In response to your letters (18 January), from my experience there are three kinds of parish or town council: the proactive, the reactive and the inactive. I should know as I spent 30 years as a councillor – 24 on a town council, as well as 18 on a district council and 16 on a county council, but not necessarily all at the same time.
To bring English local government in line with the other three nations of the UK, we should complete the move started in the 1990s and replace the remaining district and county councils with unitary authorities, and offer enhanced powers to parish/town/neighbourhood councils. Then we should devolve more fiscal powers to local government in general as a precursor to setting up regional assemblies in England and creating a federal UK.
With more cash and power riding on the result of local elections and the chance to make a real difference in local communities, not only might voter turnout increase but also the willingness of ordinary citizens to get involved by putting themselves forward for election. Currently, most parish councils rely on co-option to fill vacancies and the turnout in tier one and tier two councils in elections that do not coincide with general elections is frankly often derisory.
North Hykeham, Lincolnshire
Your correspondents fail to recognise the real power of parish councils. These are statutory public bodies with unlimited powers to raise funds through taxation. Also, under “general powers of competency” (Localism Act 2011), they have the freedom to do anything that is not against the law. This creates opportunities and threats. At a local level, they have the freedom to benefit and strengthen communities through local initiatives and neighbourhood development plans.
However, there is no regulatory framework to ensure that parish councils act within the law and there is little or no interest shown by the press or the public. In my experience, the lawful requirements as defined in the Local Government Act 1972 are often ignored. Likewise the Nolan principles. The example set by our current PM will surely encourage continued rule-breaking. My advice would be to value your parish council, but be very vigilant.
Dr Trevor Aughey