There is NO story here. There is nothing to see.
Except just maybe there is just perhaps quite a considered story, one away from the political wrangling over market traders, the TURNING ON / TURNING OFF of the street lights and yep, bloody Jumbo.
Maybe it’s just that we’ve been overlooking the macro issues in Sunny Colch over the micro.
Which is precisely how Cllr Nick Barlow of Castle ward is feeling right now.
That will be just plain Nick in less than a weeks time, although a name never did maketh a man or a woman – said The Chronic.
And so we met up with Cllr Barlow recently to get the BIG NEWS on exactly why he is walking away from a highly responsible CBC Cabinet role come 7th May, and to see why he is stepping down as a LibDem Cllr for Castle ward after eight years of service.
JUST GIVE US THE INSIDE SCOOP, Nick.
Who, what, where, why and when?
But there was to be no Chronic scoop, simply a very thoughtful conversation with a highly experienced local Cllr who has simply found that the system is winning.
If it ‘aint broke?
But localgov appears to be lying bleeding at the bottom of the stairs as Cllr Barlow explained the frustrations that he has had in trying to improve the lot of Sunny Colch.
“There is a tremendous amount of stress and effort in simply trying to achieve the smallest things.
Council issues are always in the background. You have constant emails and phone calls demanding immediate answers from some very complex issues.”
But isn’t that what you sign up for when you put your name forward to represent your party as an election candidate?
That’s a little harsh. The role of a ward Cllr is unloved. It’s not unpaid, although the allowance for a jobbing CBC Cllr of £6,411 is hardly going to allow you to live off this income.
Plus the ‘allowance’ is misleading. Even for a jobbing ward Cllr, this is pretty much a part-time job with 20-25 hours a week of work expected.
As for a Cabinet member such as Cllr Barlow?
An allowance of £11,541 is paid. Cllr Barlow had half a Portfolio, and so also only half an allowance. It is nowhere near the £38k plus that *some* local authorities are happy to reward their Cabinet members with.
Sitting at the top of the table in the Town Hall is the Leader with an allowance of £19,235 – the average salary in Colchester is currently £22,259.
It is widely considered that there is *ahem* a lack of contenders from all sides to take over from Cllr Martin Hunt when he officially steps down from his duties as Leader of CBC. It certainly won’t be the money that attracts potential candidates, whichever political party is in power.
And so if it’s not for the money, then why would anyone put themselves forward to become a local Cllr?
We hope that we aren’t putting off the many candidates that have stepped forward and allowed their names to go on the ballot papers ahead of next Thursday…
Cllr Barlow told The Chronic:
“Some people thrive upon this. It is fair to say that the average age of a Cllr in Colchester is rather mature. A number of retired people find this a suitable and rewarding role.
Some young people in the town simply haven’t got the time to commit to this with family and work commitments.”
Our conversation with Cllr Balrow then explored some of the wider issues impacting upon the town, and some of the frustrations that he has had in trying to find solutions.
The struggle between Essex County Council and Colchester Borough Council remains a strong theme:
“Transport is a huge problem. We simply don’t have the levers in which to make any real changes. The residents find it frustrating as they are often not sure who is responsible.”
And so is genuine localism the answer?
“Devolution on a very local scale would be worse. You would simply be creating more tiers of local government. People wouldn’t know who to turn to for help.”
And yet the past five years has apparently all been about that nice Mr. Pickles ‘enabling’ local authorities under his brainwave of localism – but only if it is localism as pre-defined from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
There is some symmetry here in an anonymous Graun piece that was recently published about the woes of being a local Cllr.
We have every sympathy with the views. Our thoughts of starting up a benevolent fund for uncared for ex-Cllrs came to a shuddering halt however when we remembered that even POTHOLES get politicised in the poxy Town Hall parlour games.
After over an hour of conversation, the one question that The Chronic forgot to ask Cllr Barlow was:
“What advice would you give to any resident thinking of standing to become a Cllr for the first time?”
We think that Cllr Barlow probably answered the question without it even being asked.
Which all makes for rather depressing reading.
If you want to try and frame this argument against the backdrop of anything then it should always start with democracy.
*some* of the Cllr’s in the Town Hall might be more slippery than jellied eels on ice, but at least they have stepped forward. They demanded that democracy was seen to be taking place with an election.
No candidates, no election.
Um, where do we sign up?
The Chronic’s issue in all of this is that there simply isn’t a mainstream political party that could accommodate us.
We’ve tried ‘em all, to be honest.
We were left thinking that this *possibly* is where Cllr Barlow is right now. He has been a fine LibDem servant.
But the party and policy often gets in the way of progress.
Cllr Barlow writes a very readable blog btw.
Maybe the future is online accountability?