Return of parish handyman in light of public service cuts

Date: Friday 13th February 2015

A RURAL parish council is planning to turn the clock back by employing its own lengthsman (handyman) in the coming year. The cost of his employment will be met by Above Derwent ratepayers, whose present precept is likely to be doubled.

Above Derwent has one of the lowest precepts in Cumbria. In 2014-15, a Band D property owner pays £17.55 per year (34p per week) for the local portion of the council tax levy. The new scheme will result in an increase to around £35.75, depending on the outcome of tenders due to be considered by the parish at a meeting on Wednesday.

At one time local authority lengthsmen were a common sight in the towns and villages of Cumbria. They ensured drains were kept unblocked, grass verges tidied, and small, but important, jobs were attended to.

A report on the council’s website states that both Cumbria County Council and Allerdale Borough Council are facing drastic cuts in their budgets for public services, and that a locally-administered scheme will give “much better value for money”.

Residents in Above Derwent, which encompasses the Newlands Valley and villages of Portinscale, Braithwaite and Thornthwaite, were consulted on the matter.

Around 500 forms were delivered throughout the parish and there were more than 80 responses which represented just over 15 per cent. of households. Of those, 80 per cent. were in favour and 20 per cent. against giving the parish council a clear steer about local feeling.

The report stressed the move should provide parishioners with a substantial improvement in “on the ground” services.

It states: “The idea is that the lengthsman will do preventative work as well as remedial work. There may be some small areas of duplication, but it is felt that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’, so will be of substantial benefit to local people.”

In the first instance, the jobs to be carried out will be decided by councillors through the parish clerk, Jackie Knights, but as it is a parish scheme residents will be encouraged to give her feedback.

Suggestions of work to be undertaken include litter collection, hedge trimming, small repairs to infrastructure, cleaning of signs, more grass cutting, leaves being cleared, drains prepared at the beginning of autumn or unblocked in an emergency.

Residents will be able to report matters they would like the lengthsman to tend to and give their opinions on how jobs have been done.

Once the plan is adopted, Above Derwent Parish Council will be only the third parish in Cumbria to employ a lengthsman. Those using a similar service are Cleator Moor and Colton, near Ulverston.

Initially, the scheme will be for one year and will be reviewed throughout that period. It will not be renewed if it is thought it has not worked.

The parish precept for 2016-17 would then fall. If it works well and people want the lengthsman to have more hours, the parish council will hold discussions before 2016.