Agenda item

Referrals from other bodies

To consider referrals from other bodies (e.g. Cabinet)


Members considered the draft recommendations of the Community Governance Review (CGR) Working Group on the proposal for a Windsor Town council.


Councillor Shelim reminded Members that in July 2020 full Council had approved the Terms of Reference to formally commence a CGR to consider the formation of a town council for Windsor. This included the establishment of a cross-party CGR Working Group to manage the CGR process. The Working Group comprised five elected members: himself as (Chairman), Councillor Cannon (Vice Chairman), Councillor Davies, Councillor Hilton and Councillor Knowles.


Supported by officers from across the council, the CGR Working Group had held ten meetings. A first round of consultation was held between July and October 2020 to determine the appetite for a town council in the area. Following analysis of the consultation responses, the cross-party CGR Member Working Group had drafted a set of recommendations for the formation of a Windsor Town Council for consultation.

The draft recommendations, as detailed in Appendix A, proposed that the council was minded to consider the creation of a Windsor Town Council on the basis that the electorate and any other stakeholders remained supportive of the proposal in light of the additional detail provided regarding the potential financial impact and the possible transfer of powers and assets to a new town council. As the next step in the CGR process, a formal consultation was required to ascertain the level of support for a Town Council established under the electoral arrangements detailed in Appendix A.


Councillor Shelim thanked his fellow councillors from all parties for their help in concluding this stage of the review, including Councillor Story who had left the group when he had become Mayor. He also thanked the Head of Governance and the Electoral & Information Governance Services Manager for their help in putting together the report. Councillor Shelim thanked all those who had responded to the first round of the consultation; he looked forward to hearing more from residents as the process continued.


Councillor W. Da Costa stated he was grateful for the opportunity to speak on what was an historic process for the future of the borough’s globally recognised and, unique town.  He commented that whilst some may frame the costs and benefits purely in monetary value, for him the social and cultural benefits of a Town Council sat equally alongside the economic factors for the wonderful local community.  Politics needed to be accessible to all. Everyone, regardless of their social and economic background, needed a voice on how their community operated. A Windsor Town Council would by its very nature be more responsive than the borough to community needs and interests, particularly when taking into account the diverse needs of its residents. Whereas Borough councillors had to balance the competing needs and interests of the many communities across its extensive territory, a Windsor Town Council would have responsibility for a single community, united by a pride in the internationally renowned town and able to be uninhibited in advocating the interests of that community.

In the carefully managed, post-COVID recovery plan, a Windsor Town Council would exist at a scale that reflected people’s patterns of social interaction and their identification with place. It could therefore act to facilitate community activities, organise and sponsor community events and promote community spirit and inclusiveness.  Town councils played a vital role in supporting local clubs and organisations and provided significant grants to community groups

The proposal was not to run a competing local authority, or suggest a split from RBWM. The proposal sensibly aimed to provide additionally to the services and facilities operated by RBWM. A Windsor Town Council would have the flexibility to enhance service provision in the community, or to provide additional services, facilities or even simple features that lay outside the borough council’s budgetary priorities.

The authority of a Windsor Town Council would come from its electoral mandate.  Town councillors were accountable to the local electorate and may be removed at election time. A statutory constitution would give a relative security of existence, securing a continuity of funding from grant-making bodies.  This means that town councils could plan on a longer-term basis and have more capacity to take on larger-scale projects, such as a Community Emergency Plan which he felt was sorely lacking. However, it was the ability of a town council to precept the council tax that was one of the most significant powers.  Whilst they may be restricted in accessing funds in other contexts, the ability to precept provided a relative stability of income and a means of raising funds from the community, for reinvestment in the community for communal benefit.  The level of precept was not set by an unaccountable group, but the precept was set by the community for the community, in other words the level set was totally up to the residents themselves.

This proposal for a Windsor Town Council brought a greater accessibility to politics to move beyond the rich or the retired and to bring decision making and democratic accountability back to those that mattered most, the residents who for too long had been under-represented by the nuance of being a minority of residents in RBWM, living in an unparished area. It was time to bring local decision making back to local people. Councillor Da Costa commented that although he supported the recommendation, he felt that the proposition had two significant areas of weakness. It did not give residents an idea of the possible range of precept, council tax and services, especially if the borough council sought to charge the town council for services it provided.  He asked that the consultation documents clarified this point. Councillor Da Costa raised the question of who the “we” were. Not all Windsor residents would be able to have a say in the running of the Windsor Town Council as presented in the paper.  They may have a say in what happened in Bray but not their home town. This was undemocratic and contravened the principles of localism. Councillor Da Costa asked Councillor Johnson to show that he was a friend of Windsor and commit to embarking on a process which would allow all Windsorians to have a say in their town.

Councillor Davey requested clarification of paragraph 6.20 which seemed to suggest the precept set would be double the amount currently paid, or he questioned whether it was just fake news by those who did not want to see a Windsor Town Council succeed. He asked if the reality was that the Town Council would, from year 2, set its own precept dependent on the services and projects they chose to take on. Therefore residents would not pay twice; they would pay the one amount to RBWM that included the precept that would be passed on to the Town Council.


Councillor Tisi welcomed the next stage of consultation. The Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2019 had included the proposal to ask residents if they wanted a town council so she was pleased that it was now happening.  She had found when she had been door to door that there was an interest in some of the money coming back to Windsor and having more of a say in local decision making. People may not understand the financial details but they certainly understood the need to make decisions about things that happened to their town more locally. Councillor Tisi felt that the leaflet had a few issues with readability that could be improved, for example some clarity on the point about the precept, to avoid misunderstanding.


Councillor Hilton explained that he was a latecomer to the CGR Working Group having taken up the position vacated by Councillor Story when he had been appointed Mayor. For 20 years he had been a Councillor on the Sunninghill and Ascot Parish Council so had joined the cross-party working group with some experience. He thanked his fellow Working Group members for their open minded and considerate approach to drafting the governance review, and officers for their valuable assistance.


As a consequence of a petition started in September 2019 and ongoing debate on social media, in July 2020 the council decided to undertake a governance review on the formation of a Windsor Town Council, and not to wait for a valid petition to be lodged.  Terms of reference for a review were published in July 2020 explaining the intention to consider the formation of a new town council for Windsor, and seeking comment from organisations and residents on the proposals contained in that document.


In total 69 responses were received, with 53 from the 20,500 electors that lived in the unparished areas of Windsor. It was the responses to this consultation that the CGR Working Group considered in drafting the CGR for a Windsor Town Council that was being debated. The Working Group had acknowledged the views of the first consultation that there should be one town council to cover the whole of the unparished area, that ward boundaries should reflect community interests and identities and that community governance should be effective and convenient.


The proposal for 21 Town Councillors reflected guidance from both Aston Business School and the National Association of Local Councils. The warding proposals met the desire for wards to reflect individual communities and to ensure equal representation. There was a small error in the report in paragraph 6.13 on page 48. With a total of 20,593 electors and 21 councillors the average number of electors per councillor was 980 and not 904. The number of electors proposed for each ward was within plus or minus 16% of this number which the Working Group believed to be acceptable.


There had been some debate on the level of the precept for a new Windsor Town Council and the final consultation stated this would be at least £34.31, equal to the current Special Area Expense. The Special Area Expense covered the cost of a number of services including street lighting, recreation grounds and open spaces. It was unlikely that all of the services would be transferred.  Should a decision be taken to establish a Town Council, in the interests of fairness and to avoid cross subsidies, a portfolio of services that cost the equivalent of the Special Area Expense would be agreed with the incoming Town Council. The minimum cost would be £34.31 plus any staffing and accommodation costs.


The powers available to a town council would be the same as a parish council. Should the recommendation be made to form a town council it was proposed to hold the first elections on 4 May 2023, alongside local government elections. Much thought had gone into the CGR for a Windsor Town Council and the Working Group had been at pains to provide a balanced view. The Group commended the Governance Review and the associated consultation to Council for approval. The Working Group was making no recommendation at this stage; its job was to manage the process and make the final recommendation to Council once the latest consultation was completed.


Councillor Davies stated that she was really pleased to be taking part in the CGR to offer residents the opportunity to say whether they would like a Windsor Town Council. It had been a very interesting and positive experience so far and she reassured residents that the process had been transparent, collegiate and guided by both national legislation and guidance and officer expertise. She had gained a renewed appreciation for the excellent work of the current parish and town councils across the borough.


Councillor Davies felt there was a very positive case to be made for the value for money which a Windsor Town Council would bring. The Working Group heard from the very successful Chippenham Town Council which ran a lot of services. She had also been inspired by hearing about the extra things which parish councils across the borough did for their residents, to add value at a local community level.


The Working Group’s recommendation was that a new town council for Windsor be formed, on the basis that the electorate and other stakeholders remained supportive of the proposal. She encouraged all residents to look at the detailed proposals and share their views so that they could be taken into account in the second round of the consultation process


Councillor Knowles commented that he had found the CGR Working Group to be a very positive experience. It had been an excellent example of collegiate working. It was an ongoing process that would hopefully lead to a town council in the future. He wished to suggest a few amendments to the leaflet where it referred to Windsor Town Council then went on to refer to a parish council, which was potentially confusing. He also wished for clarification to be added so people understood that they did not pay the SAE and then also the precept, there was just one charge. It was recognised that it would never be possible to please everyone. He thanked Councillor Davies for her work on the statistics and the ward areas. He thanked the officers involved as there had been a lot of work behind the scenes.


Councillor Rayner stated that it was an honour to serve as the ward councillor for Eton and Castle and also to be Lead Member for Windsor. There was an amazing and vibrant community in Windsor which had been demonstrated during COVID. The Clewer and Dedworth project also showed the strengths of the community. She thanked the Members of the Working Group and the officers involved in the CGR, which had been undertaken following a petition. She supported the motion as the draft recommendations gave a clear understanding of the proposals for a town council and information for residents to provide feedback on.


Councillor Price stated that she was pleased that the proposal was for one town council across the entire unparished area. She recognised that the allocation of wards was a difficult jigsaw. Councillor Price welcomed the gradual transition of responsibilities because in year one it would be a brand new council. She requested clarification on the responsibilities that would be transferred on day one and that they would be services that used up the £34.31 precept.


Councillor Cannon proposed an amendment to delegate authority to the Head of Governance and the Electoral & Information Governance Services Manager, in consultation with the Members of the CGR Working Group, to make minor amendments before publication.


Councillor Cannon commented that the process had been a remarkably good example of collegiate working that had produced a balanced and fair report. Any enhanced services that the council provided were great, but it should be noted that the cost would be added to the precept. Councillor Cannon explained that the responsibilities of a town councillor to the electorate were the same as a parish councillor. The name ‘town council’ was simply by virtue of the nature of the area. The Special Area Expense, the precept for the unparished area, was £34.31. By right this belonged to the town council if formed, but it had to take with it liabilities to equate to that amount from day one. Any additional liabilities would be through discussion with the borough in year two onwards.


There had been reference in the debate about the inclusion of Bray. This would need to be discussed with the Boundary Commission. The CGR focussed on the currently unparished areas of the town. Once and if a town council was set up, it could be for discussion in the future. The precept level in year two would purely be a matter for those elected to the town council. They would have liabilities that equated to the precept of £34.31; on top of that would be the costs of a clerk, accommodation and meeting space. Unless another revenue stream was found, the cost of any additional services would need to be from the precept. Councillor Cannon highlighted that it was local decision making but no decision making would be taken away from the borough. Parish councils did a very good job in their communities but they were an additional layer of government rather than a change from the borough. The draft recommendations proposed a single town council but this was out for consultation rather than a definitive proposal.


Councillor Shelim accepted the amendment proposed by Councillor Cannon.


It was proposed by Councillor Shelim, seconded by Councillor Cannon, and:


RESOLVED: That full Councilnotes the report and


i)          Approves for consultation the draft recommendations for the formation of a new town council for Windsor as detailed in Appendix A, subject to authority being delegated to the Head of Governance and the Electoral & Information Governance Services Manager, in consultation with the Members of the CGR Working Group, to make minor amendments before publication.