It’s Your Charlton: Community Council campaign kicks off at Horn Fayre

It's Your Charlton website

A campaign for Charlton to get its own community council will launch at the Horn Fayre in Charlton Park on Sunday – and you’re very welcome to come along and find out what it’s all about. Other events are due to be held later in the year.

As reported here in January, the Charlton Society has been given some funding to explore the idea of a community council- the level of local government closest to residents. They’re common in the rest of England, and new laws mean they can now be introduced in London.

The first community council in London, in Queen’s Park, north-west London, was elected in May.

In Charlton, a community council could work with Greenwich Council and other bodies to attract funding and bring lasting improvements to the local area.

Councillors would be volunteers, and a council would be non-party political.

Campaigners need one in 10 SE7 residents to sign a petition to get the process of starting a community council under way.

Since January, the idea’s had some local press coverage, and some of the people who responded to that have been meeting in recent months to work out just what a council would be for, and what the next steps should be.

Now the It’s Your Charlton campaign has launched a website, and will have a stall on Sunday to explain what it’s all about.

The theory is that a community council would bring decision-making closer to you. There would be a cost – the Queen’s Park council is charging an extra £3.70 per month on Band D council tax bills – but a community council would be able to apply for grants and other funding, so that money could go much further.

All this would depend on who gets elected – would you consider standing? Or do you have skills you could lend the community council campaign?

It’s a big issue, and there’s a lot of work to be done yet – but you can be among the first to find out more at the Horn Fayre (that’s the Charlton Park one) from 11am to 4pm this Sunday.

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15 thoughts on “It’s Your Charlton: Community Council campaign kicks off at Horn Fayre

  1. Bob July 27, 2014 / 16:58

    Im so happy that you’ve posted this, as when talking to one of your representatives at the horn fair he was unable to explain a number of things and the leaflet seemed very vague. Could I ask:
    . whats the remit of this council
    . what will they be able to control
    . what revenue would they be able to charge us directly or via LBG
    . If you get 10% to call for this review does that mean it will just go ahead or does it have a
    consultation period / another vote (if so what % of se7 population do you need for a yes)
    . could this be damaging to local community associations

    Finally I presume that there is are a dedicated group behind this petition all with there own goals / projects, could I ask if you could give us an idea of these

    cheers B.

  2. Nikki July 28, 2014 / 10:34

    Hi Bob,

    I’m sorry you didn’t get the information you needed yesterday, I hope I can help. I’m Nikki Coates the acting chair of the campaign.

    The first thing I should say in case it isn’t clear is that we’re campaigning to set the community council up, not for us personally to form the council. If we get that far down the line, we’ll be encouraging as many residents of Charlton as we can to stand as councillors. Some of our current committee might wish to stand for election, others probably won’t.

    Remit and items under control of the community council: this will depend on negotiations between the community council and Greenwich Council as it’s being set up. The page on our site here gives an idea of the sort of responsibilities that can be taken on by community councils.

    We will want to come to a campaign view on what responsibilities should be requested, but before we do that we understand that we have a lot more consultation and discussion to do. Yesterday was the first public day of our campaign: we have had some thoughts about what we would want a new council to do, which are reflected in our principles (here on our site) but we have much more work to do before we represent the views of people in Charlton as fully as we’d like.

    Revenue: community councils can raise a precept which is paid with your council tax. We can’t promise a figure until we’ve done more work to find out what people want, but as a comparison, the Queen’s Park Community Council, also in London, set their precept at £3.70 per month for band D council tax properties. We would like to keep it around that sort of figure at the highest. You might find the Queen’s Park site interesting more generally to see how their campaign for a community council went: it’s here

    Petition & 10% of signatures: if we get enough signatures this triggers the council to carry out a ‘community governance review’ where they are asked to consider our proposal. Normally if they are minded to allow a community council, a referendum of the affected area is carried out so that it can be proven that the majority of residents are in favour.

    Impacting local community associations: I certainly hope not! No, the idea is that local communities have more of a chance to have their say. As we expand our campaign we hope to talk to as many local groups as we can (if you’re reading this and you’re involved with a local group, I’d love to talk to you – my mail address is nikki.coates[at]gmail.com) and get them involved too. One of the great strengths of Charlton as an area is how many people are prepared to work together for the good of our community – all we want in addition to that is to have a way where people are elected representatives of Charlton so that everyone knows who to consult to get the residents’ opinion.

    Background of our committee: Yes, of course, we should definitely make our committee members public somewhere – sorry that we hadn’t thought of this before. Let me discuss this with the group and we’ll work out how best to do it. Meanwhile I can tell you about me, in case it helps anyone: I am currently out of work after spending 14 years working in the IT department of a bank. I am a committee member of the Charlton Society, a (very) occasional contributor to this blog, a committee member of the No to Silvertown Tunnel Campaign, and otherwise have no alliances or memberships that I can think of right now that touch on local politics.

    In general: this has been a very long answer, and thanks for your patience if you’ve got to the end of it. Our big push at the moment is not only the petition, but we’d like more people to join our committee. We truly want to represent as many of the different voices of Charlton as we can – please get in touch at info[at]yourcharlton.co.uk if you’re at all interested. We won’t hold you to anything, so if you think you’d just like more of a chat before you commit yourself, that’s obviously fine too.

  3. Bob July 28, 2014 / 16:33

    thanks for the response, if I could ask a couple more questions

    . asking about raising tax you say £3.70, is that just taken from the other community councils website or is there a basis or formula for this amount, if so what?
    . what is the highest amount that could be feasibly requested on a monthly basis, is there a cap for this tax?
    . In questioning the committee I was more referring to their wants for this community council instead of who they are, what issues they would like addressed?

    thanks B

  4. Nikki July 29, 2014 / 12:04

    Thank you so much for your interest in the idea – I’m really pleased to be having a conversation about this. I hope you’ll come to our public meeting in September, and I’ll be sure we make as public as we can the time and date for that when it’s finally confirmed.

    Re Queen’s Park’s £3.70: I don’t think that QP’s budget is publicly available, but from talking to a member of their campaign at a recent National Association of Local Councils event, I understand that the campaign decided what additional resource they’d need, costed that and then divided by the tax base to reach the figure. As with all estimates vs spend considerations this is a thing that goes both ways: we might find (entirely hypothetical and not costed example) that there was a demand for 5 additional park-keepers in Charlton but that this would mean that the precept would be £10 per month which the campaign or candidates would think would be too high a figure to suggest. At which point we might have to revise what we could achieve to 2 park-keepers, for example.

    Re capping the tax: actually, no, there is no legislative cap on raises. Two very important things to note in connection to this, though: 1) the precept forms part of the council tax amount and so any council tax reduction or exemption applies to the precept too. 2) the average town/parish/community council precept in England is £50 per year. Candidates for election would need to be able to articulate why they’d want to raise money and what they’d spend it on. That precepts are generally a small amount in the context of council tax suggests that local residents in parished areas generally have sufficient influence over parish councillors (who are after all local residents) to keep the costs low.

    Wants for the future: I think this is best summarised by our principles page. As far as detailed promises along the lines of ‘I promise to turn the Charlton House summerhouse into an art gallery’ go – these will be for the candidates for election to promise. Again, I can speak for myself: I want to make it easier for anyone who wants to know what the residents of Charlton think about proposed changes to their area.

  5. Bob July 30, 2014 / 10:01

    Again thanks for the reply. I will definitely coming along to the meeting in September. I find this all very admirable, that as a group you are looking to better our community and in theory I’m completely behind it.

    But I have to admit to being skeptical as what your offering is only theoretical, theres no real basis for any of your calculations or the areas that you have highlighted. that by your own admission your not all going to stand for election so cannot predict any future, the final sum any committee would levy against the community, how the amounts may fluctuate in future years or the issues that would be promoted.

    The reason for my questioning, what I hoped to find, is that your group had engaged with the community, local groups and organisations before going forward and be able to show a true understanding ‘In Fact’ before calling for a community tax. Let alone show that they themselves had real issues they wanted to promote and not just a list of principles.
    That as a community there was a collective call for a community council together, not a small group deciding whats best for us all.

    It was very annoying that your representative admitted to being evasive, not answer and instead thought it better to put stickers on my children, in what … some blind hope of allegiance whilst I looked on to an artist drawing me a utopian future.

    We currently live in a disaffected society with a real lethargy when it comes to local governance and elections, so to think that the residents of Charlton would come out on mass and govern by vote is ridiculous.

    Theres a real Pandoras Box to this as once it starts as its not going to stop, nor are we going to get costings before any election so in theory a committee could go bananas or more worryingly the local council dump costs for services on Charlton directly, easing their own budget and billing us twice.

    So in reply I ask how do you reassure me?

  6. Nikki July 30, 2014 / 13:17

    Again, I’m really sorry that you had a bad experience on Sunday.

    I want to stress very strongly that we’re not calling for a ‘community tax’ – we’re calling for a representative community body that could raise a small amount of funds from those who could afford it if the community council decided it wanted to provide services that would need paying for. As I say above, there would be a figure for any precept before this went to any election.

    The problem is that we’re caught in a cleft stick: before approaching anyone with the idea, we had to start somewhere, and our decision as a small starter committee was that we should have something to put before people before we asked them to join us – thus our big push to talk to other community members starts now. As I’ve said above, our main priority right now is getting more people to join us and to talk to as many people as we can, in formal or informal groups. There is no sense within the current group that we are deciding on behalf of anyone else; we want to persuade people to join us. That’s what campaigns do. We want people to challenge us, we want them to change our thinking, and we want to build a consensus that this is a good idea.

    This in turn leads to the ‘vagueness’ you talk about: our calculations are not vague right now, we haven’t attempted them because we need to consult with the community much more widely before we get a sense of what the biggest priorities are. So why campaign for a body at all? Because we believe very strongly in local grass-roots democracy and in consultation.

    You’re right; we can’t predict the issues that will be current 5 years in the future, but that’s true for every stage of representative democracy. I have no idea what the borough council will think is worth spending money on in 2019, nor who the national government will be or what they will think is worth money.

    You suggest that this is a bad idea because of the amount of apathy at present: this would suggest that Charlton is a more apathetic place than the 8,500 places in England that currently have town or parish councils. This is very definitely not my experience: we have many voluntary groups working for the good of the area. Parish elections are held (with possible exceptions when first set up) on the same electoral cycle as borough elections, so turnout should be similar.

    (I know this is minor in the scheme of things, but our community map is not intended to be a utopian vision of the future; it’s a picture of what people love right now about Charlton. We’re looking forward to seeing the finished item)

    I hope this provides some reassurance; otherwise I think you have several options available to you if this is still not reassuring. You can vote against the idea in any referendum that results; you can contact your local representatives to voice your opposition. If we do end up with a parish council, you could stand as a parish councillor to ensure that there was a voice of opposition to any ideas you are worried about. If we get that far, Charlton will need people who care about the area, like you clearly do, to represent all points of view. If you’re interested in meeting us and sharing ideas about how we could better move from an admirable idea to something that would be right for Charlton, you’re welcome to join a meeting: drop me a line at nikki.coates[at]gmail.com and I’ll let you know when we next meet.

  7. Bob July 30, 2014 / 21:18

    I think its very admirable that a group of locals have come forward, my concern is that your agenda clearly is the establishment of this body. You’ve already decided that this is a good idea and are pushing ahead without consulting the community, as you say your looking to persuade people to join you, and rightly so if thats your game, searching for your 1 in 10.

    As for the charge, ‘small amount of funds from those who could afford it’ No its not its an extra sum on our council TAX for every qualifying tax payer in SE7. And please explain how an unelected body is able to set a precept amount?
    I can imagine an election of a body that is then able to call for an amount on our council tax, set its agenda and go forward, but again you have no power over that whatsoever.

    Im not suggesting its a bad idea at all, apathy is just a reality of our time. No I’m challenging your thinking, as you request, perhaps you need to stop and consult the community and see what they would like to do, get a real idea about their wishes, wants and subsequent affordability for individuals across the board in our community. Before calling for the establishment of a fund seeking body that an apathetic community may well not want but ends up with.

    finally when is you next meeting, can I attend, have an agenda and the minutes of the last one

    b.

    • Neil C July 30, 2014 / 21:42

      Hi Bob,

      I’m not involved in this group (for the sake of transparency, I do know some of them), but it seems fairly clear to me that this is the beginning of their consultation with the community. It’s a chicken and egg situation: how can you go out and consult without having something to consult about? This seems to me like a perfectly sensible and open approach: some examples from an already-operating community council and some principles that are illustrative of what the community council could be, without being too prescriptive at an early stage.

  8. Nikki July 31, 2014 / 09:45

    Bob, I’m really enjoying this conversation with you, but I’m beginning to worry a bit that we’re talking past each other.

    Establishment of a community council is what we’re arguing for, yes. If we don’t get enough people to agree with us, we won’t get the signatures we need for the petition, or we won’t get enough votes in a referendum. That’s the formal part of consulting the community, the bit where we can prove that enough people are in favour.

    The body that would impose the precept would be elected: they would be the community council that is formed as a result of an election. You would expect anyone running for an election to tell people beforehand what they plan to do when in power – thus calculations for the precept will be available before the election.

    In all of my answers above I’ve said that consulting with the community is our main priority now. I can’t see how to convince you of our intent, but I genuinely meant the invite to a meeting. As above, if you want to come along, send me a note at my mail address: nikki.coates[at]gmail.com

  9. MiceElf August 1, 2014 / 07:48

    I have a concern that this would be taken over by those who are already involved in local politics as an extension of their influence. As ever, it’s those those who are prepared to go to meetings and make the effort who would be the directors of policy and once again many would be bewildered and bemused by a rather large rise in council tax bills. I don’t have any answers to this, but it doesn’t seem very democratic to me.

  10. Nikki August 1, 2014 / 12:05

    Hi MiceElf,

    That’s really interesting, and I’ve been thinking around these problems a bit. We really want there to be more democratic engagement with issues in Charlton, not less.

    If we get our petition signatures, and if Greenwich Council think it could be in the interest of the area, then if the same process is followed as in Queen’s Park then a referendum should follow. I would certainly hope this is the way it might be handled; you’re right, any new body absolutely shouldn’t be imposed on people that don’t want it.

    If all this happened, community councillors would be elected. We’re campaigning for councillors at this lowest level of representation to be politically independent, and really want to draw new people in to the political process.

    Re the raise in council tax bills: well, it’s unlikely to be a large raise. The average amount for parish council precepts in England is £50 a year, or less than £1 a week.

    As an entirely hypothetical example: if we had had a community council a couple of years ago as council funding for the Animal Park was withdrawn the community might have felt that it was a service that should still be supported and would ask for funding for that reason. The cost of this, spread over eligible council tax-paying households in SE7 wouldn’t be that great individually, but would mean that we could secure the future of the centre.

    Clearly this is academic: the Animal Park has secured funding, and it might be that the trust and sponsorship would have been the best way forward in any event. But this is the sort of local issue where I think a community council might help.

  11. clogsilk August 1, 2014 / 18:00

    Out of interest, how will you define your 1 in 10? As far as I am aware population estimates aren’t available for postal districts, so how do you know how many signatures you need?

  12. Nikki August 4, 2014 / 15:25

    Hi, sorry for slow reply! ‘The SE7 postal district’ is short-hand for ‘the polling districts that (very nearly) exactly coincide with the SE7 designation’ – using the polling districts as reference there was, at time of the elections this year, 15481 voters in the area which would suggest that our petition target is 1550.

    • clogsilk August 4, 2014 / 15:31

      Aha, so you need 1 in 10 registered voters rather than 1 in 10 residents, I see 🙂

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