Headlines: March 11th, 2009

The National Association of Local Councils and Action with Communities in Rural England are to get funding to support the empowerment agenda at a local level in rural areas. The 300,000 pounds is coming from DEFRA and is on top of money announced by the Communities and Local Government Department last November to promote the work of local councils.

The NALC said the new funding was a recognition of the importance of parish and town councils and community action in rural areas. The chairman, Michael Chater, said, “As the smallest unit of electoral democracy closest to people, local councils play a vital and very effective role in putting power in the hands of local people, to make the key decisions that affect their communities.”

The DEFRA investment will be used over the next two years for a range of projects with the aim of supporting and promoting the Quality Parishes Scheme and the National Training Strategy to develop the capacity and skills of local council clerks and councillors. Measures include a bursary fund to facilitate the uptake of training by clerks to smaller local councils, the development of a quality standard for county associations of local councils, widening participation in the national community- led planning network and taking forward the pilot of the Capacity builders-funded Collaboration Benefits programme.

The money will also pay for a national survey of rural community-owned buildings to update information around facilities, use, management and sustainability.

Sue Shaw, who chairs Action with Communities in Rural England, welcomed the recognition of the increasing need for local councils, local volunteers and community groups to work together to provide services. She added, “This portfolio of projects will definitely help to make communities more effective and show how, given appropriate support, rural community organisations can lead the way in demonstrating how to achieve genuine empowerment”.