The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has welcomed steps by the Government to update rules governing referendums on local issues but has warned against an increase in costs which could burden taxpayers and hike up council tax bills.
Following pressure from NALC to reform the rules which govern parish polls – a direct democracy tool used to give people in an area say on a local issue – the Government is consulting on a number of changes. These include extending the hours of the poll to bring it in line with elections and increasing the number of people who can call for the poll in the first place, steps NALC has welcomed and supports.
But in its response to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for local government administration, NALC has said it is "concerned about additional cost burdens on local councils and taxpayers."
The body is calling for community facilities such as halls and schools to be made available free of charge, costs of any poll to be discussed and agreed between the principal council and local council before a poll is held and for electronic voting pilots.
Cllr Ken Browse, said: "Changes to the 40 year-old rules governing parish polls are very welcome and long overdue.
"We've been working positively and constructively with the Government to try and remove red tape and archaic rules which get in the way of vital local bodies like town and parish councils getting on and making a difference to their area, such as reforms to payment methods, sending agendas electronically and making it easier to set up new local councils.
"The changes being proposed are welcome but it is important that while we seek to strengthen local democracy and the voice of local people we do not hit taxpayers in the pocket as a result. The new system should not lead to unnecessary and unfair additional costs being placed on local councils and their taxpayers.
"That's why we are calling for the proposals to go further to ensure costs are kept down through free use of community buildings and by the principal council and local council reaching agreement on costs before a poll goes ahead. We also think parish polls might be the perfect way to test out online voting, so we are recommending some pilots take place."