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04.12.14

‘Parish power the solution to the problems in our society’ – Letwin

Community and parish council power is the solution to the “problems in the fabric of our society”, according to the minister for government policy, Oliver Letwin MP. 

Speaking at the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) conference, Future Local, Letwin added that if there was more investment in this area then “we would have a very different country”. 

During the conference it was highlighted how local (parish and town) councils are helping to drive and deliver many ‘localist’ actions such as the Our Place programme and neighbourhood planning. 

The £4.3m Our Place initiative is supporting more than 100 local neighbourhoods to work collaboratively with their communities to address a shared priority or local service, with the aim of each area having completed an operational plan that details how the local services they have prioritised will be transformed by March 2015. 

The programme was initially launched in 2012-13, with 12 neighbourhoods across the country working out how to improve the lives of local residents. 

Since May 2013, the government has also run a £10.8m, two-year programme to support communities to progress their neighbourhood development plans and neighbourhood development orders. 

The plans establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood, like where new homes and offices should be built and what they should look like. 

According to Letwin, neighbourhood planning is a growing movement. “I am really pleased with the success of neighbourhood planning with parish and town councils taking an active lead in this,” he said. 

“We have over 1,000 communities in the country seeking to adopt or already have adopted neighbourhood plans. This shows what can be achieved in local areas when people work together.” 

NALC has also launched its manifesto ‘Realising the potential of Town and Parish Councils’ ahead of next year’s general. 

Within the document, the organisation, which represents the interests of 9,000 local councils and 80,000 local councillors, has called for the introduction of a Parish Councils Bill to reform outdated laws governing the administration of town and parish councils, which will include new powers to deliver local services. 

It also seeks assurances that council tax support from central government is passed on to town and parish councils by principal councils. This has been a contentious issue with local government minster Kris Hopkins recently criticising a minority of local authorities for failing to pass sufficient money down to parish councils. 

NALC also wants to see the next government work with the sector to encourage more people to become councillors, making it easier for people to stand and serve, promoting contested elections and establishing a national democracy fund. 

Cllr Ken Browse, chair of NALC, said: “We live in fast and moving times and its vital we keep up and local councils need to change. And they are changing. 

“We are seeing a real grassroots revolution, which makes these councils unrecognisable from their establishment. And that is why we are asking all political parties to recognise the value of true localism in any policies they deliver before and after the next general election.” 

In response, Andy Sawford MP, shadow minister for local government and the communities, said that Labour wants to see devolution for everywhere in the country not just for Scotland and cities, but also in towns, villages, parishes, and neighbourhoods. 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opininon@publicsectorexecutive.com 

Comments

Andi Holmes   08/12/2014 at 21:11

Empowering local communities to take greater responsibilty for their day to day affairs can only be welcomed, particularly in Scotland which lags behind the English model. However, as positive as the Letwin speech is, I won't be holding my breath north of the border where there seems to be a distinct reluctance to share any real power and responsibilities with communities. I very much agree with the comments, but think they need to be rolled out in a measured way allowing local responsibility to be taken on a bite at a time and not overwhelm those charged with making it work. We are, after all, just 'volunteers'! Chair of a Scottish Community Council.

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