Friday, 13 December 2013

LinkedIn group

I've started a group London Community Governance on LinkedIn for sharing links and discussion related to community governance in London. Please join in!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Book: Local Councils Explained

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has published a book which aims to be a comprehensive guide to the workings of parish councils, also known as town, community or neighbourhood councils and collectively “local councils”.

Local Councils Explained is a much needed publication, in part because of the additional powers available to parish councils since 2010. The book has been written by the NALC head of legal services, Meera Tharmarajah and has a sound basis in the legislative framework councils inhabit, but is also an accessible document, written in a style that is engaging and clear.

The book include all relevant information for the running of a local council 

There is no one single piece of legislation governing parish councils and the powers and functions are drawn from legislation going back over 100 years. A guide such as this is therefore invaluable to anyone with an interest in the workings of local councils, including parish clerks and of course councillors.

In particular, those trying to set up new councils in areas that have no recent or nearby experience to guide them, such as in London, will benefit from the book and several chapters have been written with them in mind.

The book went on sale on 4 October and is available from NALC.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Making it easier to set up new town and parish councils?

The Department for Communities and Local Government ran a consultation on the process of setting up new town and parish councils that closed in January 2013. The results of this consultation were published in September.

Since the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 authorities such as London borough councils have the role of deciding if new parish councils should be formed in their area. Previously this decision was centralised. The 2007 act introduced a procedure called a community governance review which could be triggered by local petition. In London this procedure was triggered in 2011 by the Queen's Park ward of Westminster and led to the creation of a new parish council in 2014. The length of time it took to create this parish council points to the failings in the existing system. The campaign was well organised and followed the procedure as set out.

The responses to the consultation came from principal councils, parish councils and individuals, and are were overall in favour of some changes to the process of setting up a parish council. The options available were:
  • amending existing guidance;
  • changing the law;
  • making it easier for neighbourhood forums (used for neighbourhood planning) to start the process for creating a new parish council; or
  • some combination of the above.
The responses broadly favoured the changes proposed in all options, with some respondents strongly opposed to changes in each category.

The government response similarly proposes changes drawn from each option:
  • limiting the time for a community governance review to twelve months from the receipt of a valid petition;
  • reducing the number of signatures needed on a petition for a community governance review;
  • making it easier for neighbourhood forums to start the process for setting up new parish councils; and
  • amending guidance to local authorities undertaking community governance reviews to favour parish council proposals. 

The test of these measures will be how quickly a new council can be set up under the adapted guidance. In the case of Queen's Park the council added the extra challenge of a local referendum. This kind of extra hurdle is not to be explicitly prevented. Within London perhaps part of the problem is the lack of experience the borough councils have of parish councils. However the community governance review was introduced to London at the same time as the rest of the country and other parish councils have been set up under the 2007 regime in less time. The reduction in signatures needed to trigger a petition might make campaigners feel they have less of a challenge in order to start the review process. The other changes should ensure the review happens in a timely manner. Hopefully a community will want to test this out soon, so I can do a comparison!


Monday, 8 April 2013

Save our pub!

The community in Nunhead, Southwark have organised and successfully used the 'community right to bid' part of the Localism Act 2011 to prevent their local pub from being sold to developers. It will now be run as a co-operative enterprise.

Meanwhile in Elm Park, Havering a similar 1930s pub is being sold off for development and the community aren't happy. However, the voices there have not organised in order to use the rights the community have available to them.

In both areas the community identified the pubs for what they were, the scarce resource of an enclosed public space. But what happened to make the Nunhead group organise and held back the group in Elm Park?

It might have been luck. It might be something to do with social capital. Perhaps the Elm Park group had not heard about the rights available to them? It could be that the Nunhead group cared more, or felt they did not have enough alternative facilities. It might have been because of effective leadership.

More questions than answers I'm afraid. One of things I am trying to learn in my PhD thesis is why some communities are able to come together to organise and others do not.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Response to DCLG consultation on setting up town and parish councils

The Department for Communities and Local Government recently closed a consultation on making it easier to set up new town and parish councils. The current legislative framework for this was set down in 2007. I responded to this consultation and recommended a number of amendments to existing policy, including legislative changes.

The consultation presented a number of problems that campaigners for new parish councils might encounter. These include the lengthy timescales to set up a parish council and the administrative burden. Looking at the example of Queen's Park these two problems appear interrelated. The group started discussions to form a council in 2010, followed the relevant procedures, were successful in their efforts,  but will not come into their powers until 2014.

DCLG presented three options for improving the process of setting up town and parish councils. They were keen to stress that these are not mutually exclusive and some elements of each option could be brought forward. I am of the opinion that such an approach is necessary to achieve the aims of the consultation.

Campaigners may find it demanding to create a parish council
I support amending guidance to reduce the timescales of the community governance reviews. However, without statutory compulsion there is a risk that valid proposals could still be delayed in bureaucracy. Therefore a change must be made to legislation in addition to the guidance. I also support the proposal to create an easier route for neighbourhood forums (used for neighbourhood planning) to become parish councils.

The proposal to reduce the scope of the community governance reviews might have some unintended to consequences in Greater London and I highlighted some other factors that might be more specific to London where there is no recent experience of parish councils. The full response is available online.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Community on Google+

There is now a Googe+ Community for issues around community governance. This is a place to share links, discuss and exchange ideas.