This week, we are celebrating the achievements of a small parish in the Chew Valley in Somerset.
Clutton is a small village around 10 miles from Bristol and Bath, with a population of approximately 1,602 and 637 households. The village’s stable population is served by a hard-working Chair and 13 elected councillors, who together have made a commendable effort in recent years to turn Clutton into a paperless council.
As an advocator of local government moving with the times, NALC is pleased to see Clutton leading the way for others with its successful transition from analogue to digital by default.
Until 2013 the official business of Parish Council was completed paper based. Agendas and minutes were printed by the clerk and delivered to councillors with a single copy placed on the single village notice board and all accounts and finance documents were on paper. Any supplementary documents would be distributed at the start of the meeting to councillors.
The council’s basic Wordpress website proved ineffective and problematic, given in was out-of-date and often hacked.
In a bid to become more efficient, transparent, save costs and increase its public engagement, the council decided to go digital. This started with a move from paper files to sharing all documents using the online sharing system, Dropbox. The change was met with some concern and trepidation from council staff and councillors and there were some teething problems due to people not having up-to-date software, but these were soon overcome.
Next up, was the creation of a new website. The council worked with a local IT company who have created a site that is easy to navigate, with useful and well-presented content. The company maintain the site for a reasonable fee and the council no longer has the worry of having an open source website that can be hacked. The website includes newsletter sign-up functionality, enabling the council to collect email addresses and it now sends newsletters to local residents twice a month.
We are impressed to learn that the council’s new paperless meetings have been made possible thanks to a small grant from the Big Lottery Fund. With the funding, the council has bought a projector and the necessary equipment to show meeting paperwork on a big screen, making meetings more interactive and engaging – reflected in the increase of people attending.
The council’s efforts to move to digital have certainly paid off. Speaking at our Digital Councils event on 21 May 2015, Chair of the Council Rosemary Naish explained how the changes are saving the clerk time, making the council more efficient and communication with local residents is much improved.
Congratulations to Clutton Parish Council; we hope to see many more councils following in your digital footsteps.