By now, you’re mostly likely aware of the Rochester Town Council campaign. It’s been running for a while now, with the primary aim to give Rochester more say over it’s own affairs. This article is not about the pros and cons of such a council, it’s about the process and barriers that the campaign is having to deal with.
Disclosure: I am a supporter of the Rochester Town Council campaign, and signed it’s petition. The reason this is relevant will become clear later on.
The campaign for a town council formally began in March of this year. It needed to collect signatures from 7.5% of registered electors in the area of the proposed council to trigger a Community Governance Review. This essentially forces the council to hold a full consultation on whether or not a new council needs to be created. 7.5% of the electors of Rochester meant 1644 signatures were required to meet this threshold.
Throughout the campaign, Medway Council have made their feelings on the matter clear. Despite the fact they have to give the campaign a fair hearing via the Community Governance Reviews, cabinet members (especially the portfolio holder for Democracy and Governance, Andrew Mackness) have stated on several occasions that they see no merit in creating an additional layer of local government in Medway. While this can be dismissed as personal opinion, there are some rather more worrying signs from the council about their commitment to treating the campaign fairly.
In October, the campaign formally submitted their petition to Medway Council, having collected 1785 (141 more than required) signatures in the previous seven months. After two months, the council declared the petition to be invalid, after refusing to accept signatures collected online rather than on paper, despite previous suggestions that these would be accepted. Granted, the campaign should have probably done more to ensure they had the status of online signatures in writing, but it’s not difficult to look at this and wonder why the council didn’t flag this earlier.
The second issue is the way in which the council is verifying the signatures, even those submitted on paper. The council decided to compare the submitted signatures with those on June’s electoral register. This was not the start of the campaign, nor was it the end, instead it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s also how they were able to deny my own signature.
I moved into the town council petition area in September. I duly notified the council and added myself to the electoral register, and received confirmation in writing that I had been accepted. As such, I signed the Rochester Town Council petition, yet have since discovered that my own signature was declared invalid as I didn’t live within the town in June. Which leaves me in a slightly odd position of living within Rochester, being on the electoral roll in Rochester, while also apparently not being a valid resident of Rochester at the same time. I am Schrödinger’s constituent.
The Rochester Town Council campaign are not giving up though, instead attempting to collect all of the online signatures on paper (and some extras too). These will be submitted to the council in the new year, when the council hopefully won’t find another arbitrary hurdle that the campaign has to overcome.