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PARISHES LACK CRUCIAL RESOURCES

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Urban parish councils fulfil a wide range of functions, but are denied sufficient resources to train new members an...
Urban parish councils fulfil a wide range of functions, but are denied sufficient resources to train new members and are often viewed suspiciously by principal councils.

Those were some of the findings of a report published this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, following a study of three bottom-tier councils established by residents under the 1997 Local Government and Rating Act.

Author Mark Bevan, of York University, found the councils were sensitive to residents? priorities, and provided a wide range of functions from funding community development workers to collecting litter.

But he said residents who established councils often found the transition to being a councillor difficult, with few having any previous local government experience.

He called for more training and guidance, as well as a national website to share good practice.

A new tier of government often created tensions with existing authorities and this could require third-party mediation, Mr Bevan suggested.

Currently parish councils, of which there are approximately 10,000 across the country, can apply for quality status to gain enhanced powers over service delivery, consultation and information.

But Mr Bevan said urban locals were currently denied access to grants available to their rural counterparts, for instance to fund transport schemes.

The National Association of Local Councils, which represents parish and town authorities, welcomed the report but questioned its criticisms.

A spokesman said conflicts between local and principal councils were rare and arose from local political circumstances.

He added: ?The culture of training in the sector is changing and councils are increasingly addressing the need to budget for training and development.?

The study compared Blakelaw & North Fenham Parish Council in Newcastle to Headland Town Council in Hartlepool and Offerton Estate Parish Council in Stockport.

All three were set up under the 1997 act, which allows residents to petition to establis h local councils. More than 100 have been set up in the past six years.

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