More than 160 councillors have been elected unopposed to a network of parish councils across Milton Keynes – without having to deliver a single leaflet or make a campaign promise.
Elections to 25 parish councils could have been taking place across the borough today (Thursday, May 20), to coincide with the borough council poll, but contested parish council elections are only taking place in nine wards across just six parishes.
A huge 19 parish councils, including Woburn Sands and Wavendon for example, will be made up of councillors who have not had to stand on a single voter’s doorstep.
Cllr Terry Baines, the chairman of Campbell Park Parish Council, said the candidate deficit across the city is nothing new. “But we have seen improvements over the past couple of years,” he said.
“I have read today that there are several district and county councils around the country where councillors have been unopposed. We are not able to force people to stand and that in itself is democracy.”
Cllr Phil Ayes, the chairman of both Milton Keynes Association of Local Councils, and Castlethorpe Parish Council, said it reflects a national trend, at a time when councillors are being asked to do more.
He said: “The problem is that residents are very busy with their own lives. Many commute and when I was working it would have been impossible to be a councillor even in the evenings never mind attending council business during the day.
“Working seems to have become much more intense and, of course, one’s family has to take priority. I have noticed even over the last 10 years that volunteers for all kinds of local activities have declined.
“But the result is that you are correct, there is a dearth of parish councillors and, furthermore, many of us are retired. It is disappointing because parish councils can do a lot of good with their local knowledge which can never be matched at borough level. I wouldn’t be critical of borough councillors but their ‘patch’ is a lot bigger in most cases.”
Residents are asked to vote in a contested election if there are more candidates than available seats. In many places parish wards have barely managed to attract a single nomination.
Parish councils are the most grassroots elected organisations within England’s local government structure. They set budgets and set a minor part of the annual council tax bill.
Parishes due to hold elections this year were: Abbey Hill; Astwood & Hardmead; Bow Brickhill; Broughton & Milton Keynes; Castlethorpe; Emberton; Fairfields; Great Linford; Hanslope; Haversham cum Little Linford; Kents Hill, Monkston & Brinklow; Little Brickhill; Loughton; Moulsoe; North Crawley; Shenley Brook End & Tattenhoe; Shenley Church End; Sherington; Stantonbury; Stoke Goldington; Walton; Wavendon; Woburn Sands; Woughton, and Whitehouse.
However, official notices of poll were only issued in nine areas across just SIX parishes: Emberton; Great Linford (two wards); Haversham/ Little Linford; Loughton and Great Holm (two wards); Shenley Church End (one ward); and Woughton Community Council (two wards).