Jackie Weaver backs call to form more parish councils to help levelling up process
Every neighbourhood should have a parish or town council to increase local democracy and assist the levelling-up agenda, a new report from centre-right thinktank Onward has said.
It said that at the moment 63 per cent of England does not have a town or parish council – with locations that do statistically also having more community-owned buildings and shops, higher rates of volunteering and group membership, and stronger networks of civic assets like pubs and libraries.
The gap is particularly stark in so-called Red Wall areas, while in Yorkshire, less than 25 per cent of people in Barnsley, Sheffield, Calderdale, Leeds and Kirklees are estimated to be represented by such an organisation.
Onward recommends that the Government’s planned reforms to “empower local leaders and communities” and “restore civic pride” in the forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper should not be limited to metro mayors and county deals, but also include a radical expansion of neighbourhood control through town and parish councils.
The call has been backed by Jackie Weaver, Handforth Parish Council’s former clerk who found fame in February for her calm handling of a turbulent council meeting.
Ms Weaver, who is chairwoman of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, said: “I welcome this report for its acknowledgement of the strengths (and sometimes weaknesses) of the first tier of local government.
“Those of us that know and understand our parish and town councils can see first hand the positive difference they can make in a community. The challenge is sharing that knowledge so that we have wider spread, enhanced local democracy across the country.”
A recording of the Handforth Parish Council meeting in December gained more than six million views after being published on Twitter in February.
The meeting also made Jackie Weaver a household name when then-chairman Brian Tolver’s remark she had “no authority here” became a meme.
Earlier this month, new chairman John Smith said the council was being renamed Handforth Town Council in a bid to move away from the "toxic" association with the row.
Jenevieve Treadwell, a researcher at Onward and the report’s author, added: “If we want to turn around the fortunes of Britain’s most left behind communities, we need to give them the institutions and tools to level themselves up.
“At the moment, nearly two thirds of England has no town or parish council and therefore has one hand behind its back. This paper sets out how places can take back control – and how ministers can empower them to govern their own futures.”
Mark Jenkinson, the MP for Workington, who is a former chairman of Seaton Parish Council, said he had firsthand experience of the “important role that these councils play in bringing communities together” .
He added: “Workington is one of the few areas in the Red Wall that is lucky enough to have strong levels of parish councils.
“The recommendations in this report will help ensure that everyone else across the North and the Midlands can benefit from these councils.”
Local communities currently do have the power to encourage the establishment of their own parish or town councils - but the process is not simple.
They must first present a petition to their local authority signed by at least 7.5 per cent of the local population. The local authority will then conduct a ‘community governance review’ to see if a local council should be created.
A Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Local leadership has a vital role to play in levelling up across the UK, recognising that local people understand what’s best for their community.
“Our forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper will aim to ensure opportunity is spread more equally across the UK by empowering local leadership, improving public services and regenerating our town centres and high streets.”
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