I recommend every person, at least once in their life, attends a Parish Council meeting. There is a standing agenda item reserved for you: “matters arising from the floor”. So why not make the most of it? Like a piece of fine art, the more you observe and experience the piece, the more you will see and the more you will gain from the experience.
I attended my first meeting as the only member of the public, and so it was that I squeezed myself in around the folding table on a stackable plastic chair. Shoulder to shoulder with five of the seven Councillors (there were a couple of no-shows), it was much like the pre-Christmas event only without the Prosecco, and hosted in the far less comfortable surroundings of the village hall. For the first time I also met the Parish Secretary; the only paid member of the gathering, and extremely adept at bringing a certain level of formality to proceedings.
I had little to offer, and did not make the most of the agenda item exclusively available to me. I was happy to declare, “I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. I’m just here to see how it all works”. That seemed to be well received, and a knowing nod from the Chairman seemed to confirm (in his eyes at least) that this was the beginning of something significant.
The remainder of the first meeting was a bit of a blur. I kept pace with the various discussion points, ranging from recent planning applications to agreements on how the remainder of the annual budget was to be allocated. The length of discussion was varied and disproportionate to the severity of the subject at hand. All agenda items concluded with the well rehearsed, almost ceremonial chant of the Chairman: “proposed….seconded….passed unanimous”, with the most subtle of hand gestures or motions of the head confirming the agreement of Councillors. The scope and level of authority of the forum seemed transient to my untrained eye, but the team seemed focussed on getting through the agenda as efficiently as possible. I left with as many questions as answers, but two clear takeaways for me:
- A clear tension with the District Council; a faceless, all powerful body from which this group was destined to protect the Parish and its residents;
- Some long-standing resentments (apparently decades in some instances) pertaining to specific local business and residents. Details were scant, but the intrigue was immense and extremely entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
It was clear that the post-meeting momentum would be taking the bulk of the Councillors in the direction of the local, and I was invited to join them. I was feeling drawn in, and as we worked our way diligently through the 4-headed round, conversation moved on to the upcoming elections.