Around 500 delegates attended the conference, and speakers included: Phil Woolas, minister for local government; Anna Randle, senior policy analyst, Lyons inquiry; Paul Hilder, lead policy analyst, Young Foundation; Jeremy Taylor, chief executive, Cheshire CC; Ken Cleary, chairman, NALC; and John Findlay, chief executive, NALC.
Mr Cleary told the conference that: 'Local communities feel that they have a lack of control over the way public services and functions are delivered to them, and this is leading to disenchantment with those in power. It is time that local people, via neighbourhood vehicles like parish and town councils were given a better say or a larger degree of ownership over services they use in their daily lives.'
Mr Findlay demanded: 'That there should be a renewed drive to bring about change in local government and this should be focused in neighbourhood arrangements. Within this focus, parish and town councils should be able to take on more services from other tiers of local government, if they so wish. Our task is to work closely with government to ensure an extended and developed role for existing and new town and parish councils, ensuring that they are the focal point for all community stakeholders to come together.
'We rightly believe that people are too often justifiably dissatisfied with the state of their neighbourhoods, and with the public services they receive, but feel powerless to effect change. I am concerned additionally that there is still too much emphasis among principal authorities on a 'top down' provision of new arrangements, seeking the provision of new community governance through principal authorities themselves, rather than through local communities and town and parish councils.'
Ms Randle commented: 'The report, 'National prosperity, local choice and civic engagement', published by the Lyons Inquiry in May, emphasized the importance of place-shaping, greater local choice and increased flexibility. Place-shaping, taking responsibility for and promoting the interests of local people, is something that can and should be done at a local level. Furthermore, increasing flexibility at the local level should make co-operation with higher tiers of local government easier.'
Paul Hilder, Young Foundation said that: 'The UK is almost the only country that is uniquely centralized. The government needs to recognise that town and parish councils are the closest form of local government. The challenges to Whitehall are to improve the 'bottom-up' strategy, make sure local councils are given the appropriate powers and to give local councils more financial scope. There needs to be a two-way dialogue about devolution.'
Mr Taylor said: 'Local government provides vital local services and does it efficiently. However, at the moment lots of places are still unparished. The government needs to make the process of creating a town or parish council easier and we need to encourage people to take pride in their communities and show that you can influence-decision making in your communities.'
Also at the national conference there was the announcement of the prestigious award winners of the Aon/NALC Council and Clerk of Year competitions. The main aim of the awards is to recognise and celebrate best practice in the first tier. The National Association would like to congratulate Burgess Hill Town Council for winning the Aon/NALC Council of the Year award. NALC would also like to congratulate Richard Bowran who picked up the Aon/NALC Clerk of the Year award. Mr Bowran was recognised for his work at Newport Parish Council, in Essex.
The National Association of Local Councils is the national representative body for 10,000 community, parish and town councils throughout England and Wales. In all, there are over 100,000 community, parish and town councillors throughout England and Wales. These councillors, who serve electorates ranging from small rural communities to major cities, are all independently elected. The councils have powers to raise their own funds through council tax. Community, parish and town councils provide employment for over 25,000 staff while their annual expenditure exceeds£400 million. Together, they can be identified as the nation's single most influential grouping of grassroots opinion-formers. Over 15 million people live in communities served by 10,000 community, parish and town councils nationally - this represents up to 30% of the population. Over 150 new community, parish and town councils have been created since 1997.