Parish Councils – Long live what Governments can’t control but local people can

In the past couple of weeks I have been helping Lydiate Parish Council to find a replacement for the soon to be retiring Clerk to the Council. We had quite a lot of applications for this part time post and interviewed 7 people.

Over on next door Maghull Town Council I have also been involved in interviewing a couple of applicants for a 6 month fixed term job supporting the present Clerk.

I have interviewed for such roles before and what always strikes me is how little folks know about the world of Parish and Town Councils, their powers, activities etc. I suppose that is partly because it is difficult to find two Parish/Town Council that are alike.

Whilst localism is one of the prominent political themes of our time (as a Liberal I have of course always been on that agenda) the fact is that Gladstone set out the road to localism back in 1894 when he split C of E Parochial Church Councils away from governance of communities (rural ones in particular) and set up Civil Parish Councils. It was a huge step forward in its time but one that has not really been developed to its full potential. Indeed, I think that Parliament frightened itself to death after passing the Act and ever since has been looking to keep power at the centre – It’s a fault line in our politics.

Governments of whatever colour want to control as much as they can and micro managing councils is one way they have done it. Instead of realising that Gladstone was starting a process of setting local communities free from Westminster (whether he realised it or not) they have seen his localism initiative as something to be held in check – It’s dangerous to let the natives control their own communities and services you know!

But despite all that control freakery Parish and Town Councils have developed across England, done their own thing within quite open ended legislation and most of it under the Government’s radar! I am sure some MP’s would shudder to realise that they really can’t boss Parish and Town Councils about like they do Borough, District and County Councils. The reason for this is that Government does not financially support the activities of Parish/Town Councils but it does provide around 2/3rds of the funding for higher tiers of local government. It’s easy to control organisations you fund but when you don’t have your hands on the purse strings there are no strings to pull.

But I digress, the point I was making is that Clerks to Parish/Town Councils hold a unique type of job in the public sector and there are few folks that really understand them. It shows when you do interviews that many applicants really do not know much about England’s grass roots level of democracy.

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