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Plan to boost community panels

By West Briton  |  Posted: May 15, 2014

By Richard Whitehouse

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CORNWALL Council is set to freshen up its community network panels to give them an enhanced role and encourage more members of the public to get involved.

The panels were established when the unitary Cornwall Council was formed in 2009, aimed at bringing together different organisations and individuals in the local community.

The 19 panels are made up of Cornwall councillors, parish and town councillors, and other local stakeholders, with a view to sharing information and ideas and raise issues in the local community.

They were intended to deliver localism and give the council a presence in communities after the scrapping of district and borough councils.

But they have attracted criticism as having been ineffective, with some suggesting they have become mere "talking shops".

As a result the council has carried out a review to see whether they can be improved, asking parish and town councils and Cornwall councillors for their views.

Some respondents suggested the panels should be scrapped while others said that being given a budget to spend in their local area would increase their power and influence and make them more effective.

The council's Cabinet received a report on the review last week and agreed steps to improve the panels' effectiveness.

These included having at least one formal meeting a year and ensuring all meetings are open to the public.

Councillors and officers have also said they will consider whether any budget can be provided to the panels in future.

During the Cabinet meeting, some councillors said they found their own area's panel helpful while others said they were ineffective.

Councillor Jeremy Rowe, Cabinet member for devolution and localism, said: "The review has shown the panels are operating in different ways. While we recognise that all areas are different and one size will certainly not fit all, we need to ensure that there is a consistent basic standard.

"The recommendations from this review, which include the need for all panels to hold at least one formal annual general meeting each year, and for their meetings to be open to the public, will help us to achieve this consistent standard. Panels will then be able to develop their own ways of working based on these principles.

"We want to empower and encourage communities across Cornwall to work together to develop local solutions to the issues which are facing us."

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