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DCLG plans money-saving restrictions on ‘parish polls’

Government plans to ‘modernise’ parish polls are “long overdue”, according to the National Association of Local Councils (NALC). 

The polls are sometimes used to make purely political points about national policy issues, such as whether Britain should leave the European Union, which a parish council cannot change. This has resulted in “inappropriate” polls at substantial cost to taxpayers, the DCLG says. 

Late last week, the DCLG published a consultation on plans to update the current rules, which are over 40 years old. Proposals include raising the ‘trigger’ for the number of electors needed to call a poll, to limit “vexatious, unnecessary and otherwise inappropriate use”. 

A survey of 150 parish councils by the Society of Local Council Clerks in 2012 revealed that polls cost in the region of £5,000 to £8,000. Under the new proposals, DCLG would tighten up the regulations of when a poll can be called. For instance, it stated that “no poll shall be taken unless the poll is demanded by the majority of local government electors present at the meeting”. 

The previous trigger requirement in operation stated that no poll shall be taken unless either the person presiding at the meeting consents or the poll is demanded by not less than ten, or one-third, of the local government electors present at the meeting, whichever is less. So, for example, in a parish meeting with only six people in attendance, a poll could be called by as little as two people. 

Cllr Ken Browse, chairman of NALC, said: “Changes to the 40-year-old rules governing parish polls are long overdue, so I very much welcome government’s consultation on modernising these very local referendums. 

“All too often communities are hampered by red tape and archaic rules which get in the way of vital bodies like parish councils getting on and making a difference to their area.” 

In addition to the changes to the parish poll trigger, the DCLG has put forward plans that a poll can be called on any question arising at a meeting which concerns affairs which relate to a parish council/meeting’s functions and meets the following criteria: 

  • The subject matter was discussed at the parish meeting;
  • The subject matter directly affects those who live and/or work in the parish; and
  • The parish council/meeting has the capacity to make a decision on the subject matter including any decision as a statutory consultee, but not including a decision simply to agree a declaratory statement on the matter. 

To further prevent inappropriate polls being called, the government also intends to allow the Monitoring Officer of a principal council to have discretion to reject a poll which they feel does not meet the legal criteria. 

The consultation, which runs until 30 January 2015, is seeking views from members of the public who live and/or work in parish areas; parish council members; parish council clerks and other employees; parish meeting chairmen; representatives of parish bodies; and principal local authorities and their officials, especially those who have a role if a parish poll is called. 

Cllr Browse added: “We’ve lobbied successive governments to update these rules to ensure they are fit for purpose and I'm pleased progress is being made. 

“However further changes to the law are needed to put communities in control of their area and the next government should introduce a Parish Councils Bill to reform outdated laws governing the administration of parish councils, including new powers to deliver local services and tackle local issues.” 

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