76th Annual Conference & AGM - 2023

We returned to our spiritual conference home, Moulton Community Centre, for the 76th Annual Conference & AGM, which was held on Saturday 7 October 2023. 130 delegates, speakers, exhibitors, and guests arrived from 0915 for the traditional hot breakfast rolls.

Northants CALC Chair, Mike Scott, got the event underway promptly at 1000 starting with the AGM business, including the election of officers, and setting the subscription fee for 2024/25.  The board of directors was appointed en bloc with one change following the resignation of Ally Chang (Finedon Town Council) and the appointment of Kate Houlihan (Far Cotton & Delapre Community Council). Mike Scott thanked Ally for her service over the past two years and welcomed Kate to the board. Mike commended the Annual Report to the meeting, highlighting the support the Association gave member councils following the death of Queen Elisabeth II, the distribution of over £100,000 of CRF monies to parish and town councils in Northamptonshire, the engagement with the unitary councils on the development of the Local Area Partnerships, and the lobbying work the Association does nationally, particularly this year on improving clerks’ terms and conditions.  The AGM decisions are recorded in the minutes of the meeting, which are available here: 

Following the formal business, Northants CALC CEO, Danny Moody, gave a presentation on AI and Parish & Town Councils, starting with an overview of AI and then exploring the impact of AI – both positive and negative – in the parish and town council sector.  Danny gave several examples of how AI could be used for things such as community engagement, reporting defects on the rights of way network, and helping to make comments on planning applications.  A short Q&A followed the presentation, where the dichotomy of the pros and cons of AI was explored. The slides of this presentation are available here: 

Following the AGM business and the presentation there was a break for refreshments, including another opportunity for delegates to speak to the exhibitors.  We are very fortunate to have the support of several companies that specialise in the parish council market, including Wicksteed Playgrounds, Cloudy IT, CCLA, Clear Utility Solutions, Blachere Illuminations, Parish Online, Breakthrough Communications, Rialtas, and SLCC Northamptonshire.  Northants CALC is very grateful to all our exhibitors and commercial sponsors for their generous support and for giving up their Saturday to be with us.

After the break there was a session called “Engagement with the Unitary Councils” with guest speakers George Candler, Interim Chief Executive at North Northamptonshire Council, and Sally Burns, Director of Public Health at West Northamptonshire Council.

George Candler walked delegates through NNC’s strategic plan and the vision that drives what the council does.  He said that a permanent CEO is being recruited and an appointment is expected by the end of November, with an announcement on 7 December 2023 at NNC’s full council meeting.  George said that the financial outlook and the operational environment for all councils is challenging and that NNC has an £8million predicted shortfall for 2023/24, with adults’ and children’s services being the most challenging and representing approx. 57% of overall expenditure.  George said that he had been passionately involved with parish and town councils and had helped create Shrewsbury Town Council in Shropshire and Northampton Town Council.  He said, “I and NNC recognise the importance of parish and town councils and it is important that the relationship is maintained and developed.”  

He recognised the frustration of slow communications and things not happening as quickly as they should but said “The crucial thing is that we keep talking, we keep evolving, that we keep learning, and that we treat each other as equal partners” and added “Your voice in what we do is really important”.  George went through the various ways that NNC engages with and makes information available to parish and town councils and announced that NNC will be confirming in the next two weeks the appointment of a Parish Liaison Officer to act as a single point of contact between NNC and all parish and town councils in North Northamptonshire.  George welcomed the involvement of parish and town councils in the development of the “Big50” vision for how North Northamptonshire will be in 2050.  The first Big50 conference was held in July 2023 and further events are planned for 2024.  A copy of George Candler’s slides is available here: 

Sally Burns opened by saying that she was standing in for WNC’s Chief Executive, Anna Earnshaw, who sends her best wishes to the conference and apologies that she couldn’t attend in person due to another long-standing commitment.  Sally said that she was pleased to be at the conference because as Director of Public Health and a parish councillor herself, she knows the vital role that parish and town councils play in health and wellbeing in their communities.  Sally outlined the transformation journey that WNC has been on since its creation on 1 April 2021 and agreed with George Candler that councils are operating under significant financial and service pressures.  Sally said that good and positive progress was being made, albeit that there is always more to do.  She introduced Alan Burns, the Parish Liaison Officer for WNC, and set out how his role was created and developed following the recommendations in Northants CALC’s Building Communities prospectus.  

Alan has been very active working with parishes, setting up forums, and helping to unstick communication blockages in the system.  Sally said “The critical bit is to get the relationships absolutely right and that parish and town councils are heavily involved in codesigning the relationship.  If we get that right, it will be really exciting”.  Sally then detailed how residents can access WNC services, including via the web and through a growing outreach service, which takes services to residents in their own communities.  Finally, Sally then described the Health & Wellbeing Strategy, noting that it applies equally in North Northamptonshire because the strategy is ultimately owned by the countywide Integrated Care Northamptonshire.  She said, “Parish and town councils are the front end of improving wellbeing in communities and many facilities and services you provide feed into the Ten Ambitions in the Health & Wellbeing Strategy.”  The delivery plans falling out of the strategy will be developed through the nine Local Area Partnerships (LAPs) in West Northamptonshire with the involvement of parish and town councils.  The newly appointed LAP Leads will establish links with the parish and town councils in their area.  Sally ended with an appeal to share good news, saying, “There’s lots of amazing things going on where we are really making a difference and we should talk about that and share good practice.  And as community leaders, parish and town councils make a massive difference, so thank you for what you do.”  A copy of Sally Burns’s slides is available here: 

After the formal presentations, Mike Scott chaired a Q&A session where delegates were able to pose any question to the speakers, or to comment on what they said.  Several questions related to the slowness of response when parish and town councils need to contact the unitary councils, for example regarding asset transfers, spending developer contributions, planning applications, and highway works.  George Candler and Sally Burns said that the unitary councils know they are not perfect, but that progress is being made and things will get better.  George Candler said that any parish or town council in North Northamptonshire could contact him at any time and he will always respond.  There were several questions relating to the division of focus and service provision between urban and rural areas, particularly in West Northamptonshire in relation to the availability of adult education classes and the new forum for larger councils.  Sally Burns said that it is vital to build community resilience in every part of West Northamptonshire and that rural councils were just as important as urban ones.  She repeated that Alan Burns is there for all parish and town councils, regardless of size and location.  Responding to a question about health and wellbeing and the need for a greater emphasis on and investment in prevention, Sally Burns said that the new LAPs in Northamptonshire will play a key role in ensuring that action plans are evidence-led and that the resources are put in the right places.  Several questions related to planning and development control, and George Candler said that a new Head of Planning would be starting at NNC in mid-October, which would make a real difference.  Sally Burns said that WNC’s Head of Planning had been in post for six months and progress was evident.  Both councils are still carrying significant vacancies in their planning departments and are dealing with legacy issues from the former borough and district councils, but things are now stabilising and starting to improve.  Finally, a delegate noted that rightly there was a lot of talk about partnership working and creating visions for the future but urged the unitary councils to focus on what matters to residents and to parish and town councils now and to help residents understand who does what saying that parish and town councils often take the blame for what goes wrong, but never get the credit for things that go well.  In response George Candler agreed that most residents only see “the council” and don’t know – and shouldn’t need to know - which council provides which service.  He recognised that parish and town councils are often the “front door of local government” and that the unitary councils need to provide timely and accurate information to parish and town councils to pass on to residents.  At the end of the Q&A Mike Scott led a round of applause for the speakers and thanked them very much for their time and participation.

The final section of the conference was the recognition awards and Danny Moody started by announcing that the 2023 Council of the Year was Rothwell Town Council.  Danny said “This council has massively ramped up its activities over the past six years, and particularly in the past couple of years.  The council has had to be brave and bold in raising the precept, from a very low base a decade ago to something workable now, but despite high percentage increases, its Band D tax rate is still less than half the national average.  The clerk has led the council to new heights and there is no sign of reaching a plateau anytime soon!  In a little over two years this clerk has transformed the council and has achieved the CiLCA qualification on top of their day job.  It has been very impressive to see.  This council has councillors with the experience, skill, and determination to improve the quality of life in this community.  I feel like the councillors here have rolled their sleeves up to fight for their community. ”  Cllr Ian Jelley and Clerk, Jo Garner received the Council of the Year trophy from the Association’s President, Jeffery Greenwell.  

The conference then recognised the thirteen clerks that had achieved the Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA) qualification during the year, Roade Parish Council for being accredited at Foundation Stage in the Local Council Award Scheme (LCAS), and to all the councillors that had completed one or more stages of the Councillor Development Framework (CDF).  A complete list of all the clerks and councillors receiving recognition   is available here: 

The winner of the prize draw, drawn by Sally Burns, was Cllr Ted Nicholl, Mayor of Daventry Town Council, who received a luxury hamper generously donated by Wicksteed Playgrounds and presented by Jeffrey Greenwell.

In his closing remarks, Mike Scott, said “Thank you everyone.  It’s been a fabulous morning and I hope that you enjoyed it and that you got something out of it.”  Mike thanked all of the sponsors and exhibitors, the guest speakers, the team at Moulton Parish Council for hosting, and the staff team at Northants CALC for putting the whole event together.

Finally, Mike announced that the 77th Northants CALC Annual Conference & AGM will be held on Saturday 5 October 2024, again at Moulton Community Centre, and that he looked forward to seeing everyone then. Put the date in your diary now!

Papers & Presentations

76th Annual Conference - Delegate Information  

76th Annual Conference - Complete Delegate Pack 

76th Annual Conference - Presentations: AI and Local Councils 

76th Annual Conference - Presentations: Engagement with Unitary Councils - North Northamptonshire Council

76th Annual Conference - Presentations: Engagement with Unitary Councils - West Northamptonshire Council 

76th Annual Conference - Presentations: Recognition Awards

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