Representatives from more than 50 of the town and parish councils in Warwickshire met in Shire Hall to elect the officers and county committee of WALC for the forthcoming year. But the most interesting part of the evening was the guest speaker, Councillor Hazel Williams, Vice-Chairman of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
Councillor Williams spoke of the new programmes that were being developed in partnership with NALC to further enhance and promote the role of parish councils, including new powers to create parish councils in areas where they did not currently exist, the promotion of the Quality Parish Council scheme, and the devolution of greater powers to parish councils.
Councillor Williams considered that all three main political parties were looking to introduce more localism into decision making - effectively taking powers away from the government in Westminster and giving it to local people to decide matters for themselves. I support this in principle, but expressed my concern that the talk was increasingly of delegating powers to "the community", rather than to town and parish councils. The tier of government closest to the public will only be taken more seriously when it is given greater responsibilities. I remain sceptical that any serious and effective delegation of responsibility can be given to the public in general (despite what the political parties say), not least because there is no mechanism with which to administer that responsibility. Parish councils are already here and need to be ready to step up to the challenge.
NALC shares this view and is lobbying the political parties ahead of the forthcoming general election to get them to commit to empowering local councils with more powers. In support of this, a 'Manifesto to the Political Parties on the Future of Local Councils' has been produced by NALC which it wishes all political parties to sign up to. The maifesto includes pledges to:
- recognise local councils as the first tier of local government and the grassroots of our democracy,
- ensure that local councils are represented on regional and county level strategic bodies,
- establish local councils throughout all areas of England,
- ensure that local councils are statutory consultees on all matters affecting their area,
- increase funding to improve the capacity and effectiveness of local councils,
- introduce a volunteering programme for 11 - 16 year olds with local councils as part of the citizen curriculum.