Liberal Democrat Party Conference – Tuesday 16 September, Bournemouth

Today saw the first of our fringe events at this year’s political party conferences. The theme of the well attended fringe event at the Trouville Hotel was ‘It’s your local…can urban parishes work for communities?’. Speakers from left to right in the picture were Councillor Hazel Williams, NALC; Julia Goldsworthy, Liberal Democrat local government spokesperson; Baroness Scott; Chris Leslie, New Local Government Network; and Jessica Prendergrast, Social Market Foundation.

Speaking at the event Julia Goldsworthy said: “Parish and town councils help to create and foster a sense of community and are a positive force in taking forward the vision of local people. Community-led plans underpin the work of parish councils and have been vital in developing shared aspirations and are great at bringing people together to talk about what local people want, be it park benches or skate parks.”

“There is a real role for parish councils in urban areas and we should be looking at how the barriers can be removed to support their creation. The current local government reorganisation also provides an opportunity to beef up the role of parish councils.

“As the most local form of government, parish councils should be developed and supported, including reversing the inequalities of funding from Government for initiatives such as the Quality Parishes Scheme. The rest of local government receives significant financial support, and parishes have only seen a fraction of this, despite there being 8,500 local councils and 80,000 local councillors.”

Chris Leslie commented: “Parish and town councils are the engine room of community activity and local democracy. People today are concerned about their immediate neighbourhood and community, and these councils offer a wonderful vehicle as a gateway for local people to get involved in democratic participation.

“There have been a number of positive changes in legislation which provide the chance for local councils to step back and look at what is needed to improve the quality of life and provide new facilities in the community to make people’s life better.

“We should be supporting NALC more to enable them to take forward their activities and innovations.

“Parish councils need to recognise that the power of the precept is there for a reason and should think creatively about the opportunities that currently exist.”

Jessica Prendergarst said: “Local government and various partnerships at local level are too often complicated and people don’t understand them. We see at the moment a disconnect between local people and the people who represent them.

“We should be proud [of parish councils] and promote this model of electoral legitimacy. We should recognise that the first tier of local government and its councillors can talk to people in a way that principal authorities cannot. Parish councils are much closer to their community and although the model is not universal, there is an argument in favour of parish councils in all areas. People in urban areas demand the same opportunity as everyone else.”

Cllr Hazel Williams responded that: “There are currently over 8,500 local councils in England and this is growing. Over 200 new local councils have been created in the last 10 years, in direct response from local people.

“This has included urban areas such as Bradford, Stockport, Birmingham, Leeds and Milton Keynes. Only this week a community submitted its petition for a new local council in an area in south Manchester to the City Council. Likewise residents of Fleetwood in Lancashire have also expressed their desire for a Town Council and handed over their petition to the District Council.

“Local councils have a wide range of powers and are well placed to respond to the needs of local communities, particularly in taking forward the aspirations of local people through community-led plans.”

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