Democracy Matters

  • In addition to proposals for new bodies operating above the level of local councils, some people argue for decentralisation of some powers to neighbourhoods below the level of existing councils.
  • Local councils often cover large populations. This means that those influenced can be distant from their decisions.
  • On some issues, the people who live in a local community may be best placed to make local decisions. On other issues, decision-making on a larger scale might be more effective.
  • There are various ways in which power might be devolved down to more local neighbourhoods.
    The main ideas for reforming local government that you will hear about in the news at the moment focus on creating new bodies that are larger than existing councils. But some people think we should go the opposite way, decentralising power from local councils to even more local neighbourhoods, such as towns, villages, or suburbs.

Not everything can be decentralised to more local levels: decentralisation of powers can be combined with keeping some powers at local council level and developing larger city (or even bigger) regions to deal with other issues.

What’s the basic idea?

Local councils often cover large areas or large populations, which means that decision-making can often seem very distant from local communities.

In the Assembly North region, for example, the Sheffield city council covers a population of over half a million people and includes places like Stocksbridge and Dore as well as Sheffield itself. Barnsley council includes Penistone in the west and Bolton upon Dearne in the east. Doncaster council stretches from Mexborough to Thorne.

Local Council Populations:

Barnsley: 238,000
Doncaster 304,000
Rotherham 260,000
Sheffield 564,000

People who favour decentralisation to local neighbourhoods argue that some matters could better be dealt with at a more local level. They argue this would make it easier for local people to get involved in decision-making and for decisions to reflect particular local needs and priorities. There are various different ideas about how power could be decentralised further.

Creating smaller local authorities

The most radical option would be to create new, smaller local authorities to replace the existing councils. If new ‘combined authorities’ are created to take over large-scale issues, the case for smaller local authorities looking after more local issues may be stronger. Many of the current local authorities have been created by combining council areas that were previously separate.

In the Assembly North area, for example, places like Penistone, Wath-upon-Dearne, and Mexborough all once had their own councils within the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Giving more powers to parish and town councils

The second option is to give greater powers to parish and town councils. Parish councils represent villages or rural areas and town councils cover towns. They can also be called community, neighbourhood, or village councils. Parish and town councils currently have limited powers and limited budgets. According to the National Association of Local Councils, which represents parish and town councils, these councils:

‘provide and maintain a variety of important and visible local services including allotments, bridleways, burial grounds, bus shelters, car parks, commons and open spaces, community transport schemes, community safety and crime reduction measures, events and festivals, footpaths, leisure and sports facilities, litter bins, public toilets, planning, street cleaning and lighting, tourism activities, traffic calming measures, village greens and youth projects’

One option for reform would be to give extra powers to existing parish and town councils and to create new community councils in areas that do not currently have them.

Decentralising powers to local area committees

A third option is to stick with existing councils (unitary councils, district councils, and county councils), but decentralise the way in which they work. Some councils make some decisions through neighbourhood committees whose members are the councillors from each particular area. Most of the areas covered by Assembly North do not have neighbourhood committees. In the Assembly North area, only Barnsley currently has local area committees. They have a budget, but they have few powers.

Some other areas – such as Sheffield have had area committees in the past, but have abandoned them in the face of the need to make budget cuts. This reflects the fact that decentralising power in this way does generate some costs. One reform could be to introduce local area committees where they do not currently exist. Another would be to increase the powers of local area committees.

A final way of decentralising power to local neighbourhoods would be to require councils to hold more events.

One option is to hold meetings that anyone can attend in order to decide certain matters. Some local councils – such as Sheffield and Rotherham – have tried this approach. It has the advantage of allowing anyone how wants to take part to do so. The disadvantage is that a lot of people do not take advantage of these meetings and often complain that those who are able and willing to attend a meeting may not be representative of the whole local population.

Advantages and disadvantages of decentralisation

Decentralising decisions to neighbourhoods has the advantage of giving greater local control. On some issues, the people who live in a local community will be best placed to make decisions that reflect their needs and wishes. Making decision-making more local makes it easier for people to get involved.

On the other hand, some local decisions – such as decisions on building new roads or houses – typically affect a much wider area, so need to be considered more strategically. Some services are best organised on a larger scale so that they can be provided efficiently and effectively. And decentralisation may mean that the process of decision-making itself costs a little more to run.

Where to from here?

  • If more combined authorities are created, then one option will be for smaller authorities to replace local councils.
  • A second option is to give more powers to parish and town councils.
  • Another option is for local councils to devolve more decisions to neighbourhood committees.
  • Still another option is for councils to hold more citizens’ assemblies in local communities.



Further reading:


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20 Responses to Democracy Matters

  1. S Thornton says:

    What no reply, as I suspected accusations without foundation. Everyone has the right to call to account the actions of the Parish Council and its Cllrs. But accusations without fact shows that its just another “dig” at someone they dont like. It would be even more credible if people stopped hiding behind false names.

    Cllr Stuart Thornton


  2. S Thornton says:

    “they spend most of their budget without accountability”. You need to give evidence to back up your statement. I can assure the public that when I get the financial figures I go through them very carefully. I ask questions on a regular basis and take part in the financial checks that are made to prevent fraud. I am confident that the Parish Council has accountability for its finances. If I suspected anything different, rest assured I would be the first to “ask the awkward questions”.
    If any one has evidence that there are financial irregularities, Contact me, and I will raise the issue and seek to investigate the allegations.
    The Finances at APC are open to inspection by the public, we approve the finances in the open, and any member of the public are welcome to attend a Parish Council Meeting to ask questions.

    Cllr Stuart Thornton


  3. m ward says:

    Why give more power to parish council takes forever to make a decision as it is


  4. Veritas. says:

    With the onset of the SCR it would be better to rename the Localism Act the ‘Regionalism Act’ IMV.
    Under Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Localism Act 2011 ‘Super Regions’ have powers which will give them for example, control of economic development and transport policies.
    We do not need or want Supertram in Anston but we do need joined up thinking on employment opportunities and affordable housing.
    If we had a borough council capable of economic literacy and of looking beyond the town centre horizons and focusing on local issues we probably would not need a super region. All borough and unitary councils can form private-public partnerships and access funding without the need for super regionalism.


  5. miss f sales says:

    In the interest of democracy before any extra power is given I would assume parish council s may after prove they are in a position to deal with more responsibility and the administration of the individual items they will no doubt have to deal with and now I read allegations about staff I hope there’s an investigation into this in fact as a taxpayer I demand one


    • Watchman says:

      The General Power of Competence (GPC) was introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and took effect in February 2012.
      In simple terms,it gives councils the power to do anything an individual can do provided it is not prohibited by other legislation. It also applies to eligible parish and town councils. It replaces the wellbeing powers in England that were provided under the Local Government Act 2000 .
      APC is competent to take on more responsibilities.
      Until the allegations made against the staff are substantiated or evidenced no investigations can or will take place.
      This is your last chance to avoid being blocked.


  6. Watchman says:

    You made unsubstantiated statements. Back them up with evidence or retract them.
    Stop trying to divert this thread or your comments will be blocked.


  7. Councillor says:

    Replying to watchmans post may 30th @ 10.17 am
    I honestly think you don’t understand Anston Parish Council staff advised the office to pass work to contractors because they said that they hadn’t got the time to do it, mr Gazur gave work to contractors because the sickness record was and still is appalling, and also staff are dropping off and picking up their children from school in working hours and using the village hall has a creshe, does Anstons insurance cover this ???


  8. miss f sales says:

    Your post has been blocked.

    Please read my comment about sticking to the thread.


  9. Veritas. says:

    I think miss sales makes a good point now and again but she is diverting from the main thread which is the failures of government and borough councils to devolve power back to the people.

    The Localism Act was designed to give parish councils more powers. It says:
    “The Government’s intention in providing eligible parish councils with the general power of competence is to better enable them to take on their enhanced role and allow them to do the things they have previously been unable to do under their existing powers”
    The power is a central part of the Governments move towards the decentralisation of powers down to the lowest practical level of local government.

    It seems contradictory IMV that forming ‘supercouncils’ (like the Sheffield City Region) is compatible with the Localism Act.


  10. miss f sales says:

    Going through my notes it appears the independent council as been found to give contract s on a one quote system ie fireworks and buy the way are the compost bins at South anston allotments finished yet that was a located to ground staff 3 months ago well I can tell you not even started


    • Watchman says:

      As far as I’m aware only one fireworks company was prepared to quote for the annual fireworks display on an all inclusive basis.
      As for the compost bins at SA allotments I agree. They should have been completed by now.
      Perhaps you should write to the Clerk to the Council and ask the question?


  11. miss f sales says:

    Watchman your right anston parish council ground staff do need to be offered more work but you need to get them out of the cabin first in the last week I have crossed the park 3 times each time the men have been doing nothing only milling round


  12. Insider. says:

    It is now plainly obvious that neither central government nor our borough councils believe in devolving powers to parish and town councils.
    Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Chesterfield councils have formally ratified their proposals to join the Sheffield City Region.
    They have eagerly signed up to this grand scheme because they’ve been offered a bribe of £900 million.
    Rotherham Council leader Chris Read said: “This decision is welcome. It moves us another step closer to securing all the benefits which this deal will bring to Rotherham, and is a measure of our ambition to be one of the first places in the country to be making important economic decisions for ourselves rather than depending on London. “At its heart is the creation of more jobs and better infrastructure”.

    SCR will have a directly elected mayor as part of the deal. The mayor will chair, and be a member of, the combined authority. The mayor will be able to allocate ‘Cabinet’ portfolios to each of the
    combined authority members.
    A nicely stitched up deal rather like the election of the PCC.
    Rotherham will always be one of the junior partners in this combined authority and local town and parish councils in our area will be pushed further away from the decision making process. Nor should we expect any large sums of money from the central pot to help revitalise Anston.

    Labour councillors fully supported this cosy deal after Read did another u-turn.


  13. vocalyokel says:

    Anston Parish Council must be the best case against de centralisation there is. They spend most of their budget with no accountability. Their Responsible financial officer issues orders for work without getting the pre requisite number of quotes which is against financial regulations. They give contacts to RMBC without advertising the work to other companies or attempting to get other quotes, and they offer RMBC more favourable terms than other companies. I suppose Anston Parish Council had to be the best at something.


    • Watchman says:

      You raise some very valid points but my understanding is that the present intake of councillors are more commercially aware than the previous administration and the days when work was handed out to outside contractors before APC groundstaff were given the jobs is coming to an end.
      However you are right in saying the RFO has been and is remiss in his approach to getting quotes.


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