Speech to National Association of Local Councils

Sunday 7th October

The future of localism & the role of the town and parish sector

Thank you very much for inviting me to this evening’s event.  The National Association of Local Councils is a fantastic organisation and one that I look forward to working with in my new position in the government.

I have been asked to say a few words about the future of localism and the role of the town and parish sector.  I am very happy to do so as the town and parish sector is an essential cog in the localism machine.

The most local tier of local government is, of course, the town or parish council.  Small, local units of governance can make it easier for people to take action on the issues that matter most to them and make a difference in their neighbourhoods.  We all have opinions on immigration, tax levels and government spending, but the issues that really tie a community together are pot holes, street lights and planning applications.  These issues aren’t minor – they impact on communities day in, day out – far more than central government policy.

The Open Public Services White Paper sets out the aims of enabling town and parish councils to play a greater role in service delivery.  This is quite right – local services should be planned with input of people who know the area.  From bus routes to bin collections, local people should have a say and we are making it easier for them to do so.

The White Paper will also make it easier to set up new town and parish councils where they do not exist.  This is very important – if there is a desire to form a town or parish council, local people should not be prevented from doing so.  The government believes that where local people express popular support for the creation of a town or parish council, the local authority should work with the community to achieve just that.

Indeed, we have just published a consultation paper on making it easier to set up new neighbourhood councils, including exploring whether it can be made easier for neighbourhood forums to become neighbourhood councils.  I would encourage everyone here to respond to the consultation to get your ideas across.

We have also asked the LGA and the NALC to work together to develop models for neighbourhood councils.  These models will set out how neighbourhood councils can work with principal authorities to play a greater role in service delivery.

Last, but certainly not least, the Community Right to Challenge will assist parish councils to get a fair hearing where they have good ideas about delivering local services better.  This, for me, is one of the most important changes of localism.  Under the last government, we saw too often local groups bypassed in important decisions.  Central targets and decisions too often trample over the wishes of those affected.  Those people are now getting a real voice – and not a moment too soon.

I hope you will agree, then, that this is a fascinating time for local government, particularly for town and parish councils.  The importance of these groups will be undisputed and power really will be put back in the hands of local communities.