“Please, someone, explain,” pleads Adrian Chiles at the end of his article on how local democracy works (I believe in local democracy – I just don’t understand it, 13 January). On the basis of two years’ experience as a local parish councillor, I can tell him that in the case of parish councils, “it doesn’t”.
In those two years, at the end of which I resigned in utter frustration, I learned that our parish council has virtually no powers or decision-making authority with respect to anything of significant importance.
Almost all matters of significance are the responsibility, and within the jurisdiction, of someone else: planning and housing (borough council and central government); roads and road safety, including local speed limits (county council and central government); education/schools (education authority and central government); health and social care (health trust, county council and central government); crime, policing and public safety (police and crime commissioner, and the home secretary); bus service (county council, bus service providers and central government); flooding (county council).
In its election manifesto in 2019, the Conservative party wrote: “Our new Towns Fund will help communities make sure their towns are safe to walk in and a pleasure to be in … Above all, we want the town’s future to be in the hands of the people who live there.”
The reality, however, is that during its first two years in office, the central government has sought to increase its control over decision-making, at the expense of the authority of local government, in almost all of the areas of governance that I have listed above.
Philip C Stenning
Like Adrian Chiles, I too believe in local democracy, but find it baffling – and I have the advantage that for the past nine years I have either been the parish clerk or a parish councillor. The division of responsibility between town and parish councils, the local authority (usually a county council outside large cities) and central government is confusing and illogical, with too many decisions being made in London that would be far better made locally.
In general, your local parish or town council usually has a good idea of who does what. So if you have a problem but are baffled by local democracy, I suggest you contact a local councillor, who should be able to point you in the right direction.
Vice-chair, Middridge parish council, County Durham
In the 1980s, and before the national curriculum, things were very different in some secondary schools. As parish, district, county, parliamentary and EU elections heaved into view, my social studies department concentrated on the structures, constituencies and policies according to the printed manifestos of the political parties. Students lapped it up, particularly the opportunity to write their own manifestos for a particular election.
Many young people today are bamboozled by the structures or why it should matter to them. This suits the Tories perfectly. Having no political knowledge inclines young people not to vote.
Gargrave, North Yorkshire
In my village here in France, it is the mayor you go to for all problems. So simple.
Tocane-Saint-Apre, Dordogne, France