At a session at the Local Government Association annual conference last week, on the viability of parish and town councils as key neighbourhood models, NALC chief executive John Findlay extolled the virtues of town and parish councils, and explained how this model should be in the menu of options to be listed in the local government white paper.
'It is not about creating new institutions, but it is about forums and process. The objective for the government is to empower people not institutions.'
Mr Findlay further echoed this point of view: 'We know that not one size fits all, but town and parish councils are one of the options available. Decisions around local services need to be community led from the bottom up.'
Parish and town councils work because they are flexible and diverse; this enables them to be adapted to fit the needs of communities of any size. Mr Findlay explained that their independence from principal authorities via the ability to raise their own funds, and the fact that they are elected, made town and parish councils best placed to represent communities.
'In our discussions with government we have been pushing to have the power of wellbeing extended to parish and town councils. This would enable them to have greater impact on the neighbourhood which they serve.'
The NALC 'Making the Link' fringe session, run in partnership with Essex CC addressed the key issues around who should control, own and deliver services in the local community.
Within this NALC believes that a neighbourhood governance tier of local government should take over from more traditional forms of public service delivery, where appropriate. NALC chair Ken Cleary said: 'The devolution of services should not stop at the traditional town hall.' He continued by saying that parish and town councils are ideally placed to take on an enhanced role in local representation and service delivery because they are directly elected, able to raise finance via a precept and are independent from other tiers of governance.
Ken Thornber, chair of the County Councils Network, said:
'We need to embrace the concepts of double devolution and partnership and make sure that this is put into action to meet the challenges of empowering citizens and neighbourhoods. With this it is very important that there is effective partnership with parish and town councils '.
David Finch, Essex CC, commented: 'Localism is all about bringing communities together to solve problems. Parish and town councils are the right vehicle for local delivery of services and representation. To show this, Essex has invested£5m over three years to community initiatives led by town and parish councils.'
Joy Sheppard, chief executive of Essex Association of Local Councils, argued that the partnerships which have developed with the county and district councils have enabled the communities to receive the benefits of increased capacity in parish and town councils. She said: 'The mutual trust and understanding between all tiers of local government ensures that we effectively engage and empower communities in Essex.'