A journey through the Newport Pagnell Town Council study tour 2023
Author: Shar Roselman, town clerk at Newport Pagnell Town Council
Join me as I reflect on the enlightening study tour held in June 2023. Let's explore the valuable benefits of study tours and dive into the extensive array of subjects that these tours can cover. Trust me, you will want to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in the next one!
What exactly is a study tour?
A study tour is a close look at another council, usually one of the super large councils, their services, their successes and their failures. It's a great way to pass on knowledge, strategy and good practice and to learn from each other. Usually, there are twelve delegates attending, which makes for an intimate experience at which people can feel free to share their experiences, warts and all. They are open both to councillors and to officers of any parish, town or community council, and are hosted by the mayor of parish putting on the study visit.
What did you cover during the study tour?
We gave presentations on the devolution journey Newport Pagnell has undertaken since 2012, in taking on ownership of a swimming pool, a community centre, a sports ground, a youth club, sixteen parks and play areas and 74 hectares of common land from our Unitary Authority. We spoke about the hurdles we faced on the way, overcoming resistance from the principal authority, meeting user expectations and satisfying residents. The importance of partnerships such as the one with our leisure service contractor that saw the build of a £1m gymnasium adjacent to the swimming pool, all at no cost to our residents, was highlighted. We also briefly touched on how our neighbourhood plan had created policies to support all this change. This was followed on day two by a bus trip to see the council's physical assets and how they operate in practice.
Why did Newport Pagnell Town Council put itself forward as a venue for a study tour?
Aside from feeling that we had useful insights to share with others who were thinking of taking their own devolution journey, we had previously sent delegates on other study visits all around the country. Our delegates brought back a huge amount of information on subjects ranging from managing a splash pool to restructuring a parish council so as to provide services to a large range of clients other than residents, about astonishing greenhouse projects and about northern parishes that think differently about precept. We learned about a parish brave enough to invest in fixed penalty schemes that levy £1,000 fines on the owners of fouling dogs, and we shared the experiences of a parish that runs extensive leisure facilities, including holiday lets. It is truly a wealth of information that made us more confident in taking risks ourselves. We kept learning even after the formal dinners of the first nights of various study visits well into the evenings, where great relationships were developed across the country over several glasses of wine.
Did Newport Pagnell Town Council gain anything from putting on the study visit, and would you recommend that councils host and attend future study visits?
Yes, to both questions. We shared our information with the parishes who attended the visit, but they also shared their practices and exciting plans with us. For example, one of the parishes who attended was very keen on adopting climate change policies and shared some of the things her parish is doing. We'd definitely recommend to councillors and council staff interested in getting closer to their younger residents (and those who aren't) that they book the next one, which will be in Yateley. It will focus on Youth Services and communicating with the young. We've already made a booking for two of our councillors to attend. See you there! And it's a great opportunity if you are willing to put on a study visit to share some of your expertise. We don't always have to keep reinventing the wheel – sharing knowledge during a trip that is a lot of fun can revitalise your vision, expedite the revision of your parish plan and give your thinking a kick-start. We can wholly recommend study tours.
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