By Rob Chilton, Account Executive
The recent furore over the widely-shared Handforth Parish Council meeting has, inevitably, generated internet memes, videos, and even musical tributes. At a time when lockdown is affecting the entire country, it provided some welcome humour to all those who found the proceedings hilarious, as the eponymous Jackie Weaver successively ejected misbehaving parish councillors from a Zoom call.
Whilst the vast majority of councillors in the UK appreciate their privileged position and behave accordingly, this situation witnessed at the Handforth Parish Council meeting provides some food for thought about what happens when this is not the case, although the dispute that led to Mrs Weaver, a professional clerk from the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, being called in, had clearly been rumbling on for quite a long time.
In common with many (possibly the majority) of parish councils across the country, all Handforth Parish Councillors are elected as independents. There are some advantages to parish and town councils working without the national political structure. However, it can lead to a loss of tried and tested infrastructure that comes with established political parties – for instance, a recruitment cycle of new members, a reselection process and a budget for communications networks.
In any establishment, political or otherwise, new voices can be disconcerting if they are critical of the status quo. Within local government, it is vital that new members are made to feel welcome and that the public have immediate reassurance that their elected representatives are working together on the issues which matter most to the community. Local council is designed to be as accessible and transparent as possible, maximising opportunities for engagement with the local people that they serve.
A comprehensive communications strategy can help to overcome some of the issues highlighted in the extreme scenario of the Handforth Parish Council meeting by ensuring that councillors old and new are aligned in the common goal of supporting their residents. This strategy should include regular website and social media updates, notices and newsletters, and public meetings with records made available. Keeping the general public up to date and aware of the good work of their parish council, of the identity of their parish councillors, and of the processes involved when it comes to decision-making or standing for election, helps to solidify councillors from all tiers of government as essential community liaison representatives.
Here at Cratus Communications, we have worked with parish councils and other local authorities to hone their communications, whether as part of a specific project, or to help them engage with a wider audience more generally. We have a Public Affairs, PR & Advisory Team with significant experience of local government, a number of councillors amongst them. If your parish or town council would like to talk to us about what support or assistance we can offer you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at [email protected] or 07479 319994.