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CLERK'S BRIEFING NOTE ON COMMUNITIES IN CONTROL: REAL PEOPLE, REAL POWER

The government is consulting on a paper - Code of recommended practice on local authority publicity - in the series of "Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power" .

RALC's Executive Officer has written a paper for consideration at the next RALC meeting on 14 January 2009. The following notes are based on his report.

The declared aim of this new white paper is to address people's "sense of powerlessness" - which the government believes is responsible for increasing cynicism and disengagement from the political process - by passing "real power" from town halls to local communities by the "empowerment" of communities through "direct participation" in local government and by encouraging more people (but particularly ethnic minorities and the young) to become "active citizens".

The main concerns are:

  1. That this appears to be another white paper conceived in an urban environment for an urban audience with few references to parish councils at all. There is also a greater emphasis on empowerment of young people with little reference to older people's engagement with government. Rural problems are not included.
  2. That the government seems to be sidelining parish councils by encouraging principal authorities to make direct links with groups, campaigns, co-operatives, mutuals and social enterprises as well as "active citizens" such as social entrepreneurs, campaigners, volunteers and political activists. This means the government appears to be moving from democratic mandates to third sector groups representing themselves or sectional interests without any accountability. (We are already seeing this in action with the Sussex Police setting up non-elected Neighbourhood Panels covering district wards - here Ewhurst and Sedlescombe - instead of consulting with established parish councils with elected membership.)

The RALC Executive Officer is making certain recommendations to RALC for its approval. These include:

  1. Asking NALC and SALC to explain what they are doing to ensure that the government is not indifferent towards parish councils. How are parish councils being promoted by these bodies that we subscribe to?
  2. Asking District and County Councils to remind government whenever possible of the role of parish councils.
  3. The receipt of consultation documents in formats that allow parish councillors to read, understand and respond within the deadlines imposed.
  4. Rather than making things more complex, what is needed is the introduction of a much more simple system so that people will be able more easily to understand the political system. Members of the public - and most parish councillors and clerks - do not stand a chance in trying to piece together Local Strategic Partnerships, Local Area Agreements, Sustainable Community Strategies, Comprehensive Area Assessments, Statements of Community Involvement, Local Actions Plans, Local Action Teams, National Indicators, Local Public Service Agreements, the Central-Local Concordat, etc. The jargon alone is off-putting. This white paper introduces further complexity.
  5. There is no need for an increase in the amount of information available on the role of councillors etc. as there is an adequate supply of well-written information through bodies such as NALC. The challenge is to get people interested enough to want to find out about councils. (NB A clerk at a recent conference commented that although we who are already involved with local authority work find the subject fascinating, most people do not have any interest and won't have no matter what is done.)

DRAFT RESOLUTION:

  1. That Sedlescombe Parish Council views with concern the government's apparent move away from accountable elected parish councils and towards ad hoc community groups or even individuals who have no accountability and no permanence.
  2. That Sedlescombe Parish Council supports RALC taking every action in order to ensure that NALC, Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council use their influence on government to promote parish councils whenever possible.
  3. That Sedlescombe Parish Council supports simplification rather than the introduction of further levels for consultation.

Mrs P Raymond
Clerk/Responsible Financial Officer, Sedlescombe Parish Council
01424 870508, sedlescombe@freezone.co.uk, www.sedlescombe.org.uk
5 January 2009