So, just what does ‘the council’ do?
When you ask someone what ‘the council’ does, you will get a variety of answers, but with some common threads.
Firstly, you will get those who don’t think ‘the council’ does very much. Each month they pay a not inconsiderable amount of Council Tax, and yet feel they don’t get much in return.
Secondly, you will get those who believe they know what ‘the council’ does, but doesn’t do it very well. They see the potholes, anti-social behaviour, lack of facilities and so on … and see these as examples of ‘the council’ not doing their job properly.
And then there is the massive misunderstanding of who ‘the council’ is and who is responsible for what. ‘The council’ is often seen as a single monolithic monster that is responsible for all public services – from health to policing, education to social services, roads to rubbish – when in reality, when blaming ‘the council’, it is often the case the responsible body is not the Council (either Central Bedfordshire Council or Leighton Linslade Town Council), but another body – which may be a public body, or private company albeit in receipt of public funds.
To be fair, there are many grey areas where different bodies work as a partnership, or where services are delivered by one authority on behalf of another, or where one body has an oversite over the other.
I do believe that some of this partnership working and delegation of authority and the like does confuse everyone, and leads to the wrong authority being seen as responsible or having influence over something they don’t.
Indeed, this confusion can exist with elected Councillors just as much as local residents, with Town and Parish Councillors making promises they cannot deliver because it is a Principal Authority’s (i.e. CBC’s) responsibility – and crucially – they hold the money!
There are several areas of responsibility where, in Leighton-Linslade, confusion is rife – and sadly, this confusion is often exploited by – and possibly even perpetuated by – elected Councillors.
South of the High Street
The redevelopment of the south of the High Street is a CBC responsibility, and it will be CBC members and Officers who determine its future, in consultation with the Town Council and other interested parties.
I will not pretend that CBC is in a position to hold its head high here. This has been dragging on longer than I have been a member of CBC, and I am not holding my breath as to when it will be resolved. But at the same time, I would urge residents not to buy in to some of the fanciful ideas that we still see promoted by some LLTC Councillors. These ideas weren’t realistic 10 years ago, and they are even less realistic now.
The harsh reality is the majority of the land will have to be used for residential development. I know this is not popular, and if there was a choice I would wholeheartedly pursue it.
Any development may also include office space – again, not something that anyone really wants but needed to make the development commercially viable.
The notion of this land being a large retail area with flagship stores was probably never viable, but I hope that even the most die-hard optimist will now realise this is never going to happen. Hopefully any development will include some retail and leisure, but this will not be the primary use of the site.
Any promises of significant community use need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. I will vigorously push to maximise contributions from any prospective developer for community facilities, but expectations need to be realistic.
Perhaps particularly relevant at the moment is Policing and crime. Despite what may be suggested, all operational policing decisions (including the allocation of officers, resources and police stations / hubs) is the responsibility of the Chief Constable.
Despite the existence of Police and Crime Commissioners, the day to day running of Bedfordshire Police sits with Chief Constable and his senior Officers. While the PCC sets the budget and the strategic objectives – through the local Police and Crime Plan – the implementation of that plan is operational.
Notwithstanding how the delivery of Primary Healthcare has been impacted by the pandemic, concern is often raised about access to GPs in Leighton Linslade, the lack of any minor injury unit or other hospital-like services, and the general under investment in healthcare in the town.
These concerns and criticisms are valid, and I share these frustrations.
Unfortunately, there are some opposition Councillors who perpetuate the idea that all of these problems would be resolved if CBC were to provide the much talked about ‘Health Hub’ – i.e. a new building with state of the art facilities, minor injuries, out patients and more. This is at best only half the story …
CBC – or anyone else – can build a building and call it a Health Hub. But unless existing surgeries want to relocate to that building, or the NHS commission additional services for that building, the building will stand empty and unused.
To create a Health Hub, there needs to be full buy in from the NHS and local surgeries. There is, I understand, some interest from local providers in creating a ‘virtual health hub’ where existing surgeries work more closely to provide services, but there appears to be little interest in supporting a new physical building. And until there is interest from the NHS and surgeries, CBC cannot act unilaterally.
So, having read this, you may be left thinking that I have said a lot about what ‘the council’ doesn’t do, and little about what we actually do.
I have attached a summary of what each Council does do, and over the next few weeks I want to highlight some of the lesser known areas of the Councils’ work.
In the meantime, Happy Easter!
Cllr Amanda Dodwell