Does Bury St Edmunds still need a town council? Questions asked over viability of current political structure

Bury Town Council Building on Angel Hill

Bury Town Council Building on Angel Hill - Credit: Gregg Brown

Bury St Edmunds Town Council has defended itself amid calls it should do more, be broken up into different parishes or not exist at all.

Questions are being raised about what the town council does and how viable it is, including from within its own ranks by councillor Peter Thompson.

He believes the authority, which has 17 members, is too expensive to run for what it does and its finances are “unsustainable in the long-term”

The projected budget for 2014/15 for expenditure is £190,536, with £149,636 of that - almost £80% - to be spent on costs associated with running the town council. The projected income for the year is £200,426.

The council’s forecasted reserves at March 2015 are £90,161 (there must be a minimum level of £60,000).

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The debate around the need for Bury Town Council is not a new one, with a campaign to scrap it launched it 2007 by the now defunct Abolish Bury Town Council Party.

Mr Thompson, who is vice chair of the town council’s finance, policy and resources committee, said: “The town council should not exist in its current form; it needs to be broken up into a number of different parishes, more like a village parish where the administrative costs are minimal, or it shouldn’t exist at all and the functions it does need to be handled by the borough.”

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Currently, the town council’s roles include giving grants, managing allotments and it is a consultee on planning and licensing matters.

Mr Thompson said grant giving was an example of a service the town council was duplicating as it is also carried out at the borough and county levels.

He said borough and county councillor David Nettleton had a point in saying the town council should do more with the money it has.

At a town council meeting last year councillors had a brainstorming session to come up with ideas of what else the authority could do. Mr Thompson added: “We should have a need and set up a public body and taxation to deal with that need. What we have got is the other way round.”

Town clerk Julia Dyball said councils could always do more, adding one of the things Bury Town Council has been looking at is speed control signs.

She said: “The town council’s functions and services include acting as a ‘community voice’ on planning and licensing applications, providing allotments, salt/grit and litter bins, maintenance of war memorials, presentation of civic awards to honour the town’s volunteers.

“It is a tourist information hub and provides an annual community fete. It works with other stakeholders in the town contributing to floral, art and heritage offerings including St Edmund and wolf statues, the new welcome signage and a planned Flying Fortress commemoration sculpture for Moreton Hall.

“It is a contributing partner to the planned Destination Management plan to improve tourism, to the Magna Carta events and providing the venue for the Christmas Fayre control room.”

She said the balance between the council’s running costs and what it spends on services could be improved, but she reiterated savings had been made on office rent by downsizing.

A St Edmundsbury Borough Council spokeswoman said the borough believed local communities are often best placed to run their own facilities.

“So, where a service is already being delivered by any town and parish council, we would like to maintain that arrangement and, where any parish or town council is interested in taking on a more active role, we would be happy to discuss it with them.”

Borough and county councillor Trevor Beckwith, who is pushing for Moreton Hall in Bury to be its own parish, believes those on a town council - the grassroots level - should be non-political.

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