Council admits they’ve no evidence of public support for new parishes

map showing new parishes in Swindon
New parishes are being imposed on West Swindon, and Central Swindon.
Swindon Borough Council has admitted, in response to a freedom of information request, that they’ve no evidence of public support for the creation of new parishes in Swindon — it’s just the councillors’ opinion.

At the November full council meeting, a member of the public pointed out to Ms Martin, the cabinet member for communities, that the overwhelming view in the written responses to the council’s community governance review was that those in unparished areas did not want them to be parished. In response to that Ms Martin said,

“Of those relatively few who replied and expressed a view you are right and the Council has acknowledged that. Indeed, that is why the Council held the engagement sessions and public meetings to understand why some people responded as they did, which is why the Council believes that most residents accept that the unparished areas should be parished if communities are to be empowered in relation to the provision of services and be able to be efficient and effective.”

The freedom of information request asked the Swindon Borough council to published the “data and analysis” that they have in support of this assertion. This was the council’s reply.

“The Council held a number of engagement sessions and public meetings. Verbatim notes were not taken as to what each person said but the sense of each meeting and engagement session was fed into the Community Governance Review process…. [T]he Council has not made any detailed record of the engagement sessions such as you appear to have asked for. The Cabinet Member attended the majority of engagement activities and on that basis heard in person the views of residents attending.”

We are, apparently, asked to believe that no substantive records were kept of these meetings by council officers, and that the decision to impose new parishes on the inhabitants of central and west Swindon is entirely the result of one politician’s view of the meetings, a view that contradicts press reports of those meetings.

Perhaps Ms Martin should consider asking the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to change the statutory guidance for community governance from saying “The views of local communities and inhabitants are of central importance” to “The only views that matter are those of ruling-party politicians and local communities and inhabitants can be ignored”.