LGA Conservative Group: Why do parish councils matter?
Author: Cllr Izzi Seccombe OBE, former leader of the LGA Conservative Group
I am delighted to have the opportunity to submit this essay explaining why I believe that parish and town councils matter. I am also looking forward to engaging in a wider discussion on these issues with colleagues from the other LGA political groups at the fringe session NALC is organising at the LGA Conference on 5 July 2023.
I am proud that in Warwickshire, our parish and town councils are an integral and thriving part of our local government family. In total, we have 166 parish and town councils and around 1000 councillors overseeing a combined budget of £8.85 million per annum. Just one of our five district councils does not have any town or parish councils.
So why do I believe that parish and town councils matter?
Firstly, I want to share those thoughts that immediately came into my mind when I considered this question:
- They are close to their communities.
- They can communicate quickly and widely with their residents.
- They run facilities that are greatly valued by their residents and which are often central to community life.
- If they are not able to do something themselves, they are likely to have close links with those individuals, charities and organisations that can.
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list, but rather my instinctive thoughts resulting from many years of partnership working with parish and town councils and councillors.
As a committed localist who has consistently argued that more powers should be devolved from Whitehall to local government, I also know from my own experience that parish and town councils, alongside all of the other tiers of local government, have a key role to play in delivering services, supporting communities and ensuring that residents’ views are heard.
I believe that this has been particularly evident over the past few years when, in response to the unprecedented challenges that we have all faced, parish councils, often working in close partnership with their colleagues in principal authorities, have, to give just a few examples, been a key part of the network of Covid shielding hubs as well as providing other vital support during the pandemic; welcomed those entering the UK through the Homes for Ukraine scheme into their communities; and support residents who are most affected by the rising cost of living through financial aid and initiatives such as warm hubs.
Moreover, as we have seen over the past year with the Platinum Jubilee, the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, parish councils have been central to the organisation of tens of thousands of events across the country which bring communities together and strengthen civic pride.
For these reasons, in Warwickshire, we view parish and town councils as partners who are very much part of the solution to many of the challenges that we face.
For example, we all know that climate change is a massive global issue that demands action at the international, national and local levels, and I was privileged to have had the opportunity to attend COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 as part of the LGA delegation.
It was fantastic to be part of this historic event which offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share learning and experience with counterparts from across the world. Throughout the conference, we worked to ensure that we were at the forefront of the discussions because it is local government, across all of its tiers, that is mobilising and driving the collective action that is required to address climate change.
At the end of the conference, we were delighted that there was recognition in the final text of the urgent need for multi-level action as well as acknowledgement of the key role that local communities have to play in addressing climate change.
Whilst I attended COP26 as a representative of the LGA, and therefore primarily of principal councils, I did so knowing from my own experience in Warwickshire that parish and town councils are vital to our own county-wide efforts to tackle this global problem.
It is for this reason that our town and parish councils, acting as co-creators, promoters and applicants themselves, are integral to the successful delivery of our £1 million Warwickshire Green Shoots Community Climate Change Fund, which provides grant funding to community projects to mitigate against, and adapt to, the impact of climate change.
Put another way, whilst it was the experience of a lifetime for me to attend COP26 alongside world leaders and celebrities, I know that the targets that were set there will only be realised through local action in local communities around the world. In the UK, and certainly in Warwickshire, our parish and town councils are absolutely integral to this.
Speaking more generally, as the leader of an upper-tier council, I am clear that we need to work positively, constructively and respectfully with all of our partners, whatever their size or functions. That is why our collaboration with our town and parish councils is just as important to me as our relationship with, for example, our neighbouring metropolitan authorities in Solihull and Coventry, with whom we work in partnership on various strategic issues, or indeed the many other partners and organisations that we engage and work with as a county council.
Through the formalised structure of our Town and Parish Councils’ Reference Group, which meets regularly, we have embedded partnership working on key issues such as highways and road safety, emergency planning, community safety and levelling up, to give just a few examples.
For me, such partnership working and consultation is an essential part of our mission to deliver the best possible services and outcomes for the people of Warwickshire as it both recognises and respects the democratic mandate of parish and town councils and reflects the fact that they are integral to the successful delivery of our shared priorities.
In conclusion, as I hope is clear from the above, parish and town councils matter to me because they are a critical link to the people that I represent and serve - both as the leader of my council and as the elected representative of my county division - and because in so many instances they are key to getting things done.
For me, local and parish councils are a core and much valued part of the local government family, and I would therefore like to conclude by thanking those of you who serve in this role for all that you do to improve and enhance your local communities.
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