Although I wasn't really looking forward to going on the campaign trail, what it did offer was the opportunity to get ideas sorted out. Its very easy to say something like 'putting Somerton first', and that needs to be the foundation of my thinking, but what does it mean in practice? What are the issues that worry me? What are the challenges that face Somerton? Importantly, do these worries and challenges bother the wider community in Somerton or does the wider community have different concerns? An election campaign would have been the ideal place to find out but, sadly, that opportunity has been denied to everyone, community and candidates alike. So what will I do to inform myself?
The best thing to do will be a bit of doorstepping - random questioning of Somertonians about their expectations of the Council - and it will be interesting to find out what the community actually expects. What does a town council, any town council, mean to its community? From what I've seen, the life of a community carries on irrespective of the activities of its council. Local people regularly organise themselves to achieve objectives which individuals deem important. They don't need the sanction of a council to act but a council can support such action and add weight to, for example, requests for formal recognition or funding. A council also has the opportunity to support local action with finance from the Precept, if such funding is available. And that brings me to one of my concerns - Somerton's Precept.
Somerton's Precept, that part of our Council Tax bill that is set by Somerton Town Council, and which Somerton Town Council spends on behalf of the community, Somerton's Precept is approaching £250,000 per annum. I'd like to know how much of that funding is soaked up in 'fixed overheads' such as salaries, rents, maintenance, interest, insurance etc etc.
Underlying this enquiry will be the need to establish precisely what the community of Somerton is receiving for its money and is it possible to reduce 'fixed overheads' and direct more of the Precept towards the community, not to fill in the gaps left by cuts in funding from County but to enable more local community driven action.
Somerton Town Council is Somerton's Town Council, the funds come from the community of Somerton and I'd like to see that community take a far greater interest in those funds and how they are deployed.
Suggestions on a postcard?
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly