Council of the Week: Dunkerton Parish Council
Dunkerton Parish Council (DPC) has been selected as 'Council of the Week' in recognition of the drastic improvements that have been made, following the Parish Planning process for improvement. Over recent years DPC has made a successful transition from being paper driven to paperless. It has become almost unrecognisable through new ways of working and notably more efficient and inclusive.
Deborah White, ALCA County Secretary explains the ‘before and after’ situation in Dunkerton:“Previously, Dunkerton Parish Councillors’ knowledge of, and involvement in, local issues depended on the Clerk’s continuous printing, copying, manual circulation and posting of a lot of documentation. This was especially true of the Council’s process for dealing with Planning Applications.
The result was costly, inefficient and untimely. Most worrying, DPC’s meetings were characterised by the Councillors sitting round a table at one end of a large hall around a number of documents that only they had seen or could see, discussing things only they had read about, whilst at the other end of the room parishioners had to do their best to decipher the abbreviated, incomplete, arcane and dislocated conversation they were hearing.
Frequently and embarrassingly, Councillors and attendees all had to huddle around one trestle table to examine at arm’s length and beyond the only hard copy of detailed Planning Applications and drawing suites. Decision-making, as a result, was often slow, undignified bordering on the comical and prone to error.
DPC could only offer internal and external presenters an old slide projector and blank walls. It made DPC look very backward and out of touch.
In response to Parishioners’ calls during the Parish Planning process for improvement, DPC secured a Small Grants loan from B&NES Council to purchase an audio-visual (AV) suite comprising a laptop, software, screens, mobile internet access and audio induction loops in parish halls.
The grant has enabled DPC to move to an almost paperless operation. DPC’s meetings are now characterised by Councillors and parishioners sharing one clear view of the information to hand. Meetings have a very different feel: that of DPC keeping its parishioners informed about its day-to-day activities between meetings, warning them of things to come and briefing them on plans, progress, risks and issues in hand. The whole air at meetings is now one of inclusiveness, involvement, healthy challenge and openness.
Notably, DPC has won national praise from The Planning Portal, recognising it as a leading example in how to manage paperless Planning Applications. More widely and locally, DPC has recently been held up by B&NES Council as its showpiece parish council for paperless operation. Consequently, DPC has been regularly welcoming local parish clerks and councillors as observers to its meetings to demonstrate how efficiency, effectiveness and inclusiveness can be improved in local government through better technology.
DPC is delighted that its solution has been used as a catalyst to develop similar improvements in other Parish Councils. DPC has worked with organisations in the parish to support and improve their activities through the shared use of some equipment. This has improved wider community involvement beyond parish council matters. The audio induction loops in the Parish Halls, in addition, offer the courtesy of helping those with hearing difficulties. And visiting speakers have contemporary facilities to show clear, interactive and high quality images and visual aids.”
NALC would like to congratulate Dunkerton Parish Council on its achievements and hold it up as an example of how better technology can vastly improve the efficiency and inclusiveness of a town or parish council.