Scores of MPs lined up to signal their support for England’s ‘localist powerhouse’ yesterday during a ‘lobby day’ organized by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
Councillors representing over 9,000 parish and town councils from across the country descended on Westminster for a ‘day of action’ to raise the profile of our most local level of democracy in Parliament.
Parish councillors engaged with nearly 50 MPs – including ministers and shadow ministers – to promote the benefits of local councils and how they were improving their communities by giving local people a voice, taking action on local priorities and delivering important local services.
The parish sector’s positive offer to the new government on community empowerment, localism and devolution was central to discussions including a range of new measures which would put communities more in control of their areas through stronger local democracy, fairer funding and more powers.
As well as meeting individually with parish councilors, several MPs addressed a gathering of councilors in Portcullis House during a session on ‘How Parliament Works.
Rory Stewart MP (Conservative, Penrith and the Border) and rural affairs minister said: “I live and breathe rural communities. I am very much a believer in working to get more influence to those communities, whether it is parish councils, trusts or community groups.
“There are great opportunities for parishes to seize powers and control of service delivery control if they show leadership. Over the last five years, what we have been doing is piloting projects which may now be good to see in action.
“We have had parish councils working in neighbourhood planning groups, getting together and taking over parish planning policy.”
Emma Reynolds MP (Labour, Wolverhampton) and shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, outlined her support for the parish sector and said she was pressing Government for “any devolution plans they come up with must include parishes, counties and rural areas.”
Andrea Jenkyns MP (Conservative, Morley and Outwood), who famously ousted Ed Balls at the general election, said: “There is great potential for parish and town councils to be even greater community leaders by working closely with all different interests in a local area.”
Daniel Kawczynski MP (Conservative, Shrewsbury) said: “NALC and the parish council movement should force a devolution session hearing at the Communities and Local Government Select Committee.”
During the day all MPs were presented with a copy of NALC’s manifesto which sets out three key demands:
Stronger local democracy: including supporting the creation of new local councils across England and introducing a ‘community right of appeal’.
Fairer funding: with greater financial freedoms for local councils including no Government interference to cap spending, ensuring Government funding is passed on by other councils and a share of business rates.
More powers: developing a legislative framework to realise the potential of communities by reforming outdated laws governing the administration of local councils and introducing new powers to empower the community and deliver local services.
The chairman of NALC, Cllr Ken Browse said: "This was our first ever lobby day and the voice of communities was truly heard in Parliament today.
“In these important early days following the general election I want all MPs to improve their awareness of local councils in their constituencies and in particular acknowledge and support the vital work they do to improve their areas.
“Our lobby day was about doing just this and while I was delighted we saw almost 50 MPs today, I can only urge the rest to meet with representatives from our councils and county associations of local councils in the coming weeks.
“New town and parish councils are being created every year as a result of communities wanting more of a say over their area; so I’m particularly keen for MPs in unparished areas such as our larger towns and cities to engage with us and understand the benefits of grassroots democracy, representation and community action.
“Devolution must be about more than just giving more power to the already powerful; we need to accelerate the cause of localism and truly empower the localist powerhouse that is the parish movement.”