Nothing casual about parish councils
15 February 2015 saw the premiere of the television adaption of JK Rowling's Casual Vacancy, which shows divisions in a community played out around a fictional parish council.
The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) thinks one of the points of the plot about different parts of a local community trying improve people's lives via a parish council is a right one.
However there are thousands of these councils doing this without such intense in-fighting.
New research conducted by NALC shows that local (parish and town) councils are enabling citizen-led action to overcome many problems in communities.
For example in 'Casual Vacancy' region, Frome Town Council, Somerset, have developed award winning energy saving schemes that allows local residents free insulation, green deal assessments and electric car sharing schemes.
In the episode last night of Casual Vacancy was a call for the parish council to look after those less fortunate. Forest Row Parish Council, Sussex, has answered this. Forest Row Parish Council is now offering to transport pensioners from their homes to the community centre cafe, where they can devour a variety of delicious dishes. And the council also provides a home delivery service for housebound people who are seeking healthy, tasty and affordable food. The schemes were set up after the council identified there was a need to help people access the community centre and its food.
NALC's research also identified cases of local councils coming together to provide services ranging from better broadband to youth services, from community speed watch to economic development. By working together, often with their principal (county, district, unitary and borough) authorities, they can provide efficient services and fill the vacuum left by public sector cuts.
These examples include:
The Bridport Local Area Partnership between Bridport Town Council and ten neighbouring parishes which has looked at affordable housing, set up a development trust to bring facilities back into community use and set up a community orchard
Road safety schemes in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Hampshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire
Nine councils coming together in Worcestershire to introduce faster broadband
Joint contracts for highways maintenance in Essex, "lengthsman" schemes to maintain roads in Somerset and Nottinghamshire
Twelve councils in Somerset taking action together to reduce flood risk
Cllr Ken Browse, chair of NALC, said: "NALC's research collected across the country show that local councils can work together to provide local services and improve residents' quality of life. I think we will see much more of this in the coming years as principal authorities devolve more services or cease to provide non-statutory services in light of budget cuts. It is hugely exciting time to be involved in the work of local councils who can really make a difference on the ground."