Full text of speech by the Chairman of NALC, Councillor Ken Browse, to the ‘What next for localism?’ conference on Wednesday 26 March 2014:
Good afternoon everyone.
I want to start by saying thank you to Freddie for chairing today’s event.
As the Chairman of NALC it’s usually my job to ensure our event runs smoothly and to time.
So it’s going to be a real pleasure to relax a little and enjoy today; and watch how you get on keeping our line-up of 17 high profile speakers in order.
Especially the MP’s, as we know they can get a bit excited when speaking in the House of Commons!
Since I became NALC Chairman 15 months ago the one word that sums my role so far is challenging.
To say the least.
Enjoyable too, and hard work, but challenging.
But my watchwords for today are courage, confidence and trust.
Two years ago yesterday a good friend and supporter of NALC – and of parish councils – lost his short but courageous battle with cancer.
Crispin Moor was a senior official at Defra and in similar roles at the Commission for Rural Communities, the Countryside Agency and the Local Government Association.
Other colleagues at NALC and in the sector knew Crispin better than me, but as a policy and politics anorak, an advocate of grassroots community action, and a champion for people power through parish councils, he would have loved today’s event.
And like me, he would also have loved and been inspired by the two stories we’ve just heard, from Jennie and Helen, about how modern, courageous, dynamic and confident parish councils – many of whom are in the room today – are pushing boundaries and breaking new ground to improve their areas.
I share the confidence Crispin had in our sector, his desire to drive change and improvement through standards of practice, training and development, and modernising our sector to make it more relevant and current in today’s fast moving and challenging world.
These are my ambitions, not just for our sector but for NALC.
This year parish councils celebrate their 120th birthday.
But some still operate in 1894, the year they were formed, others in 1974, another milestone in our structure of local government.
But this is 2014.
The challenges our citizens and communities face require our councils to do things differently.
And to do different things.
So for me, in seeking to answer the big question of What next for localism? we need to ask ourselves: is localism worth fighting for?
I think it is.
A shift of power, decision making and responsibility to the most local level makes perfect sense.
Successive Government’s have attempted to deliver this through their own definition of empowerment, decentralisation and localism.
But with mixed success.
That’s why we need to work out what we want localism to look like, and what the role of parish councils should be.
And whether we want to articulate this through the high standards and innovation of the best, or compromise our expectations to accept the attitudes and practices of the many.
Our ‘What next for localism?’ Inquiry – which we are conducting with the All Party Parliamentary Group on local democracy, chaired by Rory Stewart MP – continues to provide analysis, insight and advice on where localism needs to go next.
The inquiry has got people thinking what next for parish councils, generating a wealth of ideas about how the current policy, legal and financial frameworks can be improved.
– increased collaboration between smaller parishes, to help them take on new services and improve purchasing power;
– keeping parishes free from capping;
– certainty of funding through the council tax support scheme;
– the option for a town or village to have a directly elected mayor;
– more use of social media by parishes to improve communications and community engagement;
– further reforms to outdated legislation;
– upskilling principal councils on working with parishes through training;
– and radical reform of the business rate to help parishes support businesses and local growth.
These are to name but a few, and many more ideas will be generated today.
I would urge you to get involved in our inquiry, to find out more please visit whatnextforlocalism.org
But we need Government to do its bit too.
To create the conditions for us to flourish, to help us develop our role.
Such as reform the general power of competence to allow parish councils to trade.
Parishes need to change – we live in fast moving times and it’s vital we keep up.
Parishes are changing – we are seeing a real grassroots revolution, with many parishes unrecognisable from their establishment in 1894.
But I want you to help us deliver more change.
I’ve learnt a lot over the last 15 months: about our organization; about our councils; and about myself.
More than anything else, I’ve learnt – what I’ve seen for myself – just what our organisation, what our councils, what I myself, can do, when we work together.
And it’s by working together – with you our councils, with our county associations, with our partners, some of whom are here with us today – that has made my time so far leading the sector productive and positive:
We’ve finally seen the end of the two signature rule which we’ve campaigned on together.
We’ve amended the Audit Bill to start reforming parish polls.
We’ve commitment from Government to change the rules on sending agendas electronically.
Three reforms in our manifesto, which we called for.
We’ve persuaded Government to make it easier to set up parish and town councils.
And they’re funding us to help communities campaign for the modern, dynamic, confident grassroots councils which are in this room and which we know can make our places better.
We succeeded in persuading Government not to extend referendum principles to parish councils.
And we’re continuing our advocacy on council tax support funding, a reform which ended a century long golden thread of parish financing.
We’ve worked with the LGA to promote and publish examples of partnership working, which I think will be crucial to the future delivery of public services and the critical role our councils can play.
We’ve extended the Sustainable Communities Act.
We’ve seen investment by Government to help you take advantage of the new tools in the Localism Act, legislation and investment we lobbied for.
But it’s only by continuing to work together that we’ll take our expression of localism – through parish and town councils – to the next level.
Because localism isn’t all good.
Take council tax support funding or the threat of precept increases for example.
Not all the new localism tools are fit for purpose, we need to decide what new power tools we want.
I’m honoured to be your Chairman.
I’m confident in our new Chief Executive, who takes up post next week.
And I have faith and trust in you to work with us as we develop our strategy and vision for the future of our sector.
The coming months and years will be as challenging as they ever have been.
But I’m determined – as are my fellow members, our Chief Executive and our staff team – to step up our work, to step up our game.
I want you to have the courage to step up and join me.
To give us the confidence that our sector can modernise, that we can build a movement for change, and we can inspire trust by Government in our parish revolution.
So what do I want to see in the political party manifesto’s?
I want all the parties to have the courage to set out a clear vision of localism, with greater confidence and trust in our parish councils.