Wednesday, 06 October 2010 21:11

'Time has come' for local councils

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Local people have a 'critical role' to play Local people have a 'critical role' to play Ruralcity Media

GRASSROOTS local democracy is at the heart of the government’s Big Society, a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference was told.

Hosted by the National Association of Local Councils, the event saw opinion formers in conversation with Tory politicians.

NALC has long argued in favour of local people coming together to take more responsibility for their community.

It believes community, parish and town councils are a tried and tested model of grassroots neighbourhood action – localism in action.

Speaking at the event, Andy Sawford of the Local Government Information Unit said: "I'm a big fan of local councils, I think the time has come for them.”

In terms of localism and the Big Society, local councils had a huge amount to offer, said Mr Sawford.

Local democracy and politics would play a critical role in taking forward initiatives from the government’s forthcoming Localism Bill.

“Local councils give us a ready made democratic, accountable vehicle to transfer real power to people in our communities,” Mr Sawford said.

Extending the power of general competence to local councils will give them the flexibility to get on and do their job and respond to local needs.

The fringe meeting was also addressed by Rory Stewart MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on local democracy.

"The Big Society is not everything and it is not a pot of money,” he said.

“It is an interesting conversation about society - the interesting thing is not the big element, it's the society element.

“The big question is who speaks for a community - that is where local councils come in. It is local councils who have the legitimacy.

“There are three things above all that are required to get things done for communities: power, knowledge and legitimacy.

“The right to speak for people is absolutely critical."

James Morris, MP for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, said it was vital to use existing structures to drive the change the government wanted.

“What we must not do is not throw the baby out with the bathwater and invent a series of new structures.

“We should be looking at local councils to be the vital platform to build the roots of localist change.”

The fringe event also saw the launch of a NALC policy pamphlet, What is localism?, featuring a series of essays on the concept of the Big Society.

The pamphlet is available at www.nalc.gov.uk.

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