Headlines: July 2nd, 2008

A new updated Quality Parish and Town Council Scheme has been launched to reflect the growing dynamism and influence of the parish council tier of local government. The National Association of Local Councils says the update will give high-achieving councils a further key role in empowering local communities.

The scheme is designed to help local councils improve their management systems, to be more effective in communicating with their communities and work more closely with principal authorities. A team at the University of Wales began reviewing the scheme in 2006 at the request of Defra. Their research formed the basis of amendments to help councils improve their professionalism and to help them cement their position as community leaders. The changes were agreed by the scheme’s national panel, which has representatives from a number of organisations, including the Local Government Association and the Commission for Rural Communities.

New tests have been added to reflect the growing influence of parish and town councils and, as the tier of local government closest to the people, to get more people involved in local democracy. There is now a Democracy and Citizenship test, under which councils will have to show how they work proactively, to support local democracy and citizenship through activities such as involving young people in decision making, getting information to hard to reach groups and working with schools to promote local and national democracy and citizenship.

Training is also now seen as vital to the long-term development of the councils and Quality Councils will have to assess the training needs of staff and councillors. They will have to produce training ‘Statements of Intent’.

Ken Cleary, chairman of the National Association of Local Councils, said a wide range of councils had achieved Quality status, adding, “What they all have in common is a commitment to their local communities and by acquiring Quality status they have demonstrated to local people that they are representative, in touch with their communities, competent, and capable of taking on an enhanced role.”