---Coun Mike Bawden has issued a challenge to a local protest group to stand up and be counted.

Speaking in his capacity as ‘Father of the Chamber’ in his final full council meeting before retirement,the veteran said members of Better Swindon should stand at the forthcoming local election.

It followed a heated public question time at Thursday’s meeting after which Coun Bawden (Con, Chiseldon and Lawn) said if members of the group wanted a mandate they should try to get elected.

Better Swindon is a recently formed group which seeks to improve the democratic process and hold the council to account. Members of the group have said they are not party political and standing for the election is not the only way to participate.

Coun Bawden, who is stepping down next month after 40 years as a councillor, said he respected their right to make points but if they wanted to prove they had public support they needed to put themselves forward.

He said: “We have a democratic process whereby people can get a mandate from the people by standing at election.

“As it stands this is a group of people with something in the region of 30 to 50 members in a town of 210,000 people.

“I have had to seek election for the past 40 years to get the mandate and represent the people.

“I fully respect their right to hold and voice opinions but if they claim to represent the people of Swindon they need to come forward and win a mandate in the local elections.”

Following the meeting a statement was released on behalf of the group by Carole Bent and Kareen Boyd, which said: “Better Swindon is not party political.

“The group formed as a direct consequence of the experiences of many local people across the borough of Swindon.

“There were so many examples of people feeling let down, misled and inadequately represented that something had to be done.

“Being a councillor is only one way to make a difference and at this time, there is great potential to create change as a non-political group.

“We also recognise, that along with the poor conduct of some, of deep concern to many in our town, there are a number of good councillors who not only share the Better Swindon principles but already demonstrate them.

“It would be interesting to hear Coun Bawden’s views on these.

“It is clear that times are changing. There are many people across our town who want Swindon to reach its potential and are willing to participate in making this happen.

“Our next public meeting will be at the end of April, all are welcome.

“Details will be on our Better Swindon Facebook page shortly.”