Should we level-up parish councils in 2022?


Do you have a town or parish council? Do you know what it does and who sits on it?

Now ask yourself the same questions about your local authority or county council. I bet your answers are very different.

A report published recently by the influential Onward thinktank found that only 37% of people living in England are covered by a parish council.  In the North West, if you live in Blackpool, Bury, Liverpool, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport or Wirral you will not be represented at the lowest tier of local government. And in many other parts of the region, whilst one town or village might be parished, the next settlement may not be; a democratic deficit that the ‘Double Devo’ Report argues needs to be addressed.

Many of us working in property interact with town and parish councils on a regular basis and I’m sure that most would not welcome devolving further powers and responsibility down to the lowest possible level.  We all remember that Handforth Parish Council meeting in February 2021.

But Onward makes a powerful case that changes to local government at regional level (more unitary authorities, county devolution deals and metro mayors) will not solve many of the problems the Government is trying to address.

For example, the report finds that town and parish councils can play an important role in placemaking.  Onward’s Social Fabric Index found that local authorities which scored strongly in areas such as community assets, volunteering & group membership, the number of local businesses, and open and public space, tended to have higher levels of parish coverage than those councils which scored poorly.

Proposed Reforms

They propose three reforms which are aimed at giving local neighbourhoods the ability to take back control of their place through a well-resourced and democratically legitimate town or parish council:

  1. Automatic ballots of voters in every local area currently without a town or parish council, to ask whether they want to adopt neighbourhood-level governance. These would be held at the same time as the next local council elections to minimise cost.
  2. Moves to strengthen the quality of governance by requiring that every town and parish council is two-thirds elected and ensuring that 25% of revenue from the planned Infrastructure Levy goes to town and parish councils. This would produce an estimated £175,000 income for every existing town and parish council.
  3. Expand the role of town and parish councils by extending the General Power of Competence on the same terms as the rest of local government and creating new powers to devolve functions down from district or unitary councils. These could include: maintenance of green spaces, management of civic assets, street cleaning, the licensing of markets and street trading and the ability to invest in church buildings.

The report argues that “the ability to pull down responsibility and to benefit from the Infrastructure Levy would encourage places to adopt proper community governance, and thus give high calibre people a more direct incentive to represent their community as town and parish councillors”.

Such a result could only benefit everybody involved in the placemaking process.

The recommendations have the backing of Jackie Weaver. If they’re good enough for her, they’re good enough for me.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blogs this year. Wishing all readers a very Merry Christmas.

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Good article Kev

By Rick Stevenson