Here are some points for you to ponder if you are considering becoming a Co-opted Parish Councillor.

Introduction and context

What an amazing place and community Combe Martin is; just look at the content of the July edition of the Shammickite. So much activity, so much goodwill, so much more that needs to be done! Read the inspiring and positive Free Help Combe Martin (FHCM) article by Clair Rice and see the possibilities.

Combe Martin Parish Council (CMPC) has a crucial role to play in supporting the community and co-operating with FHCM activities, but first we have to recognise some Council issues:

12 Councillors elected May 2019

What a tremendous result, a good degree of representation, it is unfortunate how short lived was the benefit and celebration. A sequence of events and personal circumstance reduced 12 Cllrs down to 7 Cllrs by February 2020. Today we have a residual ‘team’ of six (shortly to be 5) committed Cllrs, effective but too few for continuity:

  • Co-option of replacement Cllrs was (and is) a priority, but there was a recognition that potential Cllrs may underestimate the complexity of the Council business and the rules that have to be followed.
  • Whilst some of the business of the Council is complex and rule driven, the role of a Cllr is not, particularly if time is taken to understand the whole picture and what can and what cannot be done in the best interests of the community.
  • CMPC was ready to roll out Cllr induction information, when COVID-19 hit and then it was all hands to the pumps, just to keep CMPC afloat.

Establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with the community

CMPC has to operate within its powers, provide some services, respond to local issues but also promote the needs and aspirations of our community.

All parishioners have the right to hold CMPC accountable for its actions and check that the decisions made are in the best interests of our community.

 CMPC faces difficult challenges, constant change, and bureaucracy. In a worst case scenario it can also suffer from a lack of leadership, combined with the selection of ineffective, self-interested Cllrs. Parishioners have to keep a grip and participate!  In all cases, CMPC:

  • Makes difficult choices between competing issues and conflicting desires.
  • Sometimes has to make unpopular decisions.
  • May appear slow and unresponsive, (due to the rules).
  • Will never be perfect and always easy to blame.
  • Is what you make it!

CMPC is transparent and accountable

In August 2017, CMPC published a Summary Report on the ‘Internal Operational Audit/Review of the Council’ and agreed to reset and rebuild its operational and management systems:

  • Significant improvements have been made and more needs to be done.
  • A new part-time Clerk was appointed and the accountancy systems modernised.
  • CMPC ambition of being recognised as a good employer, with employee development.
  • A comprehensive sub-committee structure was put in place to action the many areas of interest and deal with the outstanding workload.
  • CMPC has reduced the amount of confidential business which excludes the public to the minimum.

CMPC Limp Mode – safe but reduced performance

Despite the good work being done by the Clerk and employees, CMPC delivery is in ‘Limp Mode’. Nothing to do with COVID-19 but all to do with lack of resources and limited capacity. Despite a successful 2020 Internal Audit and Annual Governance and Accountability Report, the CMPC office cannot deliver beyond the current level of service we have now and satisfy the basic legal requirements. Does this matter?

  • A serious number of unresolved legacy issues remain and present a potential future cost and risk to the community.
  • CMPC may fail to properly deal with existing major issues and ignore future opportunities.
  • CMPC may raise the precept to fund more resources and reduce the risk.

Future challenges and predictable pressure on the community

Like many coastal and rural communities, families and individuals who have a long association with the village and its organisations have experienced considerable change with the influx of new people. Combe Martin has experienced a lot of national media coverage, promoting the beautiful area, life style and its relative low property value. There is a tipping point when communities become unviable for the locals:

  • The physical shape of the valley causes significant difficulties with regard to provision of affordable homes and/or additional car parking.
  • This impacts on availability of workshops and small scale sustainable industry.
  • The continuing influx of people buying into the lifestyle or running holiday homes places further inflationary pressure on existing property prices and the sustainability of parts of the infrastructure.

The old solutions will not fix tomorrows problems

In 2013/14 Free Help Combe Martin came into being “out of a desire to change the world” and stay relevant to the Community. CMPC is now at that same crossroads, and there are a number of things which would start to make a difference.

  • Co-option of forward looking and engaged Cllrs who understand the complexity and leadership role of the Council.
  • The involvement of a younger generation of Cllrs, providing continuity and relevance to new challenges.
  • A restructured CMPC Office and workforce delivering a quality service.
  • CMPC using local individuals and traders to complete Council work.
  • A more active and positive engagement with the Business Association and the wide variety of village organisations and volunteer groups.
  • A framework where individuals can support CMPC with their expert knowledge and time to help deliver community projects.

Vision, delivery, and future proofing

Many of you reading this will already be helping and doing things for the village, thank you for that. Out of all of the successful and thriving organisations in the village, the Parish Council is the one that can tie this all together, invest, transform and deliver a sustainable framework for the wellbeing of the community:

  • The Vision must be relevant and deliverable, is pointless without resources, and commitment.
  • Delivery cannot happen without determination, organisation and resources.
  • Future Proofing is sustaining and protecting the investment for future generations.

CMPC needs more capacity to support existing village organisations

There are several opportunities to strengthen the support and infrastructure of our community that are either not recognised, missed or not possible due to lack of communication or resource, CMPC want to:

  • Employ local people/tradespersons, offer work experience and seasonal work.
  • Promote and facilitate improvements to community assets.
  • Consider a ‘framework arrangement’ that encourages volunteer involvement and partnership working.
  • Establish sustainable, environmentally friendly ways of working.
  • Make Combe Martin a better place.

CMPC has to work ‘smarter’ and if you want to do something interesting and worthwhile, are motivated, care for this community, and want to learn new skills, consider becoming a Councillor, or alternatively offer some skill and time.

Want to know more? Please contact the Clerk, Tel: 01271 883403 or email:  info@combemartin-pc.gov.uk