Giving more of a voice to councillors
De Montfort University’s Local Governance Research unit and The Municipal Journal have published the final report of the Councillor Commission, The Voice of the Councillor , which includes a chapter on England’s 80,000 local (parish and town) councillors.
The year-long research project – supported by the chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP – heard from councillors across England about their work and the pressures they face in governing communities, as well as evidence from councillors about issues of concern to them and what councillors wanted policymakers in central government, the public and media to know about the work they undertake.
When the Commission was first launched NALC pressed for the local council sector not to be overlooked, securing representation on the Commission and a dedicated stream of work to ensure the voice of local councillors was heard.
The report’s six themes reflect evidence and discussions where councillors spoke about specific aspects of their work: the Council, beyond the Council, in response to central policy change, about perceptions, about the Job and when they spoke as a local councillor.
Specific messages from local councillors indicated the differences in their roles compared to those of principal authority councillors and the very specific issues that relate only to local councils, with recommendations including:
A national independent inquiry be undertaken by NALC to fully understand the relationship between local councils and principal authorities with the aim of identifying best practice and producing a national framework for local council-principal relationships;
The local council statutory right to be consulted on planning matters be extended to all statutory policies, strategies and plans resting with principal council executives;
As far as possible local councils avoid appointing to a chair or vice-chair of a local council, councillors who also sit on principal authorities;
The power of principal councils under the Local Government & Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to conduct Community Governance Reviews is abolished.
Commenting on the report Cllr Sue Baxter, chairman of NALC, said: “That local councillors are such a central feature of the report of the Councillor Commission is a testament to their vital role in the governance of our communities and I very much welcome this timely research.
“When the Commission was first launched NALC pressed for our sector and our 80,000 councillors not to be overlooked in this well timed and long overdue study and we secured representation on the Commission and a dedicated stream of work to ensure the voice of local councillors was heard.
“I want to pay tribute to Cllr Mike Evans from Whiteley Town Council and the Hampshire Association of Local Councils for his important contribution as the parish commissioner, who was well placed to feed in the experiences of local councillors everywhere and instrumental in promoting the call for evidence and roundtables to ensure the Commission heard from grassroots councillors from across the country.
“The report rightly recognises the contribution parish and town councillors make to public service delivery, local democracy and community well-being and as a vital part of the overall governance of the country. And the report also states that if double devolution is to be successful, the parish level of government must be strengthened and empowered, a point I whole wholeheartedly endorse.
“Local councils are perfectly placed to be the front line in rebuilding community cohesion in divided Britain, and addressing the issues of austerity and local public service delivery. ‘Ultra-localism’ is the only way to rebuild community and local services in an age of division and austerity.
“I look forward to discussing next steps on the report with Cllr Mike Evans and the Commission, including the findings and recommendations aimed at NALC and parish and town councillors, as well as discussing it with government and others.”