Parish Councils and Councillors: a resurgence in the most local tier of government in England?
In the UK, local authorities are already the largest across Europe. There are moves in England and Wales to make some of these local authorities even larger. This is being carried out through voluntary mergers as well as through central government initiatives. As these principal authorities get so large, they lose their feeling of ‘locality’. A consequence is they are becoming distanced from the communities they are supposed to represent. Into this vacuum an increased role for parish councils is appearing. Parish councils do not have the same financial constraints on them as principal authorities. Some of them are picking up the delivery of services which the principal authorities claim they can no longer deliver, and delivering said services more effectively and more efficiently through local engagement. At the same time, there appears to be increasing interest among the population in both establishing parish councils (including within London) and in standing for election to parish councils. Thus the ‘local’ may be coming back into local councils. This paper explores the ways in which parish councils are being revived. No longer are they dismissed as being superfluous or a joke. Instead, they appear to be taking up the reins of local government, and trying to make it ‘local’ again. Concepts such as ‘democratic deficit’ have been used against principal authorities and parish councils. The apparent resurgence in parish councils suggests a degree of interest in, and enthusiasm for, ‘local’ government. All of this brings into question the extent to which there may be such a democratic deficit. This deficit may be questioned further when noting the levels of interest from members of the public in standing for office at the parish council level. Part of this may be attributed to the ‘local’ issues, but there is also an important factor of party labels. Most parish council elections are fought without party labels – or, at least, open party labels. Party politics appears to matter far less at this most local level.
Citation:Jones, A. (2018) Parish Councils and Councillors: a resurgence in the most local tier of government in England? European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) annual conference, Hamburg, 22-25 August 2018.