Member Survey 2024


The SALC annual survey was launched at the end of January and ran for a period of 8 weeks, closing at the end of March.  Details were sent by email to clerks and reminders included periodically in weekly bulletins.

  • 147 responses received (just under 40% of SALC membership)

  • 59% of respondents completed the entire survey

  • Question 18 was the most skipped question which asked for ideas on future topics for SALC to focus on

  • highways management was the main priority for councils and the proposals for SALC to work with Suffolk Highways to improve communications received positive feedback

  • a download of the survey which includes individual comments but which does not identify the respondent is available here using this link and a summary which SALC will be using in conversations with stakeholders and partners is below for further information.

What next?

Member councils will see updates in our news bulletins and our networking events on changes, activities and projects linked to these priorities which will also be monitored by the SALC Board.

Response by district


Top five high priority issues

General comments under the priority question included:

  • massive number one priority is speeding/highways - everything else is of secondary important

  • more training courses for new councillors

  • flooding - which comes under a number of headings, community safety, emergency planning, environment, highways etc.,

  • planning - not including major infrastructure projects - these are two separate issues for many smaller councils

  • rural speeding - our VAS is recording higher and higher speeds

 Environment and climate

The majority of those responding to the survey were concerned about flooding and want to know if they can do more locally to address this.   A number strongly agree that more professional support and funding is needed and it is clear from the open comments that many did not have the capacity or powers to make a difference or, frustratingly, were unable to influence what is needed to address these matters.   A high percentage wanted to know more about what the districts and county are doing in this area.  Some councils are not sure where to start and over 50% agree that the SALC dedicated page/online information have been useful and influenced approach. 

General comments under this heading:

  • we do not have a climate action plan but have resources should we consider it necessary and we understand our biodiversity duties

  • we don't have capacity for this work (a number of respondents said this)

  • central government will make a difference

  • I have no knowledge on this subject and no one on my council has brought it forward for discussion

  • we have a plan and varying degrees of understanding what the responsibilities are and what are real achievable aims for our parish council

  • we have a climate action group with knowledgeable and experienced members who are prepared to volunteer towards relevant projects

  • we are not aware of our duties in relation to biodiversity net gain but would like to know more

  • as a very small council we tend to focus our limited resources on day-to-day issues, however direct guidance on our duties and any actions we could take would be welcome


The survey shows the majority understand and deal with planning applications as a statutory consultee and evidence of good working relationships with Local Planning Authorities (LPA)  - 14% did not feel there were good working relations compared to 52% who did and a further 31% who strongly agreed they did.   There is good attendance of briefings and trainings by the LPA and agreement the information and support provided by them is useful.   When asked if it was noticeable that there were improvements in support and guidance available from LPAs over the past 12 months, 5% strongly agreed and 38% agreed with this statement compared to 47% who did not.  Not many had accessed the online resources on planning NALC had produced.  Over 50% were aware of  jointly produced SALC and Suffolk County Council guidance for town and parish councils on infrastructure projects.  Over 70% were aware of changes to planning to planning law, a small percentage had watched a copy of the recording of the planning law update from the SALC conference with over 60% stating they had not.  In the open comments there is evidence of a feeling that representations made are ignored by the LPA and calls for training via the district council to enable the council to respond effectively.    A low number were considering neighbourhood development plans with 31% agreeing that having one is useful.   Approximately 16% would like to have one but not sure where to start or the merits of having one.

General comments under this heading include:

  • a number of personal challenges for members of the parish council so not as engaged as they would have liked to be with some attending ESPA (East Suffolk Planning Alliance) meetings and feedback that this is a talking shop which is disappointing.  Consultations on North Felixstowe Garden Village have been poor including not allowing questions from the floor.

  • difficult for communities to review neighbourhood plans when the planning authority does not have a complete local plan

  • the council almost always decides in the opposite way to the parish council which means many have become disillusioned with the parish council and say there is no point bothering to express an opinion which is perhaps why there is little support for a neighbourhood plan

  • with only four councillors out of a potential seven and difficulty in recruiting volunteers we don't feel we have the resources or expertise available to complete a neighbourhood plan.   We have looked at the lighter touch version that is being proposed but at present that is too woolly to warrant time and energy being spent on it

  • we are beneath the scale for a neighbourhood plan to be relevant

  • we have considered a neighbourhood plan on several occasions but could never justify expense and time

  • the costs and logistics have put us off especially when they often lack teeth in other communities.  Councillors are good at considering the impact on the village and neighbouring properties but sometimes lack insight into what the legal position is on the matter, unfortunately there is an apathy amongst councillors who consider that whatever is raised will be overridden at district level so the uptake of training is not a popular idea

  • since Green Party councillors in MSDC there have been improvements in communication and our local representative (Con) has been very helpful

  • councillors struggle to understand all the planning policies and their hierarchy so it is often left to the clerk to identify the policies that apply.  The fact that often the planning authority goes against it can be frustrating and the informal negotiations that take place between the planning authority and the developer can lack in transparency at times.  It is also difficult to accept how some material considerations that fall to the officers within the planning authority can be some when they are so significant, ie minor amendment v s.73 planning applications.  There is no training or direct information from the planning authority and this is an area which would benefit from serious consideration (see download for the rest of this comment).

Community Safety

A high percentage of those responding to the survey have speed cameras and agree they are a good deterrent.  Just over 25% have had the opportunity to use the ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras which they say have made a difference.  Just under 30% would like to know more about speed cameras. There is knowledge of how local policing works, that there are changes being introduced and they know who their local community engagement officer is.  However over 35% disagreed with this.   There were also some really useful additional comments including clarification on the question which quotes "speed camera" where locally it is more common to have a SID (speed indicator device).   Comments also included experience that despite local speed devices it had not resulted in reducing average speeds. One example of a camera being out of use due to lack of volunteers and that it had limited effect give that no action was taken in response to the data collected.  Also views that changes being introduced will be a retrograde step and lack of understanding how new arrangements will work.   One comment might reflect other rural communities - "because of our rural location and where the police who attend our village are based, as well as the pressures they are under, we do not always feel that we get the best service."  Another stated they had speed indicator devices and it helps reduce some speeding issues but they do not like policing their communities.  The police camera vehicle comes often to their village. 

Highways management

There is a high level of awareness of the new partner Milestone Infrastructure and almost 60% know that there is an opportunity to work with SALC to help improve communication.    Over 85% disagreed that they had seen a difference since the new contract was introduced.  Approximately 60% are aware of online guidance on the County's website.  Over 90% think an online highways forum through SALC is a good idea and approximately 86% welcome the opportunity.   Over 95% are concerned about the impact of budget cuts in relation to highways maintenance.  There was evidence that not many councils are aware of increased social media content by Suffolk Highways.  The open comments include some positive comments stating the highways reporting tool is effective or that it is too soon to judge Milestone.   However, some state communication is not the issue - it is timely action on repairs.   An online forum would only be effective if it was tightly controlled and not used as an opportunity to berate Milestone.   Some highlighted the 'One Network' was useful to inform the parish of local works.

General comments under this heading:

  • we are aware of Suffolk Highways social media but has not been applicable for our parish, not aware of the quick guides and not aware of what Milestone are doing as yet

  • highways management is broken - needs a different model not a new contractor.  It would be helpful if SALC challenged the monopoly Suffolk Highways have created for themselves

  • too soon to say if Milestone are making a difference yet they took over just before we had three floods so a running battle to keep up with highways maintenance

  • not seen any difference

  • we do not use social media

  • not aware that Milestone Infrastructure were the new highways maintenance partner, our community has been involved with community self-help and been on the training scheme

  • we have had a recent survey on suitable village improvements to discuss as a pc, which we will take to the village next month

  • the state of some of Suffolk's roads speaks for itself, and the recent budget cuts do not fill us with confidence that the situation will change soon enough.  The priority scheme used by SCC is not reflective of the importance placed on some matters by the general public particularly when it results in damage to their vehicles (potholes) driver and pedestrian safety (lack of verge/footway maintenance) unnecessary detours and additional petrol expenses (closed road signs either misplaced or not removed when works have been finished, lack of clarity about closures) as well as a sense of abandonment and lack of care (signage not cleaned, repaired or even replaced in some cases)

  • we leave it to our local population to follow Highways information online or social media

  • we have continually requested work from Suffolk Highways (we even have a budget to pay for it ourselves).  So far after numerous meetings progress has been zero


Just over 47% strongly agree/agree they are concerned about the adequacy of their budget to meet increasing costs compared to over 50% disagreeing with this statement.  Around 70% intend to increase their precept this year.  Just over 42% cannot afford to increase resources this year compared with just over 47% saying they can.

Approximately 69% of parishes use a simple spreadsheet to manage council finances compared to 21% who use a package.  Over 95% understand the requirements of the Transparency Code.  A high percentage would like more support on where to find grant funding that town and parishes can apply for and just over 40% would like to manage their grant funding function better and learn from others. 

General comments under this heading:

  • budget is adequate but we are concerned at the diminishing budget at higher tiers of government and the impact they are having on support functions provided to the village this is especially true of Suffolk Highways and policing budgets

  • East Suffolk Council provide good and frequent advice on grant funding available

  • we are a parish meeting and many of the questions in this survey and SALC publications need to take account of value, structure, operations and needs of parish meetings

  • we manage our budget with the help of SALC

  • we get support on external funding from East Suffolk and Community Action Suffolk

  • we have not raised our precept this year and use SALC payroll we would however like more information on issues like working from home, pay scales etc.

  • due to two large housing developments in the parish we have a huge increase in precept therefore we are able to increase spend within the parish to include lorry parking restrictions we are happy with the spreadsheet management of finances, clerk is a contractor so manages own taxation arrangements

Community assets

Many respondents said they had a number of community assets in their parish/town and help provide funding or support the management of them.   The majority were aware of support from other teams/organisations to help manage them but 25% did not.  Comments included the fact that the parish had been very proactive in ensuring community assets were managed by the parish council and not a management company or the district.  Others explained they had a number of projects that were ongoing and managing them ok.  One had just arranged a Lease for a playing field but the process was painful to get it over the line.

Loneliness and isolation

Approximately 73% of respondents were concerned about social isolation within their community with 6% having a number of initiatives in place to help deal with it, but just under 30% did not.  Over 55% provide funding to local clubs and groups to help address such matters but again just over 30% did not.  A larger percentage (80%) were aware of support and initiatives available through other agencies and regularly promoted these.  Approximately 45% have an informal good neighbour scheme compared to 44% who do not and 22% use the rural coffee caravan compared to 62% who do not.   

General comments under this heading:

  • there are already social groups in the village providing social meeting opportunities for tea and or lunches - and there were many examples of this in the comments from other parishes

  • no need for rural coffee caravan - our community hall opens regularly with East Suffolk Council support

  • the rural coffee caravan used to visit us but has not done so for a number of years due to lack of custom - this was mentioned more than once

  • the town council provides umbrella support to many organisations and groups

  • we dont have our own funds but we apply for locality grants and district council grants to benefit groups in the village

  • we have tried several initiatives in the village but there is never any interest as we look after each other and there are several existing clubs and organisations

  •  we have a cafe in the village and we are involved in a project to support mental health and have had a number of suicides in the village

  • we are planning to have a new community centre

  • this is an underdeveloped area for us, both because of capacity issues but also lack of expertise and knowledge

  • it would be helpful if third party organisations remembered to include parish councils in circulation lists rather than them finding out they will be in the parish the next day

Councillor recruitment

A large amount of respondents regularly promote what they do in their local magazine or social media.  Around 62% have councillor vacancies and struggle to attract interest in the work of the town or parish council.  Around 50% agree they have a good cross-section of the community on the council including those from minority groups but 42% disagreed with that.  Around 78% would like SALC to undertake a campaign to raise awareness of local council work to help increase its profile but only 12% had case studies to offer SALC in order to give examples.  Sharing of ideas of what worked in other parishes was popular.   Around 90% offer new councillor training to those new to role.

Comments under this heading:

  • when I started as clerk in 2021 the parish council was carrying a number of vacancies and we have worked hard to raise the number, councillors are or a similar social background and age profile - there is not much diversity or youth representation

  • we are a parish meeting therefore no councillors we have some 12 -15 volunteers who help us

  • we have a single vacancy and already two expressions of interest, the town is expanding which creates an increased and more diverse pool of residents many of whom come to the town attracted by its community ambience

  • we always have at least one councillor vacancy and it is difficult to recruit reasons given are too busy, do other things in village, dont understand it all, not interested, parish council is ineffective, no one is prepare to chair this year but we do get a reasonable public attendance for the size of our parish

  • what about parish meetings

  • we are short of councillors and have had to cancel sever pc meetings at short notice ... meeting remotely like during COVID would help

  • we always offer new councillor training through SALC but to date none of them have taken it up

  • we dont have any vacancies at present but we have councillors who dont share the workload and just turn up for meetings

  • we have a tiny public audience ... during COVID we had more people come to online meetings.... we have tried information sessions but few villagers came ....hardly any villagers attend the annual parish meeting .... more attend if there is a controversial issue

Clerk/officer recruitment and/or retention

Not many respondents had a clerk or officer vacancy but agreed (63%) that a campaign to raise awareness of the role would be useful.  The majority seemed aware of the SALC service to promote vacancies and a good percentage (60%+) of Suffolk Jobs Direct who offer a low cost job advertising service.  Approximately 73% agreed online tools to help with recruitment from SALC would be useful.  Some comments included the fact that after some time a new clerk had been successful recruited and SALC has assisted.  Others saying it is difficult to find experienced clerks to take over when someone resigns or retires. 


It appeared there were volunteers to help across communities in lots of different ways, but 29% disagreed with this.  There was a good awareness of the annual volunteering campaign run by Community Action Suffolk.  Around 28% could provide case studies on how volunteers make a difference to help raise awareness too.  It was good to see that around 58% had procedures in place to help manage volunteers but 30% did not.  Around 80% wanted SALC to continue to raise awareness of campaigns to promote more interest in local volunteering.

General comments under this heading included:

  • volunteers remain in small groups generally of civic-minded retired people, getting a significant number of volunteers remains an issue

  • we have informal volunteers that pretty much self-manage, people seem to like the idea of volunteering until it actually comes to a date for commitment then it gets mainly to the councillors and pressed staff or family, this wears thing on those who already commit a lot of time to the village, it makes the parish council reluctant to run events although they are well received and attended

  • we find it difficult to get volunteers - everyone is too busy

Public transport

Rural transport remains a real issue for communities - 88% either agreed or strongly agreed and 61% disagreed that there was a local community transport scheme that worked well in their area.  Around 30% wanted to know how to find out about how to set up a local scheme.  Just under 50% were aware of Transport East and their work compared to 45% who did not.  

General comments under this heading:

  • there was a very informative general comment giving a comprehensive description of issues in their experience over a number of years including engagement with Transport East

  • no effective community transport scheme

  • town council supports local minibus

  • we a local community service but it struggles for funding

  • no local transport to Needham Market and Stowmarket

  • public transport very limited Mon to Friday and no evening buses

  • we along with three other parishes made a successful bid for our rural transport scheme

Emergency planning

There was an equal split between respondents of those with emergency plans -v- those who do not and a lower percentage of those who regularly test. Around 38% would like more information on this subject and around 68% would like to understand roles and responsibilities in relation to flooding.   There was appetite for an awareness campaign.

General comments under this heading include:

  • no volunteers to set up a plan

  • the plan is out of date

  • we have considered and will come together as and when necessary

  • we do not consider this to be something organised at a community level due to appropriateness and resources including the need to keep it up to date

  • we have worked with Suffolk Prepared but nothing could have prepared us for recent flooding

  • recent flooding exposed how agencies simply do not protect communities at risk of flooding, lots of evidence gathering and talking but precious little action

  • the role that the town council should play in an emergency situation and how this relates to the work of other statutory bodies is still confusing

Business continuity

Over 55% of respondents have processes in place that help address business continuity with 47% stating they included loss of expertise compared to just over 35% who do not.  Around 55% are aware of these risk and would like support to help manage them compared to 25% who did not.   Use of the risk register for these matters did not score very high.

General comments under this heading include:

  • we are not aware of any plans for loss of expertise, if this happened we would contact SALC

  • we should but dont

  • we have sufficient safety nets in place

Training and development

Not all respondents had a training and development plan (57% did) but some would like to develop one.  The majority ringfence funding for training.   Around 47% had a CiLCA qualified clerk compared to 46% and around 24% would like one.  There was some interest in the potential development of a bursary scheme.  Only 3% of respondents had a clerk / officer with community governance degree but more wanted to find out about degree-level training including Masters.  The majority were aware of the SALC development pathways for councillors and officers, the Local Council Award Scheme and appetite to find out more. 

General comments under this heading include:

  • despite opportunities for training difficult to get interest in this

  • I am happy as I am and do not want to do CiLCA

  • we do not have funding available to cover cost of CiLCA

  • we are currently reviewing information required for Quality Gold 

  • clerks do not get paid enough to do a degree level qualification

SALC member services

General comments

We have added the general comments to a list below and added some initial thoughts.   We will take actions forward as requested.

Future training topics

  • 82% wanting planning training - this has now been organised for June using our partners, Birketts

  • Biodiversity net gain was another popular topic - a free event has been organised (April) with over 100 delegates attending and the planning training includes a dedicated session on this

  • Emergency planning (41%)

  • Recruiting and managing volunteers (33%)


SALC website and portal

Navigation - SALC will review and currently investment is being looked at to include a search function.

Enquiries - using the portal for everything - eg charged services.  Is this just for the benefit of SALC internally and is it customer friendly?  What about one to one conversations?

The purpose of the portal is to act as a one stop shop for our members to bring information together and signpost rather than relying on menus on the website.  It is not the only way to raise enquiries or contact SALC but it is an efficient way for us it means we can be more consistent if different people have to assist.  It also means we can check if there are common issues and tailor our communications or the way we do things to make improvements or provide more guidance.    Enquiries often result in us making a quick call to the council to chat things through and we know that is helpful.  Equally we take lots of phone calls daily to help and we know how useful one to one discussions are.     We have policies in place to manage confidential enquiries which the team designed based on our experience of handling these over many years. 

SALC survey

Can we be clearer about who should respond - the clerk, a councillor, the chair or the whole council?

We do sometimes state who should respond when national surveys come through but have had feedback that councils handle these matters in a variety of ways.  Some do like the whole council to look at the survey and respond and others are happy for this to be delegated to the clerk.  We therefore leave the choice up to the council as a result.

The headings were lost when you scroll down and there were a lot of leading questions.  Please avoid acronyms and avoid asking councils their name which may compromise honest opinions.

We use survey monkey and so we will look to see if it is possible to use a template that avoids that.  The application helps the user design surveys and makes suggestions on format which we have used here.  We always try to make sure that there is an open comment box both under each question and at the end.   We are trying to establish if our understanding of issues matches the council's understanding and so the strongly agree, agree, don't agree answers help us assess that.  We will look at this for next year and try another way and appreciate this feedback. 

We apologise for using ANPR - this means automatic number plate recognition.  We do have a jargon buster so it was a valid point to make.  Here is a link to our jargon buster.

We like to map where the responses are coming from.  Where councils do add their name (and not all do and it is not a compulsory field) and they raise an issue, we contact them and provide more information to assist.  This can be by email or telephone.  As a member organisation it is important that councils know we need their views in order to tailor the service for them and this is a good way of doing that.  


There were a few comments about the regularity of our weekly newsletters.  We will look at this and see how we can manage information that we cascade in a smarter way.  We do duplicate key messages because on occasion in the past some items are missed which can be as a result of annual leave, staff vacancy.  

Service requests

Guidance on

  • Raising funds for and managing significant modernisation of a tired old village hall.

  • Value, style, operation, structure and relationships of parish meetings.

  • Managing a charity.


Recruiting suitably qualified clerks and finding new councillors.

Future in-person SALC conferences

  • the majority (70%) felt a central location was important compared to 25% who disagreed with this statement and 3% who did not feel it was applicable to them

  • around 60% agreed that moving the location around was preferable but 32% disagreed with this

  • over 80% agreed that if the location was too far away they would not attend

  • 32% of respondents had also attended the SALC conference held at The Hold, Ipswich and agreed it was a great venue with good facilities whereas 30% disagreed and for 37% this was not applicable

  • 64% said they preferred online events compared to 30% who disagreed with this statement

  • 44% would like to see an annual conference but 34% would not with a conference every other year more popular

  • there were a few respondents suggesting a mixture of online and in-person

  • there were some good suggestions for topics to be covered which included:

    • rural transport

    • roles and responsibilities

    • emergency planning

    • judicial reviews

    • biodiversity net gain

    • planning

    • parish meetings

    • funding

    • managing conflict

    • IT innovation

SALC services

  • from those who responded it revealed there were fewer designated SALC reps in councils than we had thought

  • awareness of SALC area forums remains and those who do attend continue to value them

  • SALC training is very much valued as is the information provided specifically for the sector

  • information is cascaded across the council by the clerk for the majority 

  • there are fewer people watching recordings of events than we had anticipated

  • there was awareness of the SALC November 2023 conference

  • not all were aware of our digital magazine - the TLC (the local councillor) 

  • some had signed up to the NALC newsletter but some found it irrelevant

  • there were some great suggestions on how SALC could help with raising awareness of the sector

  • an idea of SALC being able to visit areas across the county to meet councillors in-person

  • evaluation services for councils in relation to clerk role and salary would be helpful

Priorities by district 

We have drilled down into response by district but only in relation to some of the key priorities to allow SALC to have further conversations with other stakeholders.   Please note not all respondents identified which district they were from.  On the whole the priorities identified from all responses is reflective in each districts.