Local councils are the first tier of government – they're at the very heart of the community, giving neighbourhoods a voice and helping people feel more involved in the decisions that affect them. They take localism to the next level by giving people a democratic voice that goes beyond just voting in elections. And yet, only a third of the population is covered by one. We want to change this and see more of England join the tens and thousands of local councils already in existence.
What are local councils?
A local council is a universal term for community, neighbourhood, parish and town councils. They are the first tier of local government and are statutory bodies. They serve electorates and are independently elected and raise their own precept (a form of council tax). There are 10,000 local councils in England with over 30% of the country parished and 80,000 councillors who serve in these local councils.
NALC has long supported the need for a fundamental shift of power to local people and supports the establishment of local councils in all areas so that people can benefit from first-tier representation and opportunities for service delivery. There are 270 more local councils in England now than there were just over 15 years ago; communities have been taking more control over their decisions and services through the establishment of new local councils.
New London councils
Since the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 finally allowed for new local councils to be created in London, there has been a lot of interest from community and campaign groups in the creation of new parish councils in their areas.
The strongest campaign to emerge was from around late 2010 in Queens Park, Paddington. Westminster City Council cut the funding to deliver much-needed services to residents in this deprived area and local people – through the help of the Paddington Development Trust and NALC, Queen’s Park decided to campaign for a Community Council to deliver much-needed services.
On 22 January 2011 Queens Park’s formal campaign was launched by residents – with support from Queen's Park Forum – with the aim of providing an ongoing voice for local residents. By April 2011, the Queens Park campaign presented over 1,400 signatures to Westminster Council asking for a parish council.
And by the following year, 1,100 (68%) of Queens Park’s residents formally voted 'yes' to having a Community Council in their area. The result was announced at Marylebone town hall. Subsequently, Westminster City Council agreed to the creation of the council with parish status. The first Parish elections in Queens Park ward took place on 22 May 2014 and have continued to see a high level of interest and engagement from the residents of Queens Park.
As many of our campaigners have said: “Leading a campaign to establish a local council is a journey, not a race”. You need to pace yourself in order to keep momentum.
To establish a local council, you need to trigger a Community Governance Review. A Community Governance Review can be triggered by either the principal authority themselves or by the community, through the submission of a petition. The number of minimum signatures required varies according to the size of the population. If the petition area:
Has fewer than 500 local government electors, the petition must be signed by 37.5% of the electors;
Has between 500 and 2,500 local government electors, the petition must be signed by at least 187 electors;
Has more than 2,500 local government electors, the petition must be signed by at least 7.5% of the lectors.
Once the petition gathers the required number of signatures, it can be submitted to the principal authority, who will validate the signatures and, provided that the minimum threshold is met, will conduct a Community Governance Review within 12 months of submission. During this time, the principal authority will launch a consultation, asking residents to state whether they are in favour or against the establishment of a local council. At the end of the consultation period, the council will review residents’ responses before reaching a decision. If the principal authority decides in favour of a parish council, it will also set the date for the first election.
It is important to keep momentum between these different stages. Your work isn’t done once you have submitted your petition. It is your job to make sure that residents are well informed and vote during the consultation period. If the principal authority decides in favour of a local council, it is likely that the first elections will be months away. Your campaign group needs to make sure that residents don’t lose interest during this time, encouraging people to stand for elections.
More information regarding how to create a new local council in your area can be found in our Power To The People publication.
Our top tips for leading a successful campaign
One of the most important factors to be borne in mind is the ability to persuade other residents in your area about the benefits of creating a new local council and that it is the right model of local governance for your community. You need to do your research and know what the benefits are of having a local council.
Engage with residents. It will give you a better understanding of the needs of your community, and through this, you will be able to attract residents’ support – not just through signatures and votes, but also volunteers. Be creative, try different ways of engaging– community meetings, street canvassing, establishing a campaign website, social media, local media – the options are endless. Having an idea for a media strategy to share with local radio stations and publications in your area will also help get your vision across and win over the hearts of residents.
Familiarise yourself with the process. An awareness of the legislation and any technical hurdles you may face in creating a local government in your community at the start will help overcome them should they arise later on in the process. It would be helpful for you to know if there have been previous attempts to create a new parish council in your area. If this was the case, what was the reason for the plan being rejected? Is it something you can avoid?
Maintain a good working relationship with the principal authority throughout the campaign. It is important to have them on your side. Your county association can also assist, as they most likely had contact with your principal authority before. We, therefore, advise that you contact us and your county association at an early stage of your campaign.
Keep party politics out of it. We all have our party political preferences, but when it comes to campaigning for a local council, it is best not to get political parties involved to avoid the controversy surrounding your campaign.
Of course, every campaign is different and what applies to one community, may not apply to another. To help spread the knowledge and lessons learnt from different campaigns, we have produced a series of case studies focusing on different stages of the campaigns – from campaign groups who have just started exploring the issue to ones who have already succeeded in setting up a local council.
Community exploring issue
- Affpuddle and Turnerspuddle Parish Council
- Huntingdonshire District Council
- Lickey End Parish Council
- Morecambe Town Council
- Southsea Town Council
Community Governance Reviews
New councils created
- Alwoodley Parish Council
- Canvey Island Town Council
- Cheswick Green Parish Council
- Hextable Parish Council
- Queen's Park Community Council
- Salisbury City Council
- Shrewsbury Town Council
- St. Austell Town Council
- Stanley Town Council
- Sutton Coldfield Parish Council
- Pannal and Burn Bridge Parish Council
- Finham Parish Council
- Bingley Town Council
- Macclesfield Town Council
- Online Hub
- County associations
- Society of Local Council Clerks
- Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
- Local Government Information Unit
- London Councils
- Action for Communities in Rural England
- GOV UK
- British Youth Council
- Local Government Association
- The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007
- Awards for All New Councils’ Report
Newly established councils
- A guidance note and checklist for newly established local (parish and town) councils
- Community Governance Reviews: Some lessons from recent practice
- Local councils election costs
- Managing Double Taxation
- Taking on and providing local services
- Sutton Parish Council
- Eastleigh Borough Council and Parishes