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PLANS FOR PARISH POWERS LAUNCHED

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Town and parish councils are to play a more active role in decision-making and providing services under proposals f...
Town and parish councils are to play a more active role in decision-making and providing services under proposals for a new 'quality status', rural affairs minister Alun Michael has announced.

Mr Michael made the pledge at the launch of a 12-week consultation on the role of town and parish councils in England and Wales.

The minister said the proposals were about 'encouraging town and parish councils to lift their game' while giving them a bigger say in the delivery of services.

Quality status would not involve any change in constitutional relationships or legislation 'except in encouraging both sides - principal authority and local council - to use the potential for delegation'.

The plans are supported by the DTLR, the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Countryside Agency, Local Government Association and the National Association of Local Councils.

Quality status was first proposed in the rural white paper published last November, when£37m was made available over three years to enhance local service delivery and community leadership skills.

The consultation paper proposes a model charter on how principal authorities and local councils should work together to deliver improved services.

It outlines a series of tests to achieve quality status, such as a minimum number of meetings, a trained clerk and election of all councillors.

Countryside Agency deputy chair Pam Warhurst said there were problems in terms of service delivery in rural areas, but also 'real examples on the ground where parish councils have made a positive impact on communities'.

Some 41 councils have already taken on the kind of roles envisaged for quality status, such as meeting best value targets, providing local information and consultation.

Brian Kerr, chairman of the NALC, said for quality status to work effectively the issue of double taxation would have to be tackled. At the moment parishes charge a precept to pay for local services on top of the principal authority council tax.

He said: 'NALC wants to see an end to the situation of residents paying twice for the same service. It's going to require quite a lot of discussion to sort out the financial aspects.'

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