AN OVERHAUL of the way the council deals with communities will mean the end of regular township meetings claims Bury Lib Dem leader, Cllr Tim Pickstone.
But Cllr Tamoor Tariq, Labour cabinet member for communities, insists a new scheme, which will involve ward level annual or bi-annual meetings instead of quarterly township meetings is about ‘empowering communities’ to help themselves.
The proposal was due to go to full council meeting for approval last night and will save the council an estimated £7,000 a year.
Critics fear the new system, which will be phased in from next month, will mean an end to the township forums, which currently meet four times a year in each of the six townships across the borough.
But supporters of the proposals say under the current system township forums are often poorly attended and the new plans will allow the council to be better engaged with people in the borough.
However, Prestwich resident, Jay Lieberman, is a regular forum attendee and said: “I absolutely think township forums are a fantastic thing.
“It seems they are distancing themselves from the people they are supposed to be looking after.
“It’s the only time I get to see all of my councillors face to face.”
At a recent Bury cabinet meeting Cllr Tariq stressed the fears are unfounded.
He said: “It’s about putting people at the heart of communities and making sure they are the forefront of setting the priorities and setting the solutions.”
Holyrood ward councillor, Tim Pickstone, said: “I think what it is, is the end of a regular township meeting as we know it now.
“I think it’s a shame that that is ending and it’s not at all clear what it is being replaced
According to Cllr Tariq, the new ward meetings will be accompanied by two ‘participatory budget meetings’ where groups would be able to apply for funding for their causes.
The budget meetings have already been trialled in Radcliffe and Bury East, giving a total of £2,000 to local causes.
Councillors would also be in charge of a discretionary budget, which they would be able to allocate, from a prepaid card, to smaller informal groups.
Cllr Tariq and Cllr Trevor Holt said this would benefit groups who cannot raise the popular support needed to secure funding at ‘X Factor style’ budget meetings.
Township level meetings would become annual events and include an awards ceremony to celebrate outcomes and achievements.
A new ‘digital engagement platform’ would also allow Bury Council to send e-newsletters, to perform quick polls and run an online forum.
Cllr Holt said: “It almost does away with our surgeries because people won’t need to come to us with a problem on a specific day at a specific time.”
But Mr Lieberman felt a move online was not a better option than township forums.
He said: “They are an open forum that I believe in, more than just sending an email.”
But Cllr Jane Black, who chairs the Prestwich township forum, said: “It’s a new approach and I think what it aims to do is make it more focused on the priorities of communities and residents.
“I think an annual meeting complemented by more ward opportunities in between is worth trying.”
Cllr Jackie Harris, the chairperson for Bury West township forum said: “The whole point is to try and get more people engaged.
“We have a disappointing turn out at township forums but when they have issues they do turn up if there’s something controversial.
“The idea is to get people more engaged.
"I think people are switched off by politics and if we can improve attendance at meetings that is a good thing.”