Power to the Parishes Conference – Thursday 4 September, Gurnard, Isle of Wight

The autumn conference season is a busy time of year when we are very active in promoting the interests of NALC and local councils at a range of conferences and events. For me this year’s conference season started today with a trip to the Isle of Wight for the Isle of Wight council’s Power to the Parishes Conference. I had been invited to speak at the event some months ago but it is amazing how quickly they creep up on you!

As the conference was starting first thing Thursday morning I made the journey down to the island from London late Wednesday afternoon. It was nice to relax a little on the crossing from Portsmouth to West Cowes and enjoy the views of the Solent during the 25 minute crossing.

I had dinner that evening with our chairman, Councillor Ken Cleary MBE, his wife Sandra and Nick Randle, chief executive of SLCC. Ken, Nick and I were all speakers at the conference and it was a good chance to compare notes and catch up on everything else going on in the local council world.

The story of local councils on the island is actually quite a success story. The Isle of Wight council embarked on a parish empowerment programme a few year ago, with objectives to work closer with local councils, to create new local councils in areas previously unparished and to improve the capabilities of local councils by offering a range of support.

The collective partnership and achievements between the Isle of Wight Council, the county association, the branch of SLCC and the local councils themselves is regarded as a model of good practice. And you can see why. The island is now fully parished with a total of 36 local councils, 50% of local councils have achieved Quality Status, and a further 50% of clerks hold CiLCA.

The Isle of Wight Council parish liaison team provide the support and administration of both the county association and the SLCC branch, and have worked hard to achieve what they have. But this also cannot happen without political will, so my hat goes off to the Isle of Wight council for fully recognising and supporting grass-roots local government on the island. I am sure things are not perfect but I am sure that everyone will continue to work together to best represent and meet the needs of communities to the best of their abilities.

The speakers and sessions at the conference included:

– the leader of Isle of Council, Councillor David Pugh, doing the usual welcome and housekeeping stuff;

– Andrew Turner MP providing a national perspective on local councils, including sharing his reflections and reaction to Government’s recent White Paper on Community Empowerment (which were not that positive!);

– Ken, our Chairman, gave his thoughts on the future of the first tier, including looking back at the successes and achievements of NALC over the last ten years. Ken also gave a warm and touching tribute to Councillor Brenda Lawson, who had served communities on the Island as a local councillor for many years and who had recently sadly passed away;

– I gave a short presentation on the White Paper and outlined the key points affecting local councils, as well as other elements which were of interest to us. I also provided a short summary of the Government’s response to the Councillors Commission and the work which NALC would be taking forward to implement some of its recommendations;

– building excellence was the theme of Nick’s contribution and he talked about the key ingredients needed for high standards and professionalism in local councils;

– workshop sessions facilitated by officers from Isle of Wight council covered youth engagement, working in partnership on consultation and planning and involving and engaging older people;

– the conference was privileged to be addressed by Dame Ellen Macarthur on the subject of sustainability and her work with Isle of Wight Council on ‘Eco Island’;

– David came back to talk about the One Island programme and the work of the LSP, in addition Sarah Doran from the county association highlighted how local councils are currently involved in the LSP at a strategic level. David then also discussed closer working with local councils on the Island;

– Councillor Jilly Wood, Isle of Wight Council provided an update on the Council’s parish empowerment programme.

CD’s containing information on the conference, including speaker presentations were provided to all delegates and I am sure any information of particular interest to you can be emailed on request. The parish council liaison team can be contacted at emma.woodmore@iow.gov.uk

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