The government confirmed that there must be a role for parishes and communities within combined principal local authorities devolution deals.
The government's minister for the 'northern powerhouse’ and the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), James Wharton MP, addressed a cross-party group of members of the Houses of Parliament to discuss the government's devolution plans on 18 November 2015.
Mr Wharton spoke at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Local Democracy, which is chaired by Andrea Jenkyns MP.
Mr Wharton said: “Local (parish and town) councils must be proactive, be engaged, and seize the opportunity of devolution. They should find the opportunities that exist and drive them forward to the interest of the communities that they represent. That is what devolution is about – it’s a bottom up process. Devolution won’t be done to anyone. The worst that will happen is that it will be done without you.”
“The best possible guidance on devolution is to get one example that worked well and encourage others to do the same. It is organisations such as the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) that can provide good examples and promote opportunities.”
“Devolution is not something that ought to be dictated by government. Devolution is an organic process, something that comes from the bottom up. I would look at organisations such as NALC for spreading best practice or showing best practice and the difference that it can make so that others can adopt it and perhaps improve it.
Since taking up the role following May's general election Ms Jenkyns has spoken out about the important role of local councils in devolution, using a speech on the Cities and Local Government Reform Bill to promote grassroots local democracy and the greater decentralisation of power to local communities.
Ms Jenkyns responded: ““I welcome the Government’s devolution proposals which are aimed at giving more power to our communities, however I would like to see more emphasis placed on the work done by local councils, and more of a role for them in devolution.”
Lord Bob Kerslake, the former Sheffield City Council chief executive and permanent secretary at DCLG, who is currently chairing an inquiry into devolution in the UK, commented: “We are interested in what would be the coherent model to devolution in the devolved nations. We have different models in different countries. How can we close the gap between the government and the governed – how do we connect the public with local democracy?”
Jonathan Owen, chief executive of NALC, said: ”We need to put the local into devolution. Parishes can become local powerhouses, complementing the work of the principal (county, district, unitary and borough) councils and ensuring that individuals can see the benefit of devolution in their communities and not just at the strategic level. I think there is a risk sometimes that devolution is only at the strategic level.”
Professor Colin Copus, De Montfort University, said: “We need government to be linked to real places rather than artificially constructed entities. There has to be a mechanism of accountability that is linked to local people.”
Cllr Jeremy Rowe, cabinet member for Localism, Cornwall, “We (principal authorities and parish councils) don’t have the luxury of fighting amongst ourselves anymore. We need to help each other to maintain the delivery of public services the best way we possibly can.”
Professor Jane Wills, Queen Mary University of London, “Neighbourhood forums attract talented people who are passionate about their local communities and the local government needs to tap into this invaluable resource. The government needs to make it easier for these people to engage – the process of transforming a neighbourhood forum into a parish council is too tedious.”