A campaign to ‘parish’ all of England received a huge boost yesterday (27 January). As dozens of communities from across the country gathered in Birmingham at a meeting organised by the National Association of Local Councils.
The historic Town Hall in Sutton Coldfield was filled with residents and community groups all campaigning to set up a new local (parish and town) council, in a civic building which could soon become home to one of the largest grassroots councils in the country.
A new local council for Sutton Coldfield received the go-ahead from Birmingham City Council last year following a referendum which saw seventy per cent of local people vote in favour for what will be one of the largest local councils in England.
Local councils are the most local tier of local government, at the very heart of the community, giving neighbourhoods a voice and helping people feel more involved in the decisions that affect them.
Currently only a third of the population is represented by local councils and NALC has been at the forefront of calls for a fundamental shift of stronger local democracy and a fundamental shift of power to local people.
Over 200 local councils have been created over the last decade and NALC has been leading a national programme providing help and advice to local communities, as well as grant funding.
Eleven new local councils have been established in recent years as direct result of support provided by NALC and its county associations in Macclesfield, Finham, Westgate, Kidderminster, Sutton Coldfield, Pannal, Kennington, South Willesbrough, Queens’s Park, Chadwick End and Bingley.
Today’s event also saw the new leader of Birmingham City Council address activists and set out his vision for devolution and the governance of the city.
Cllr John Clancy (Labour, Leader of Birmingham City Council) said: “I’ve been the leader of Birmingham City Council for 55 days and one of the first things I did was to sign the re-organisation order that allowed Sutton Coldfield Town Council come into existence. And I did it this with immense pride and confidence.
“My thinking in Birmingham is influenced by an evolution of real devolution where subsidiarity goes to the most local level. People and communities want to influence, shape and scrutinise local services for their area.”
Cllr Anne Underwood (Conservative, Birmingham City Council) said: “Cross party support for creating more urban democratic governance structures in Birmingham is inspiring. Devolution is inspiring people to look at running services in different ways that suits community needs.”
Cllr Ken Browse, Chairman of NALC, said: "Local (town and parish) councils are popular with people and can really make a difference. They have the ability to deliver services to the community, as well as being able to influence other decision-making bodies."
"There are already over 9,000 first tier Local Councils in England and Wales, working towards improving community well-being and providing better services at a local level. They represent all local residents and businesses, enabling power to be devolved to those who know and care about their local community. They also aim to give tax-payers better value for money.
“It’s essential that we also develop a new approach to local democracy and local services at the most local level. That will enable us to put in place a bottom up neighbourhood democracy, unique in urban Britain."