steering Group)
Councillor Shelim welcomed all to the meeting.
Apologies for Absence
Presentation from Windsor Town Council Steering Group
Richard Endacott explained that the seed of the idea started from discussions on the Borough Local Plan in 2016. A group of community organisations raising objections to the plan came together to coordinate a response. It was evident that these disparate groups were not used to ‘being in the same room’ and sharing ideas to reach a common purpose. The May 2019 elections in Windsor had changed the political conversation in the town. It was seen as a positive move that there were lots of different views in the town.
Richard explained that he and Andre Walker looked at various different ways to improve representation for the people of Windsor at the grass roots. It was felt that there was a democratic deficit between the role of the borough councillor and the area beneath it. There were 15 parish councils across the borough who did a good job. He and Andre had attended a number of parish council meetings and had identified strengths, weaknesses and challenges. The Steering Group was therefore approaching the Working Group with a proposal to produce a robust plan over the next few weeks and months to close the democratic deficit and encourage local participation.
Andre Walker commented that he had worked in the Leader’s Office at the borough for 3 years and could have moved the issue on but did not. This was because there had been a principle not to object to a town council for Windsor, but also not to actively progress the idea. There had been a concern that without proper proposals, it could derail good governance.
The functions of a town council would need to be additional to what the borough could already do. The Steering Group were keen to get rid of the idea that there was a risk of it being a rival in some way. It was understood that the borough was the tier 1 authority and everything a town council could do would be additional. A number of areas had been identified following a significant amount of research by a number of working groups:
- Local civic pride.
- Business development.
- Statutory powers.
Andre Walker explained that there were a number of options in terms of representation:
- do nothing,
- one town council for the whole of the parished area,
- create a West Windsor parish council and do nothing for the town centre.
The Steering Group were advocating for one town council for the whole area, but recognised that there were a number of different communities. The Steering Group was therefore keen to look at possibility of using the historic wards prior to the 1972 Act that led to the creation of RBWM in 1974 e.g. Trinity, the Boltons.
The Steering Group had said from the outset, that it would put together a petition but did not want to have to submit it to avoid it becoming a ‘political’ issue. The Steering Group was keen would that elections to any new town council would be non-partisan.
The Steering Group was happy to share its proposals and research with the Working Group and would like to establish an ongoing relationship. The Steering Group saw itself as more than the average stakeholder group.
Richard Endacott commented that the Steering Group was not just politically representative but also geographically. It was a grassroots organisation that supplemented the borough. A town council could plug the gaps that the borough could not reach.
The Steering Group had passed a resolution to request minimum statutory powers only. It would not be interested in taking on more functions than the statutory minimum; it did not want to ‘bite off more than it could chew.’
Councillor Knowles commented that the first part of the consultation was to assess the need/desire for a town council. He could see that the petition was a very useful tool as a barometer of the desire.
Andre Walker commented that it had been important for the Steering Group to talk to a lot of people and explain the process. In every meaningful way there was a town council for Windsor – it was RBWM, which levied a precept and ran the services. The Steering Group’s questions was why were the arrangements in Datchet, Old Windsor and Sunningdale different to that in Windsor and West Windsor?
Richard Endacott explained that the online petition had been ready alongside a number of written signatories that required cross referencing before submission. COVID happened and it had then been difficult to collect more signatures. However, following conversations with the Leader it was clear that the council was aware of the petition.
He understood that ward councillors had been asked to recommend organisations to be involved in the consultation. This was a very important part of the process. The Steering Group had contacted many of the groups to make itself available for discussions.
Andre Walker commented that representation was key; it was vital that every community within the area elected its own councillors. The Boltons had been upset that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England had put them into the Old Windsor ward. This was because of mathematical constraints and balancing the number of electors per ward but parishes were not limited by the same constraints.
Richard Endacott suggested that the area west of Ruddlesway that sat in Bray parish that would under normal circumstances be part of a Windsor town council. It was this sort of anomaly that needed to be addressed. The Steering Group had identified potential ward boundaries and would be happy to supply that to the Working Group.
Suzanne Martin advised that all information should be submitted as part of the Steering Group’s formal response to the first consultation. The Working Group would then draft its recommendations to show how it envisaged a town council taking place including areas and warding. Further queries representations could then be put forward by the Steering Group.
Karen Shepherd commented on the need to ensure that all stakeholder groups were treated equally by the Working Group.
Councillor Story highlighted that it would be very important for the Steering Group to submit a formal response to set out how the Steering Group had been formed and to address two key questions:
- how would residents benefit from having a town council,
- how a town council could work including the costs, which would be one of the key questions for residents.
Andre Walker responded that the Steering Group took the process seriously and would have the report ready for submission within a week.
Richard Endacott commented that a public meeting had been held at which the Steering Group had been mandated to keep the precept equal to the current level. Therefore the parameters of services transferred to a town council would need to be kept in mind. The Steering Group did not have details of the costs for such things as upkeep of parks, allotments, war memorials etc. Four areas had been identified: Clewer, Dedworth, Spital and the town centre. How to delineate within those four would be detailed in the Steering Group’s report. Andre Walker commented that he disliked the inclusion of ‘&’ or ‘North/South/East/West’ in ward names.
Councillor Cannon commented that he was impressed with the enthusiasm and work done to get to this point. The Working Group would need to bear in mind that as a consultee, the Steering Group was from a stated point of view. There may be other groups of the opposite point of view. If a list of further potential consultees was provided, the Working Group could contact them directly to ensure a balanced consultation.
Suzanne Martin confirmed that currently seven of the parish councils in the borough were warded. In terms of historical wards, the borough held details from the 2001 boundary review and could check if Berkshire Records could assist with earlier records.
The Chairman thanked Andre Walker and Richard Endacott for their presentation and requested the Steering Group submit a stakeholder group list as soon as possible and full response by 28 October 2020.
Andre Walker and Richard Endacott left the meeting.
Councillor Story highlighted the importance of maintaining an open mind to the outcome of the review. It was important to ensure a robust process that could not be challenged.
All Members agreed to the statement that the recommendations must be based on evidence from the consultation and would not be influenced by any personal views that may have been expressed in the past.
Members noted an update on the progress of the consultation:
Residents – the consultation was underway in the form of the website, social media, newsletters; there would be no personal communication with residents for the first round of consultation. During the second round, there was the potential to produce a leaflet to send to every property in the review area. Suzanne Martin would speak to the Communications team to determine if the timing of the next edition of Around the Royal Borough would fit with the consultation. The view of Elaine Browne, Head of Law, would be sought on the robustness of the consultation and communications strategy.
Businesses – Suzanne Martin would speak to the Revenues and Benefits team to seek a list of businesses that operated in the review area. As individuals could qualify to stand as a parish councillor if they worked within three miles of the area, the list should be widened. Paul Roach, Windsor Town Manager, had been asked to provide contact details. Julia White would be approached for tourism business contacts.
Schools – All headteachers would receive an email from the elections team, inviting them to comment if wish.
Health bodies – hospital and CCGs would be contacted.
Faith groups – WAMCF was suggested as a key contact.
Community groups/voluntary organisations/residents association – it was noted that it was essential all ward councillors provided names and contact details by the deadline of Friday 28 August 2020.
Suzanne Martin confirmed all emails would be sent from electoral services from the week commencing Tuesday 1 September 2020. In advance, the website would be updated to include basic information on the role of a parish council in the form of a neutral House of Commons briefing paper outlining basic functions.
Medway Community Governance Review – details would be provided at the next meeting.
Wokingham Town Council – Members felt it would be helpful to have a summary of what functions it ran and associated costs.
Councillor Knowles commented that he would be observing the next Eton town council meeting. Councillor Davies commented that she would welcome dates of Old Windsor, Eton and Datchet parish council meetings.
Members noted the following upcoming dates:
- Friday 28 August 2020 – deadline for stakeholder details to electoral services.
- Week commencing Tuesday 1 September 2020 - electoral services to start engaging with known consultees directly, and direct them to the webpage with additional information on parish councils.
- Week commencing Monday 7 September 2020 – meeting of the Working Group to include feedback on the consultation including the communications strategy.
- Mid-September - A potential meeting of the Working Group if significant responses had been received.
- Monday 28 October 2020 – end of first round of the consultation.
- Week commencing Monday 2 November 2020 – Working Group meeting.
It was noted that relevant officers (e.g. Finance) would attend future meetings of the Working Group as appropriate.
The meeting, which began at 1.33pm, ended at 3.13pm.