National Association of Local Councils’ (NALC) Changing Places Conference held on Wednesday 30 November 2016, saw demands made to the Government that any of their devolution and localism plans must include communities, neighbourhood and local (parish and town) councils.
Devolution and local action needs to be seen as part of the solution to these problems and renewed efforts to empower and strengthen local democracy are now a must and vital to the future delivery of public services and successful decentralisation.
The plans announced through Devo Deals are great but this next phase of localism is by no means localist enough, nor is it bold enough. Devolution must not stop at Whitehall or county hall and NALC asks that the government’s devolution plans must include communities, neighbourhoods and local (parish and town) councils.
If anything this year has taught us that some communities feel left behind by our national economy and politics. Supporting these communities can be part of the solution.
Cllr Kevin Wilson, chair of NALC’s Larger Local Councils Committee, said: “This conference comes at a critical time for Parish and Town Councils and the important communities we represent and exist for. Our sector is growing, our significance and role is greater than ever before. We are fast becoming the key agency of change and the provision of local services. We have become the place makers of our communities.
“Yet there remain some key obstacles and forces that struggle with the very idea that towns, villages and communities can shape their own destiny. We need to issue some key challenges, and this conference will I am sure do just that. We need to challenge the Government. It talks localism. It now has to walk the talk.”
NALC thinks they could start by withdrawing the threat to cap local councils. The idea that referendums would be required to justify what after all are relatively modest council tax increases when the very cost of holding referendums would in so many cases exceed the increase revenues themselves is a nonsense.
Delegates at the conference passed a motion by unanimous vote to oppose the introduction of referendum principles for local councils.
Teresa Pearce MP, shadow secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, said: “We all should be standing for communities and be proud of local councils. Indeed I must thank local councils for stepping in to take on services cut by principal authorities especially in deprived areas. Further I think local councils can connect people to the state in a way that is currently missing and result in greater community cohesion.
“The Labour party would like devolution deals to be tailored to different areas with full involvement and discussion with local councils and communities.
“Also I would like to thank NALC for all its work in helping to set up a sector led body to procure audit for local councils.”
Prof Jane Wills, University of London, commented: “Localism can only happen with civic structures like local councils, support for community organisation and a shift in culture where the state releases power and influence to local people.
“We need a total shift in political imagination over what Government should be doing for localism and devolution. The state needs to be more open to working with citizens and they having the capacity to respond.”
Elected to NALC’s Larger Local Councils Committee for 2017 are: Cllr Andrew Lawson from Workington Town Council, Cumbria and Leah Colney from Alton Town Council from Hampshire.