Lack of volunteers hits grassroots politics in Norfolk

Communities face a postcode lottery over the future delivery of local services after it emerged that just a sixth of parish and town council wards will be contested on May 5.

That was the warning last night after concerns were raised that a lack of willing volunteers will hit the coalition government's Big Society project and impact on plans for more services to be delivered at grassroots level.

Figures obtained by the EDP show that out of the almost 550 parish and town wards in Norfolk and Waveney, just 90 will be decided at polling stations in less than three weeks time.

Cost, time constraints, and apathy have been blamed on the lack of response to the local elections with the majority of councils struggling to get enough nominees to trigger an election.

A handful villages failed to get a single volunteer to come forward whilst others will also have to re-run the election process in June after not getting enough members.


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The elections come at a time when town and parish councils are expected to take on more responsibility and services as a result of district and county council cutbacks.

Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said that in the 2007 elections, just 16pc of parishes were contested and the low figures were an indicator of how hard it was to recruit volunteers. He added that many people were put off from becoming a parish councillor because they did not know what the role entailed.

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'We are moving towards more localism and we could end up with a patchwork of quality across the country. We want to see services closely reflecting localism, but we do not want a parish lottery where if you have an active parish, you get excellent services and you suffer if you have not got as good a parish.'

'People do not realise the full potential a parish council can have to change communities. I would like to see a position where every reasonably sized parish is able to recruit a full complement of councillors that reflect the demographic of that community and they are more active in driving that community forward,' he said.

• Out of 122 parishes across North Norfolk, just 11 will have their council seats filled at the polling station.

• In Breckland, 22 out of 95 parish wards will be contested.

• In Waveney, 50 parishes are uncontested and just five will be decided on polling day

• Ten out of 63 parishes in the Broadland District Council area will be contested.

• In South Norfolk, there will be elections at 24 of its 109 parish wards.

• And in West Norfolk, just 18 of the 104 parish wards are contested.

Sue Lake, lead officer for the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, which represents more than 400 parishes, said some council hopefuls had to pay thousands of pounds to get their name on the ballot paper and the cost varied between authority. She added that parishes that did not have many people coming forward for council were 'content' places, but smaller councils would struggle to take on extra services.

'It is disappointing that elections are not held, but it is quite often the case. Some of that will be down to the cost. We all live quite busy lives these days and there is a time commitment issue. Quite often people are reluctant to put their name forward for election, because there is the fear of rejection, but are happy to be co-opted.'

'The vast majority of councillors find it a very worthwhile and rewarding role and they can bring positive benefits for their communities and the importance of parish councils will come more and more to the fore,' she said.

In Dunton, Lessingham, Pudding Norton and Salthouse in North Norfolk, no-one at all came forward to become a parish councillor and in another three villages - Felmingham, Southrepps and Trunch - there are not enough to make the council legally able to make decisions.

Ivan large, chairman of Salthouse Parish Council, said the reason they have no one standing is because they had been so busy thinking of the district council elections, they forgot about their own.

Elections have also been delayed in Tilney All Saints, near King's Lynn, because not enough people came forward and all five members of South Pickenham Parish Council, near Swaffham, have withdrawn their nominations for the forthcoming local elections in protest at new rules governing parish clerks.

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