Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

You are viewing : Home » Localism

Localism

COUNCIL VOTES FOR EXTENDED POWERS

Members of WHITEHILL Town Council in Hampshire voted at their annual meeting to declare general power of competence, giving themselves wider powers to make decisions. General power of competence gives councils the power to do anything that an individual generally may do, provided it is not prohibited by other legislation, as set out in the Localism Act 2011.
The Local Government Association (LGA) describes the status as “the power of first resort”. It explained in a recent paper: “This means that when searching for a power to act, the first question you ask is whether you can use the general power of competence. To find the answer, you ask whether an individual is normally permitted to act in the same way.”
A local council could not use the power of competence to raise taxes, as individuals are not able to impose taxes on other people. It could, however, set up a company to provide a service, such as a community shop or post office.
Whitehill town clerk Andrea Mann said that the move would give the council the ability to “do more things without having to have a proper legal specific power”. She added: “It basically means we can do anything that a district or county can do, as long as we’re not actually taking a service.”

Clerks & Councils Direct July 2017

COURTHOUSE GAINS ACV PROTECTION

WORKINGTON Town Council has succeeded in listing the threatened West Cumbria Court House as an Asset of Community Value, under the 2011 Localism Act. The listing means that before the Ministry of Justice can sell the building on the open market, there must be a six-week notice period, and a six-month moratorium if a community bid for the building is put forward. As reported in the last issue of Clerks & Councils Direct, the Court House is under threat due to a controversial plan to move West Cumbria’s court facilities to Carlisle. The initiative for the listing application came from the town council’s Planning Committee, during a review of its powers under the Localism Act. The committee also proposed a number of other properties in the town for ACV protection. Its chair, Cllr Vonnie Morgan, said: “We have to show pride in our town. This is one way to stop a cycle of decline in our public buildings and services.”

Clerks & Councils Direct January 2016

LOCALISM LET-DOWN

AFTER 16 years as chairman of Budock Parish Council in Cornwall, Cllr John Bastin has stood down, stating that he was disappointed that local councils were still being ignored. Cllr Bastin first became a parish councillor following the 1995 elections and became vice-chair a year later and then chairman in 1997.

He said: “The concept of localism was a good one but in Cornwall and nationally it failed to materialise to its full potential, and parish councils are still not being listened to by either county or central government. So I have decided to step down, for a while at least. That said, I will still remain as a councillor and try and steer things for the general good of local people.”

Clerks & Councils Direct July 2014

PARISHES MUST BE FREE TO CONDUCT THEIR OWN AFFAIRS

YOUR correspondent Richard Enderby (Chairman, Hogsthorpe Parish Council, Lincolnshire) makes some telling points in his letter in the January issue (“Democratic future looks grim for towns and parishes”). My experience most closely correlates with his on the matter of district councils not working to realise the potential of localism and the Big Society in the way that parish councils might wish.

Here in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, we see the leadership of the council, perhaps inadvertently, turning some aspects of genuine local democracy on their head, telling us what to do and clumsily treading on our toes.

Mostly it seems a consequence of failing to understand the dynamics of parish council work, the effort that goes into achieving what we do achieve, and the extent to which we successfully engage with the public and encourage local democracy.

And the irony is that the Royal Borough, in vaunting its own success as a government-nominated “Vanguard” council for the Big Society project – and there is a great deal that it is doing well – uses that very same term and proudly declares in its promotional publications to have “turned government on its head”. Unfortunately its interpretation of this stops short at the parish level, failing to recognise our autonomous status and trying to disallow us the conduct of our affairs in the way that our experience indicates is best.

The contentious areas in which this problem presents itself are election and co-option processes and the devolution of services options. In the former, on the basis of questionable statistics, the Borough plans to try and force elections by canvassing for potential parish councillors, keeping a register of them, nobbling ten electors for signatures demanding an election when vacancies occur, and doing its own media coverage of the vacancies separately from that done by the parishes.

In the latter contention, the Borough appears totally oblivious of the limits of parish councillors’ and clerks’ resources and skill-sets, and puts us on the back foot to defend our unwillingness (in fact, our inability) to take on responsibilities, which are beyond us. In Action Plan after Action Plan, the Big Society Panel continues to beat the drum for devolution and to define any non-take-up as “risk” instead of recognising it as a reality and an inevitability.

Across both these areas where our DALC and our Borough Council are embarrassingly at odds, the root cause is that the former’s member parishes are accused by the latter of failing to engage with the public and failing to promote local democracy, with no declared metrics for the claim.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and it should be appreciated that at parish level there is in fact dedication to local democracy, and there is in fact the ability to engage with the public – all with the very same objectives that the Borough, as we do, holds dear.

It’s just that we can’t be, and don’t want to be, thoroughly competitive and political animals in a replica of its own professional tier of local government. If it persists, even fewer volunteers will come forward to contribute in our third tier.

Letter from: Keith Robinson, Chairman, White Waltham Parish Council, Berkshire

Clerks & Councils Direct March 2014

DEMOCRATIC FUTURE LOOKS GRIM FOR TOWNS AND PARISHES

SUCCESSIVE governments have promised the tier of local government nearest to the community many things, but in reality have given them virtually nothing.

I am chairman of my parish council, spent ten years as the chief executive of the Lincolnshire Association of Local Councils, affiliated to the National Association of Local Councils, (NALC), and in total I have had over 40 years’ experience in local government at a senior level.However, I am so disgusted with the present position that, the way I feel at the moment, I doubt I will stand again for election in 2015.

Government has made great play of its support for “localism” and we recently had the flawed and over-hyped campaign under the banner of “the Big Society”. I have lost count of the times I have sat in conferences, mainly organised by NALC, where senior politicians of all parties have heaped praise on the parish sector, promised undying support, and then have gone away with a smug look and often to rousing applause. It has all been nothing but rhetoric in my opinion.

 What they really mean is that they will support the sector, to some degree, providing it does what government wants, and unlike other local government sectors doesn’t cost them. Any requests for such things as a share of the Local Government Revenue Support Grant (RSG) or business rates are met with “shock horror” and a blanket refusal.

Furthermore, when it comes to planning, a major issue in local communities, the local voice is easily slapped down by the planning authorities, unless it is what they wanted in the first place!

While government will not support, in real terms, the development of the first tier, it has no problem with perpetuating the other two-tier system where county and district councils still survive for little more than the benefit of their members. In Lincolnshire, it has been estimated that a saving of over £25 million, possibly nearer £50 million, could be made by the introduction of unitary authorities, which would combine their services and resources.

Let’s be honest: NALC has not done the sector much good by its obsessive “navel-gazing”. I lost the will to live sitting on working parties that wasted time and money deliberating such things as, “Was a parish council a member of NALC – or the County Association?” Even worse: “Should NALC partner up with the employees’ trade union?” I have nothing against the trade union, but this suggestion was akin to the Local Government Association amalgamating with UNISON.

There always seemed to be what I termed “the Old Guard” who, in my opinion, joined with the chief executive to push things that I, and many others, couldn’t see the point of, but ducked key issues. I also felt that they wrongly tended to do the bidding of government far too much, rather than fight hard for the sector.

The time has come for new thinking, and more new blood at national level. The retirement of the chief executive of NALC is an opportunity for this, and to me it is essential that someone from outside NALC is appointed to bring in new impetus, enthusiasm and vision.

However, unless government grasps the nettle and gives local councils (call them what you will) real power and support, they will remain “talking shops” and “frustrated powerless volunteer groups” – possibly even fading away as fewer people come forward to sit on them.

Letter from:  Richard Enderby, Chairman, Hogsthorpe Parish Council, Lincolnshire

Clerks & Councils Direct January 2014

HERTFORD ENTREPRENEURS NETWORK
HERTFORD Town Council is offering cash prizes to local businesses in the run-up to its annual Hertford Entrepreneurs Network Event. The contest is open to any registered business or employee in Hertford, and those demonstrating the finest growth plans will be recognised. First prize is £1,500, from the locality budget award of county councillor Dr Andrew Stevenson, with smaller cash prizes for runners-up. Cllr Stevenson said: “Hertford has a lot of entrepreneurial talent which it is important to encourage. The new localism legislation encourages this to be done at a more local level than in the past.”

Clerks & Councils Direct November 2013

COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE LAW
NEW from LexisNexis, the ninth edition of Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration by Paul Clayden is a complete statement of the law relating to parish and community councils. This new edition is fully updated to include all recent legislation, including the Localism Act 2011, the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 and the Pensions Act 2008, plus much more.

Clerks and councillors receive a 20 per cent discount, meaning that this new edition is available to order now for only £60 (usual price £75). All online orders benefi t from free postage and packaging. Order your copy at: www.lexisnexis. co.uk/clerk; please use the promotional code 16617ZC to claim your 20 per cent discount.

You can also place your order with LexisNexis Customer Services: please call 0845 370 1234, quoting the promotional code 16617ZC. Please note that telephone orders are subject to a charge of £5.45 p&p in the UK.

Clerks & Councils Direct September 2013

LOCALISM: MINISTER’S RESPONSE

Editor’s note: In the March 2013 issue of Clerks & Councils Direct, we ran an open letter from Cllr Amanda Moriarty, Mayor of Stroud, and members of Stroud Town Council to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (“Mr Pickles, what does localism really mean?”). The council received the following reply from Brandon Lewis MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government.

Dear Mayor Moriarty,
Thank you for your letter of 8 February 2013 to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, regarding localism and the localisation of council tax support. Your letter has been passed to me to reply.

The Government believes that as the tier of local government closest to their communities, parish, town and neighbourhood councils have a key role to play in our vision for localism and the Big Society.

The Localism Act puts in place a range of new powers for local councils and communities, including the general power of competence, which frees all councils to act in the interests of local people, rather than look to central government to hand down powers; the community right to challenge which allows services to be  run differently and better; and the community right to bid which gives communities a fairer chance to save assets important to the community.

The 10 per cent saving in the costs of council tax benefit is an important contribution to tackling the deficit left by the last Administration. As you know, the Government consulted on the approach to the council tax base and funding for local precepting authorities over the summer. Following careful consideration of all the views received, it became clear that the option of not adjusting the tax base for parish councils would present some serious risks for billing authorities which it was not possible to mitigate. In contrast, passing the parish element of funding to billing authorities means that the funding is in the system, and we have been clear in our expectation that billing authorities should work with parish councils to agree the appropriate level of funding to pass on. I am pleased to hear that Stroud District Council is engaging constructively with parish councils in its area on this issue.

Brandon Lewis MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Department for Communities and Local Government
London SW1

Clerks & Councils Direct, May 2013

MR PICKLES, WHAT DOES LOCALISM REALLY MEAN?

Open letter to Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Department for Communities and Local Government

Dear Mr Pickles,
WHEN the localism bill was passed by the government, Stroud Town Council saw it as an opportunity for local councils to be inspirational leaders and get away from central government control.

Then government cuts started to appear in Gloucestershire County Council funding, the first casualty being our libraries; it took a legal challenge to save a small number. Our MP, Neil Carmichael, held a meeting in Stroud on the merits of localism and the audience soon realised that localism means public services being run by volunteers or not at all.

The latest manifestation of this so-called localism is the withdrawal of the government council tax benefit scheme. The administration of council tax support will now fall on the District Council with only 90 per cent of funding passed on from government. As a result of the unnecessary complexity of the government’s arrangements for this and its recklessly tardy and ill thought through implementation, the carefully laid financial plans of town and parish councils across the country have been thrown into turmoil.

Due to these changes, many town and parish councils are now partially dependent on a grant from government, which may or not be available in future years and which may or may not be passed on to them by the authority that collects council tax. Stroud District Council has bent over backwards to administer the grants to parishes fairly. However, there is no certainty for the future and our carefully thought out budget projections are now meaningless.

As a Quality Council, we consult widely on our programme and ensure that we make things happen, often in partnership with the District and County Councils.

Do you, Mr Pickles, intend to make town and parish councils like ours limp from year to year, unable to make long-term financial plans or commitments due to the loss of control over our income? Or is it your plan to cut parish and town council budgets at a stroke by withdrawing the government grant, thus ‘localising’ your programme of cuts and passing the blame to councils that are doing their best to maintain services?

If not, we call on you to accept the recommendation of over 90 per cent of respondents to your recent consultation and act to remove the impact of this legislation on parish and town council budgets.

It is time you acknowledged that there are 9,000 parish and town councils around the country with dedicated councillors working for free to improve their local communities. They are a part of our democratic legacy and something that you should be proud of. By your recent actions you end 100 years of parish and town council independence.

Please remember we are not the enemy, treat us with respect and reverse this change.

Yours sincerely,
Amanda Moriarty, Stroud Town Mayor
John Marjoram, Deputy Mayor and
Members of Stroud Town Council

Editor’s note: Clerks & Councils Direct forwarded Stroud Town Council’s letter to Mr Pickles’ office at the Department for Communities and Local Government. As we went to press, we had not received a response but, when we do, it will be posted on our website at www. clerksandcouncilsdirect.co.uk.

Clerks & Councils Direct, March 2013



Other areas » Hot Topics