IN common no doubt with many others, I recently received through my door an election leaflet from Independents for Crediton. 

I was somewhat taken aback by its tone and content.

The author rather fiercely attacked named members of the Town Council, whilst at the same time failing to identify him/herself. Not very fair, I thought.

I understand that Independents for Crediton (IFC) model themselves on the principles of “Flatpack Democracy” (FD) as exemplified by Frome Town Council in Somerset and which principles are set out in two books by Peter Macfadyen, a former mayor of Frome, one of which I’ve actually read!

FD sets a lot of store on co-operative and respectful working with others with whom you may not agree, for the common good of the community.

I found it hard to detect much desire for this in the IFC leaflet. 

IFC wish to abolish committee meetings and save money by cutting “office bureaucracy”. Frome Town Council tried this. 

Macfadyen has this to say about the experiment: “While the panels (time limited working groups) were a great success, abandoning the committees was not. The papers for one full meeting seemed to arrive before the previous minutes were out, and there was simply too much on the agendas. We returned to the original committee structures a year later”. 

“Cutting office bureaucracy” to any degree, means jobs.

In my limited dealings with the council staff, I’ve found the team to be efficient, hard working, helpful and not short of work. So I wonder where IFC is looking to make these savings.

The Town Council has an administrative team of three including the Town Clerk, also a projects officer and youth worker.

By comparison, Frome Town Council has the equivalent of 29 full time staff, five posts being externally funded.

IFC don’t like council tax increases; but then who does?

Though when people are asked if they are happy to pay taxes to fund public services and works, the response is rather different. Town and parish councils are uniquely free to set their own council tax levels, whilst the District and County Council are controlled by the government.

Hence for example, youth services provided by the County have been cut, and the District can no longer afford to maintain public lavatories: so guess who picks up the responsibility, and the tab to go with it?

Frome council currently has a council tax precept of £208.80 for a band D property. Crediton Town Council has set a precept of £162.08 for the coming year. 

Services and events supported by the Town Council such as youth work, Christmas in Crediton, the Jubilee celebrations, provision of public loos etc are all either necessary or really desirable in terms of helping to provide the “glue” which keeps our community together and making life enjoyable for all. So can IFC tell us what services they wish to cut? 

The Town Council also gives grants to many voluntary organisations in the town: in 2020/1 more than 20 groups benefited, as diverse as Age Concern, Crediton Arts Centre, the Rugby Club and the Churches Housing Action Team.

This seems like a really cost effective way of supporting the community and at the same time empowering local groups in their activities. 

At the same time as wishing to cut expenditure, IFC want the Town Council to get involved in a variety of issues which are not its responsibility, such as repairs to the Parish Church (estimated at c.£1.5million), and allegations of bullying at QE (the school’s management and governors’ job to deal with).

There is much of interest in the FD model for local democracy; but to uncritically attempt a copy and paste to Crediton, and at the same time use it as a stick with which to beat our existing councillors, does not feel helpful.  

Like any of us, I dare say the Council could sometimes do better and sometimes makes mistakes. Generally though, it seems to make a good fist of looking after the town and its residents.

It’s a bit hard to see what IFC has to offer Crediton other than discord, and a degree of administrative chaos for the Town Council. 

John Craythorne