This is a guest blog by Old Marston resident Colin @theabingdontaxi
[Updated with minor revisions 23 June 2014. See the candidates’ personal statements here.]
It has always been an article of faith for me to vote in every election for which I have been eligible and that is now more than fifty elections. From my overseas travels, I know this to be a privilege, but also a responsibility and for me, a duty. So it was with some excitement that I learned of the historic event in The Village on 22 May, that we were to be issued with three ballot papers and that there was to be a combined poll for the European Parliament, Oxford City Council and Old Marston Parish Council. Fourteen candidates put themselves forward for twelve seats(1).
The election to the parish council was postponed on 06 May(2), due to the death of one of the nominated candidates, but rearranged as required(3) for 26 June 2014, as there remained 13 validly nominated candidates for 12 seats(1). My interest in Old Marston Parish Council was further piqued by a poll card, which was handed to me by The Village Postman on 27 May, so I set out to find out more about what the parish council is, what it does and how on earth I am to decide which of my up to 12 votes to exercise on Thursday 26 June.
Old Marston is one of only four parished areas within Oxford City Council. The city of Oxford has been an unparished area, where those functions traditionally carried out by a parish council have been carried out by the city. Parish councils were created as a result of nineteenth century legislation, to separate functions previously carried out at a local level by a variety of ecclesiastical bodies and today are completely separate from the Church of England – and not to be confused with their parochial church councils! Old Marston (and the nearby parish of Risinghurst and Sandhills) was until the early 1990s on the edge of South Oxfordshire, a large and diverse predominantly rural district, with many parish councils. The two parish councils were simply carried forward into Oxford, when their areas became part of the city. The city council does have the power to abolish existing parish councils, or to create further civil parishes within the city – but thus far the only areas where this has occurred are Blackbird Leys and Littlemore.
Parish councils within Oxford do have the “unfettered right”(4) to raise money by means of a demand on the city council, known as the ‘parish precept’, which the city then collects from those of us who live in the parished area of Old Marston, in the form of Council Tax. They only have one function which is a duty, to provide allotments, but a wide range of discretionary powers:
Old Marston Parish Council stresses that it is run on non-party political lines – none of the candidates on 26 June have party political labels. They say they don’t have the bureaucracy of the city council and thus that things can move quickly, on local issues such as overgrown footpaths, which can often be attended to the same day(5). It sees its value in a whole range of local areas:(5).
- that the parish council as a landowner helps to protect the setting of The Village from being over developed
- that they will fund and support local events events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012
- that they can help to raise funds for new equipment for the Mortimer Hall recreation ground
- that the Village Burial Ground is maintained on a voluntary basis, but that the parish council pays for materials
- that they provide and maintain facilities for the community, such as Boults Lane recreation ground
- that they are obliged to be consulted by the city council on planning applications, an important facility, following the ending of letters to neighbouring properties as part of panning applications
- that grants are provided to local community groups, such as the Scouts, Marston Wives and the local bell ringers
- that members of the parish council organise and take part in the annual litter pick around The Village
Other than the statutory notices, in Old Marston, there has been no publicity whatsoever for the individual candidates in this election, which will cost the taxpayers of The Village a few thousand pounds(5). There has not been a ballot in this parish for 16 years(5) and although I have lived in The Village for three years now, prior to researching this blog, I knew of only one of the candidates. So as a parishioner – I have set out to write to them all, individually, to find out more about them and why they think I should vote for them. The responses will be published on this blog, if and as they come in, in the same neutral format, which has been utilised for previous elections in Marston https://www.tonyox3.com/2014/05/candidates-in-marston.html, though of course, the right is reserved to edit contributions, where required, for reasons of brevity.
Some would argue that this is the wrong way around and that those seeking our vote should be contacting us. This should be the case, but in a first past the post electoral system, where I have up to 12 votes on one ballot paper and in the event of an almost total lack of information on the candidates, I am prepared to take the initiative, so that at least I may know that I have done everything I can in the exercise of the right to vote.
Candidates for Old Marston Parish Council election on Thursday, 26 June 2014. Those marked with an asterisk * have provided personal statements – see follow-up article.
Useful web sites:
Old Marston Parish Council, PDF map of Old Marston civil parish
Old Marston Parish Council
Oxford City Council is responsible for organising this election, which it will then charge the cost back to the parish council. Their statutory notices and other information for this election is on their page Elections in 2014
Risinghurst & Sandhills Parish Council (site not updated since November 2013).
(1) Oxford City Council, Election of Parish Councillors for the Parish of Old Marston, Statement of Persons Nominated, 25 April 2014
(2) Oxford City Council, Election of Parish Councillors for the Parish of Old Marston, notice of Cancellation of Poll, 06 May 2014
(3) Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) (England and Wales) Rules 2006, Rule 55
(4) Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors, Society of Local Council Clerks, The Standards Board for England, National Association of Local Councils, Local Government Association, Milton Keynes Council, Governance Toolkit for Parish & Town Councils, version three, April 2009
(5)Conversation at The Village Pub with member of Old Marston Parish Council, 28 May 2014
(6) Telephone conversation with Elections Unit, Oxford City Council, 27 May 2014
(7) Old Marston Parish Council, web site, ‘Profiles’, http://www.oldmarston-pc.gov.uk/michael_cadd.html, as consulted 23 June 2014
(8) ibid., http://www.oldmarston-pc.gov.uk/barry_lewis.html, as consulted 23 June 2014