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Thursday, 24 March 2011

District and County Councils

Over the last few weeks we have been visited a Hampshire Council meeting and a neighbourhood safety meeting. As well as hearing from guest speakers from Winchester and Hampshire councils. Over these last few weeks, I’ve been noticing the differences between district and county councils. Although, it’s important to note at this point that you can also have single tier councils, such as Southampton.

One of the big distinctions between a district and county council is the budget. When looking at the difference between Winchester City Council and Hampshire County Council, the gap is huge.

Winchester has around £12.5 Million a year, whilst Hampshire has over £1 Billion. However, obviously Hampshire therefore has bigger responsibilities and duties to the public.

Councillors are responsible for things like land use, bin collection, housing benefits and leisure facilities. They usually now use companies that are contracted to do work for councils (with many companies bidding for contracts). Winchester City Council also has around 6,000 council houses.
You can also have Parish councils which have a very low budget (into the thousands).

The council is split into two. There are people we elect and therefore answer to us. Then there are civil servants, they are not elected, they are permanent placements. But they are able to progress with promotions until they reach 'chief executive' which are the head of service. However, a civil servant must have no political opinion.

The cabinet represents the House of Commons, this works in the same way for the council. The bigger party forms the cabinet, this helps decide the leader of the council.
Also certain people on the cabinet have certain responsibilities, such as ‘education’, ‘adult social care’ or ‘health’.

Head of Winchester City Council – Kelsey Learney told us that someone working for the city council could be making around 50 decisions a week, and because of this, it means that the they are unable to hold a vote on every decision they make because their wouldn’t be enough time.
She also explained that as all councils must now publish all expenditure that is over £500, it can lead to certain expenses being misinterpreted by the media and lead to them being portrayed incorrectly.
She also revealed that the councillors have knowledge of how to handle journalists and the media in general. An example is that Winchester Council would release certain stories on Tuesday evening because it is just before The Hampshire Chronicle deadline, making it difficult for them to cover the story in time.

Kelsey Learney is also a Liberal Democrat, and the Winchester City Council is therefore a lib dem council, but it doesn’t mean decisions can rely completely on the decisions of lib dems. A recent example is of the Lib Dems proposal for Sunday parking charges. The conservatives and other parties voted against it, meaning that it will now no longer go ahead. Also, the Hampshire council is predominantly conservative, which again highlights the difference.

All forms of council aim to serve the public as the first priority, however, thier attention to detail is ironically less with the more money they have. The budget differences are reasonable considering the scale of areas that need to be looked after. Although, Winchester City Council seems to be struggling further. They have seen cuts of £2 Million out of thier budget, and 15% have lost thier jobs. To comnbat budget cuts, they have cut a 1/4 of waste collection costs. To the county council, that kind of money is nothing.


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