Shaftesbury Town Council is holding two information events designed to encourage residents to stand for Council.
Are you interested in what gets built on the land in and around Shaftesbury? Do you care about our town’s green spaces, the Oasis Pool or the events and occasions that we celebrate together as a community?
Members of Shaftesbury Town Council regularly make decisions about all of these aspects of local life. Now, residents are being encouraged to stand for election, so they can help shape the future policies that affect us all.
In May, all of the town’s current councillors will stand down. All of the seats are ‘up for grabs’ but as some councillors are not seeking re-election for another four-year term, there could be a considerable change in the make-up of the Town Council.
“The application forms are going live in the middle of March, so we’re putting on a couple of events to tell people what it’s like to be a councillor, how you can support and get involved in your local community and help shape it,” said Town Clerk, Claire Commons.
There are many areas of local life that the Town Council doesn’t deal with or exercise a deciding influence over. Education, highways, social services and economic development are not the Town Hall’s responsibility. Those areas will all be looked after by the new Dorset Council, which takes over from North Dorset District Council and Dorset County Council in May. The Town Council doesn’t have the final say on planning matters, either. They will also be determined by the new Dorset Council, but town councillors do get to express an opinion.
The first information event at the Town Hall is at 7pm on Tuesday 12th February. “There will be a drop in councillors session on the Saturday following that, so that people, having taken the information away from the meeting, can come in and have a chat with councillors,” said Claire. “I’ll also be there to answer any technical or legal questions.” The second session runs between 10am and 2pm on Saturday 16th February.
Claire says that a local government survey suggests that, on average, councillors spend three hours a week fulfilling their duties. Anyone aged 18 or over can stand for election but you need to check that you’re eligible right now. “You need to be on the Electoral Roll as well,” said Claire. “If you are new to the area, you have moved house or you haven’t previously voted, check with North Dorset District Council that you are registered to vote,” she added.
If you want to stand for election to the Town Council, you need to have Shaftesbury connections. “You can live within three miles of the parish and there are also other criteria that might mean you’re eligible, for example if your main place of work is Shaftesbury or you have land in Shaftesbury. So if you think you might be, come in and have a chat with me and I will check for you,” said Claire.
It might seem odd that the Council is encouraging people to come forward because those councillors who are standing for re-election are effectively encouraging competition for their seats. “It’s very true and it’s an interesting scenario, but actually the Council is at its strongest when every seat is contested, because then you know you have the representation of the people and the democratic right to be there. We’ve got to fill all twelve seats,” said Clare. “All councillors step down at the beginning of May and the elections take place on the 2nd of May. We will have our new Council in place on 7th May.”