Party Politics Risk Undermining Saddleworth Parish Council
During its current term of office Saddleworth Parish Councillors have developed a good team working relationship and have produced commendable achievements; these include re-addressing the way the Parish Council does its work, £45,000 net rates rebate, annual rates bill reduced by £14,000, annual insurance bill reduced by £1,500, energy bills significantly reduced by shopping around and applying energy saving measures, running the cemetery as a self sufficient business with no money paid into or taken from Parish Council funds, excellent cemetery restoration work carried out, precept not increased in 2013 or 2014, parish caretakers recruited without increasing the precept, effective focus on transport issues and successful resolution of planning issues.
Party politics have not played any part in our meetings until the advent of the Saddleworth School issue. However, since September 2013 sadly their unsavoury smell permeated the council’s chamber; unfortunately they prevail.
This unsavoury party political stance resulted from the proposed new secondary school in Saddleworth. Last summer, at the request of a group of Saddleworth residents, public debate on the subject was initiated in a letter to the Oldham Chronicle. That fuelled considerable opposition from some prominent parish councillors. The councillors advocating public debate were subjected to threats, bullying and intimidation in an effort to curtail the debate; the premise was that inviting public discussion would totally undermine the case for having a new school in Saddleworth. When such threats failed councillors supporting public debate were accused of not wanting any secondary school in Saddleworth; accusations were made in an effort to undermine their credibility in promoting debate. Such accusations were emphatically rejected; education is so important and feeds major opportunities in raising individual achievement in life.To further undermine public debate one parish councillor was also recently reported in the Oldham Chronicle as saying “The Education Funding Agency has threatened on a number of occasions to withdraw funding for the new school in Saddleworth.” It will be interesting to see if that statement stands up to formal scrutiny or if it is merely a political ploy used as a frightening tactic.
Perceptions also exist are that some parish councillors want to stifle public opinion, comments and debate with respect to local issues. Sadly there is a view among a handful of politically motivated parish councillors in Saddleworth that public opinion and comments are not of value to council business.
To some members of the public, party politics are totally offensive, at government, borough and parish levels. They consider party politics as disruptive and view that they contribute to disunity within communities. On a general level focus on representing a community as a whole is displaced by focus on what is important to the party in power. Moreover, such behaviour is often accompanied by an arrogant stance that if the electorate doesn’t like what is happening it will have an opportunity to do something about it at the next election. Sadly one prominent Saddleworth Parish Councillor is on record as sharing such sentiments. Of interest to note is that one community association in Saddleworth has expressed extreme dissatisfaction with politics dominating the Parish Council chambers to the degree that it totally by-passes the Parish Council and addresses issues direct to OMBC.
My view is that party politics risk undermining the work of Saddleworth’s Parish Council. Far more importantly they are degrading to the electorate and could be construed as bringing the Parish Council into disrepute. The important question is: “Who do the Parish Councillors represent, a political party or the electorate?” Furthermore, it is unacceptable to have one of Oldham’s political party machines imposing party will at the expense of all Saddleworth residents; such a stance undermines the Parish Council and is disrespectful in representing the residents of Saddleworth. Only one of the three groups in the Parish Council seems to play the political game, the other two rightly maintain and apply effective independent thought in dealing with Saddleworth issues.
Saddleworth Parish Councillor Rob Knotts
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