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WHAT IS THE TOWN COUNCIL AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
For electoral purposes Oakham is divided into four Wards. These are Oakham North East, Oakham North West, Oakham South East and Oakham South West. The town is split by the railway line running from north to south. To the west the town is split by Braunston Road to form Oakham North West and Oakham South West. To the east a line running from South Street and then along Mill Street and Burley Road forms Oakham North East and Oakham South East The Town Council is made up of three Councillors from each of these Wards – 12 in total.
Oakham Town Council owns, manages or maintains three open spaces within the town. These are Cutts Close, Royces Recreation Ground and the open space off Barleythorpe Road. It also has a long lease on the Willow Crescent Play Area. In addition it owns four areas of allotments, namely Kilburn Road, Burley Road, Elm Close and Willow Crescent. These are managed on the Town Council’s behalf by two Allotment Societies who each pay an annual rent. The Town Council also owns the land at the Vale which is occupied by Oakham Tennis Club and Oakham Bowls Club and a former Fitness Centre on Princess Avenue. This is currently vacant and a decision on its future use will be made shortly. Finally Rutland House Community Trust Limited leases an area of land at the Willow Crescent Allotments which contains their buildings. The Council is also responsible for the management and maintenance of the Public Toilets in Church Street Car Park and maintains All Saint’s Churchyard.
The Council leases its offices and chamber situated in the Victoria Hall.
The Council has an annual budget of approximately £230K in 2016 – 2017 and endeavours to maintain a reserve balance of circa £80K. This money is mainly raised through the Precept and as part of Tax Demand that all properties receive from Rutland County Council. For 2016 – 2017 there are just under 3819 Council Tax Band D equivalent properties in Oakham and the precept is £53.40 per Band D household.
Some money is also raised through rental income, the hiring out of Cutts Close and bank interest although the return from the latter of these is now severely diminished due to the current low interest rates. Throughout the year the Council pays for such things as the hanging baskets during the summer, band concerts in Cutts Close and for the Christmas tree and decorations. A significant sum is also spent on Grounds Maintenance and maintenance of the various play areas owned by the Council and maintenance and cleaning of public toilets. A copy of the Council’s budget for can be supplied on request or is available on the website.
The Council is producing a Neighbourhood Plan for Oakham and Barleythorpe. This is a considerable undertaking with the project taking upward of two years to complete. Council set up a community-led Steering Group to develop the Plan on behalf of Council. The community is being fully informed as the Plan develops.
The daily affairs of the Council are managed by a full time Clerk and a part time office assistant based at the Town Council offices. These are the only employed staff with all other work undertaken by Contractors and consultants where necessary. The Clerk is responsible for ensuring that decisions made by the Council are legal and, although an integral part of the Council, should be regarded as independent from it.
WHAT IS INVOLVED?
Essentially it is the role of a Town Councillor to suggest ideas, engage in constructive debate, respond to the needs and views of the Community, represent constituents, comment on proposals and help the Council to make decisions. The position is bound by Statutory Regulations and the conduct of a Councillor can be called into question by another member of the Council, an officer of the Council or a member of the public and reported. It is therefore important that Councillors are familiar with the Council’s Code of Conduct. Detailed information is contained within The Good Councillor’s Guide 2017.
The position of Town Councillor is an unpaid voluntary one and does make demands on a person’s time. No allowances are paid to members of Oakham Town Council apart from the Chairman. Expenses incurred when attending such things as training sessions or conferences and travelling to the same are reimbursed at a nationally agreed rate provided that attendance at the event has been previously authorised by the Council. However, expenses are not paid for attendance at meetings of the Council or its Committees.
Oakham Town Council meets monthly, usually on the second Wednesday of the month at its offices in the Victoria Hall. Meetings generally start at 7.00pm and can last for up to 2 hours. Occasionally additional Council meeting may be called. The Council considers policy decisions relating to its role. However, there are also 2 other Committees, Planning and Staffing. The Town Council is a “statutory consultee” on planning applications and therefore receives copies of all planning applications within the Oakham town boundary. It also occasionally receives applications outside of this boundary but which are considered to be of significant interest. Although the final decision on any planning application is made by Rutland County Council, the Town Council makes its own observations and recommendations that can then be taken into account.
The Planning committee has delegated authority to make comments and recommendations on all planning applications received by the Council. This committee currently consists of five members of the Council.
The Staffing Committee meets as required to discuss and make recommendations on issues connected with the employed staff. This committee is currently made up of four members of the Council and has some delegated powers.
There are also a number of Working Groups. Some of these are “Task and Finish” and are looking at specific issues before reporting back to the Council. The remainder are permanent and look at ongoing matters as defined in their remit. No Working Groups have delegated authority to make decisions on behalf of the Council.
Conduct at all meetings is governed by the Council’s Standing Orders which were last reviewed in July 2017.
Members of the Public are entitled to attend all meetings of the Council and its Committees but may be excluded if the matter to be discussed is considered to be confidential. This usually relates to staffing issues or legal matters. Following recent changes in legislation meetings of the Council or any of its committees or sub-committees may be filmed or recorded by members of the public. The Council may also record its meetings and links to the recordings are posted on its website. Working Groups meet informally and are not open to the public.
All Councillors should be aware that robust debate on matters placed before the Council is part of the overall democratic process. It is unreasonable to expect that all Councillors will agree on everything. Members of the Council are free to vote any way they please on any matter and do not have to justify to other members why they voted a particular way. Members are expected to accept the Council’s decision on any particular issue even if it conflicts with their personal views.
The Council is not divided along party political lines.
Agendas and minutes from all recent meetings of the Council and its Committees are available to view. The minutes, once signed, are the official and legal record of a particular meeting and members are requested not to publish their own version in any medium.
Town Councillors receive information from the Clerk regarding agenda items and may also receive other documents of interest from time to time. The information enables the Councillors to make an objective and informed decision. It is important that Councillors approach contentious issues with an open mind and consider all aspects of any discussion before making any decisions. Councillors should also be aware that under no circumstances are they to act unilaterally. This can be difficult when an acquaintance, knowing that a person is a Town Councillor, makes a suggestion that seems perfectly reasonable. Making promises or assurances to constituents or others can cause problems ranging from slight embarrassment to accusations that a Councillor has acted beyond their authority or even brought the Council into disrepute. The proper procedure is to relay information to the Clerk or Chairman and any decision relating to the issue will then be made by the Town Council or one of its Committees.
When communicating with other agencies it is important that you state in which capacity you are acting. Unless you are stating the agreed view of the Town Council you should always ensure that it is known that you are acting as a member of the public. Matters involving confidential information should never be discussed outside the Council Chamber.
This may involve matters relating to the employed staff of the Council and commercially sensitive issues such as tenders for Contracts.
Members of the Council are all aware that the employed members of staff have the same rights as any other employee of a Local Authority and matters such as contracts, salaries and appraisals are not to be discussed publicly. All members of the Council are, in fact, the employers and must therefore have regard to all employment legislation in their contact with the employed staff.
A Councillor may also be appointed to represent the Town Council on a number of outside bodies. Their role here is to state the Town Council’s position if one is known but primarily involves reporting back on any meetings to the Council. Again it is important not to state personal opinions that may be construed as the Council’s views on the matter.
If a person is successful in becoming a Town Councillor they will be asked to sign both a Declaration of Acceptance of Office and complete a Register of Members’ Interests. These are then lodged with the Monitoring Officer at Rutland County Council. This is to help ensure that the new Councillor adheres to the proper standards required of the position.
Over the last few years the Council has completed a number of projects. These are:
- Provision of new Bus Shelters in partnership with Rutland County
- Installation of new lighting in Cutts Close
- Renovation of Bandstand in Cutts Close
- Installation of new play equipment at Royce’s Playing Field for 9-13 year olds as part of the Play builder Project in partnership with Rutland County Council.
- Improvements to Allotment Areas
- Introduction of new seating in Cutts Close
- The gaining of Green Flag Status for Cutts Close
- New play equipment for older children in Cutts Close
- Contributed £40000 to the building of the new toilet facility in Church Street Car Park. It now manages and maintains these. Provided the new toddlers’ play area in Cutts Close at a cost of £67000
- Worked closely with young people regarding funding for the skatepark in Cutts Close
- Provided lighting on the approach to the Willowbrook facility
- Redeveloped the Toddlers’ Play Area at Royce’s Recreation Ground at a cost of £50000. This was funded by a loan from the Public Works Loan Board. This provides loans to Local Authorities at preferential rates
- Installed an Electric Vehicle Charging Point in the Church Street Car Park
- Organised the very successful Freedom of Entry celebrations in 2013 and 2014
- Made improvements to the Christmas Lighting and Floral displays
- Secured a £15,000 grant to update the play equipment in the Willow Crescent Play area
- Secured a £6,000 grant from the Arts Council and other funding from local businesses and organisations for a new mural in Gaol Street.
- Installed outdoor fitness equipment at Royce’s Recreation Ground with the aid of a £5,000 grant from Flora Pro-activ
- Secured a grant of £30,500 towards the cost of replacing the skateboard facility in Cutts Close and carried out this work
- Assumed responsibility for the unmetered energy costs of community street lighting from Rutland County Council
There is also the possibility that, in the coming years, the Town Council may take over further services currently delivered by Rutland County Council.
The spokesperson for Oakham Town Council is the Chairman and general information is provided by the Clerk to the Council. Comments made by other Councillors are theirs alone and are not necessarily supported by Council. Oakham Town Council does not accept any responsibility for comments made by or views held by individual councillors other than through the Chairman or Clerk.
Oakham Town Partnership runs the Oakham Farmers Market on the 3rd Saturday of each month in Gaol Street.MORE INFORMATION
Clerk to the Council
Victoria Hall, 39 High Street, Oakham, Rutland, LE15 6AH
Telephone: 01572 723627EMAIL THE CLERK