Local councils have been in existence since 1894, are a formal part of English (& Welsh) local government, have tax raising powers, are democratically accountable and exercise powers under the Localism Act 2011.
Local Councils – the collective name for English Town & Parish, plus Welsh Town & Community, Councils. Of which there are 9,000+, served by 80,000 volunteer councillors.With such authorities providing employment for over 25,000 staff and with an annual spend of some £1 billion; with over 16 million people (25% of the population) living in the communities they serve… electorates ranging from villages to major cities.Together, they constitute a formidable collection of grassroots opinion.
Parish Councils are sustainable units, they have existed for 121 years (and counting) This links to their intrinsic value in terms of community development “as a long-term…process” (Gilchrist & Taylor 2011). Local councils took over functions from the Church of England and other bodies.
The umbrella body, the NALC (National Association of Local Councils) identifies three roles for local councils; to
- represent the local community/ deliver services to meet local needs, and improve community wellbeing through provision of a range of services.
The larger the population, the more services will be provided, as the revenue raising potential of a council increases and there is greater demand.
So what have Parish, town and community councils ever done for us? Legally they can deliver a range of services: from community centres to festivals, allotments to buses. They can also operate in partnership with others or as agents. They are able to take on many principal authority (District, County, Borough or Unitary) services or assist local charities to help young people.
Local councils offer funding, equipment and premises, to enable others to help local communities: For example, giving grants to organisations that run childcare, provide for young people with special needs, or for the elderly, arts activities and exhibitions, play activities or sports pitches and facilities; all of which can improve the quality of parish life. And modest grant aid can unlock further monies from other agencies such as Big Lottery.
Local Councils are self-financing bodies, drawing their main income from the precept, a tax on local people. The level of precept depends on whether the council is “tiddly or big, busy or dormant.” According to the DCLG it can range from below £500 to well over £1,000,000.
Decisions are made by volunteer councillors who are accountable to the community they often live within; so residents have direct access to such representatives. Councils therefore act as ‘bridging’ social capital: making connections within and beyond the immediate locality. Local Councils give practical expression to Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (1863). Service provision to local communities does not, however, translate into recognising the existence – let alone potential – of local councils by higher tier authorities, other agencies & think tanks. The 2015 UK Labour party Rural Manifesto, for example, did not mention local councils at all. Devolution was only promised to ‘County Regions’ – such as Greater Manchester.
So – in spite of the cloak of invisibility – local councils offer an existing tried-and-tested mechanism for localism that is intelligible to, and within reach of, citizens. Local Councils should ensure that the ‘strength of people resides in the local community’.
Local institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they put it within the people’s reach; they teach people to appreciate its peaceful enjoyment and accustom them to make use of it.