Town council revisits plans for community engagement

By Steve Peacock in Community News

by Steve Peacock

Listening advice sessions, quarterly meetings and a council newsletter are all part of an action plan designed to make Totnes Town Council more relevant to the community.

The council is even questioning just how accessible its own Guildhall headquarters is as an office and whether it should start holding its meetings elsewhere in the town.

The bare bones of the action plan were drawn up three years ago but never implemented. Now councillors want to see the community engagement plan put into action.

In January 2014, a council working party agreed that the changing economic circumstances had brought about a major shift in the way local government needs to work with its communities.

The report, accepted by town councillors, stated: “Devon County Council and South Hams District Council have considerably fewer resources. More will be expected of us. We need to be closer to the needs and wishes of our community and to actively engage as many as we can in helping with the inevitable challenges ahead.”

The plan’s key action points involve improving IT facilities and making sure that all the councillors are trained in the use of IT and social media.

Others include the “need to review the civic role of the council as the face of and contact with the ­community”.

The council wants a rota of councillors with open access to any member of the community and to set up listening advice sessions where people can “have your say to a councillor”.

Other action points include setting up a quarterly newsletter, reviewing the use of the annual town meeting and having six-monthly or quarterly meetings, and opening up and reviewing council property for both community use and development for the benefit of the community.

The plan adds: “We need to openly discuss the issue of the visibility and accessibility of the current Guildhall base for the council office and meetings” and “using other buildings around the town for committee ­meetings”.

The council has already launched its participatory budget project, asking the community to come up with projects it wants to see the council spending taxpayers’ cash on.

Now councillors aim to hold a meeting of their own to thrash out just how and when their “engagement plan” can be translated into action.

Cllr Tony Whitty told members of the people committee that the plan had been formally adopted by the council as long ago as 2014.

“It’s council policy but little has been done to put it into effect,” he said. “It’s time that we looked at the policy and gave more time to it and the ideas that have come out of it. We’ve got to communicate more and be more in touch with the people.”

The policy report explained: “We want to make sure that all of the community have access to our decision-making process, including how we use our precept. We want to make sure that we have systems in place that enable us to reach out to everyone, individuals and groups, the softest of voices, the loudest and those in between.”

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