When you think of a parish council you may summon up memories of the Vicar of Dibley, with characters such as Major Horton, Owen Newitt and Frank Pickle sat around a drafty village hall discussing, well , not very much. Of course, in real life, it’s not like that. A parish council is an important first tier of local democracy and local government and as such, provides the community voice for many local issues that effect the village and its residents.
Following the recent local government elections on 2nd May 2019, our Parish Council is seriously understrength and may experience difficulties in performing their duties in an efficient manner. That community voice may, at times, be reduced to a whisper, or even worse, not heard at all.
This situation has arisen because many of the existing councillors, who have provided long and valuable service over the years, have chosen not to stand for re-election this time. Walkington Parish Council has an allocation of 11 council members, but only 5 put themselves forward as candidates; and, as no other village residents chose to stand, those 5 are elected unopposed. In election terms the vote was ‘uncontested’. This means that where the number of candidates standing is less than the seats available, the vote is uncontested and those who are nominated are ‘duly elected’.
Why does this matter you may ask? Simply because for the parish council to perform its duties it needs a quorum consisting of a third of the allocated seats. With only 5 councillors this may prove extremely challenging over the coming months and may impact on their ability to make legal decisions. Furthermore, is 5 a sufficient number of villagers to adequately reflect the varying and sometimes opposing views of residents ?
What can be done? The Parish Council has the legal power to coopt any person or persons to fill the vacancies. However, this power can only be exercised if there is a quorum of councillors present and within 35 days of the election. The Parish Council has decided to follow this action and has issued a poster asking for volunteers.