Tarbock Parish Council for the chop? – From the Liverpool Echo 13th May 2013

I am a big supporter of Parish Councils so this Liverpool Echo story worries me. I am not sure what is behind the move by Knowsley Borough Council but my understanding is that this used to be an independent run Parish Council but became Labour run in recent times. I find it rather sad when grass roots local democracy is potentially under threat of being chopped when many have so little confidence in the higher levels of government in England. The Echo story is below:-

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A century-old parish council which represents more than 1,000 families could be abolished.

Knowsley Council chiefs are holding a review of Tarbock Parish Council, throwing its future into uncertainty.
The authority said it wanted the views of local residents and encouraged householders to get in touch during a six-week consultation period, which will end(ed) on June 3.

After all responses are collected, the council will put together a working group of elected members who will decide whether the parish council will continue unchanged or be abolished. The group will also examine the possibility of making changes to the area covered by Tarbock Parish Council and residents will be given another chance to give their views.

Tarbock Parish Council was set up in the early 20th century and is made up of two parish wards – Tarbock North and Tarbock South. There are 802 properties in Tarbock North, which covers part of the St Gabriel’s Borough ward and 307 properties in Tarbock South, which covers part of the Halewood North Borough ward.”

Residents living in a band D property under the remit of Tarbock Parish Council currently pay a parish council precept on their council tax of just £6.67. The parish council takes just £4,931 a year in precept charges, compared to the £268,703 collected by neigbouring Halewood Town Council. According to Knowsley Council’s consultation document handed out to residents, Tarbock’s precept is mainly spent on the running of the parish council.

It said: Parish councils can get involved in a wide range of activities, such as installing litter bins, arranging events and improving services and facilities in the local area. The level of this activity can depend upon the total amount of precept it receives from the residents in its area each year.

Tarbock Parish Council’s annual precept will mainly be spent on the administration of the parish council, which includes supporting the running of the village hall by hiring it for meetings, and paying for a clerk to manage the running of the parish council.

However, it could decide to extend its activities – for example, other parish and town councils in Knowsley run community facilities in their areas.

Why isn’t the whole of England Parished?

The purpose behind the 1894 legislation (which Gladstone used to set up Civil Parishes) was to separate civil and religious powers in England (rural England in particular) but since then why has no government seen fit to Parish the whole of England?

To those of us in the parish movement (I mean Parish Councillors) it seems such an obvious thing to do if managing communities effectively at the grass roots is a desirable outcome; which it clearly is. So let’s examine why it has not happened and sadly may well never happen.

Firstly, we live in a significantly centralised democracy and since the Second World War it has probably become more centralised. Power is firmly gripped at Westminster and all governments, no matter what they say before taking office and certainly after they have taken office, seem to fall for the argument that letting the natives do what they want is simply not good for them. For that buzz word localism read ‘we need to let the natives think they are gaining more control over their affairs and the communities they live in whilst not really giving them much at all’.

We can see this played out in planning regulations over generations where centralised policies and edicts are made over how many houses should be built for example, even targets (remember the Regional Strategies) for house building are imposed at times.

But hang on don’t all the main political parties talk about decentralisation and localism? Well yes they do but in practice anything that is devolved is either sent down with strings attached or is a reasonably worthless sop such as Neighbourhood Planning.

Then there is the existing spread of parish councils. Are they a good advert for further and/or real decentralisation? I am sure you can find both good and poor examples to justify an answer either way but frankly the parish councils sector is not well organised, it does not effectively campaign and it is taken little notice of by all governments.

But why is that the case? It is probably because of the extremely diverse nature of parish councils and finding two alike is hard work. Governments like dealing with Districts, Boroughs and County Councils because they are predicable, usually do as they are told and can have their funding put at risk by not following the governmental line. Is there any wonder then that national politicians who think Westminster is the be all and end all of democracy don’t care for a local government sector that is incredibly diverse, sleepy in some quarters whilst too innovative and over active (for Government tastes) in others, is staunchly independent and presently still has fund raising powers that are significantly un-fettered by government?

Take Eric Pickles that blunt and controlling Yorkshire chap. He seems, as a Minister of the Crown, to be pondering on trying to control parish precepts! What business is it of his; a parish precept is a matter between the parish council and the folks who live in that parish. Why on earth would anyone outside of a parish have any wish to interfere in that very local democratic process?

But for my money the problem is that parish councils need to become more credible despite their diverse nature because if they don’t truly local grass roots democracy will never be endorsed by any government in terms of powers available and extending parish councils across all of England. The big question is how do they become more credible and break down the walls of our stifling centralising democracy?