Headlines: May 22nd, 2008

Parish councillors have been told they have an important part to play in reinvigorating local democracy. The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Hazel Blears, used a speech to members of the National Association of Local Councils to outline a vision of a new era of ‘parish power’.

The Secretary of State said parish councils would have a real purpose in modern society, far from the perception of them as outdated, 19th century institutions. The small size of the councils, she said, belied the scale of the impact they could have in addressing issues that made a difference to people’s quality of life such as parks, trees and allotments, bus stops, community halls and litter bins.

She said the forthcoming ‘Empowerment’ White Paper would be complemented by separate powers for parish councils including plans to make it easier for them to use local experts to drive key priorities and shape services. There would also be a ‘wellbeing’ power for eligible parish councils, which would move more power to local areas. The wellbeing power is currently only applicable to Local Authorities. More parish councils are being set up with 19 being established in the last year.

“The truth is new parishes can revive democracy, and modernise communities by putting more power into local people’s hands. That’s why we are boosting the power of parishes, devolving more power from central and local governments to local people,” Ms Blears said. “We are seeing a new era of modern ‘parish power’. It’s high time we got away from stereotypes that parishes are sleepy, out of touch operations. Parishes are about local democracy in action and I’m proud to be strengthening their arm,” she added.