Examination of Witnesses

Part of Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 23rd June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Jonathan Owen:

Well, that is a $60 billion question. That is an issue for parish councillors.

I have a few reflections. First, we need to promote their work more effectively, publicising what they can do and understanding their potential. Parish and town councils can deliver exciting and good things for their communities. They are not just a place to go and sit for a boring meeting; they are about getting out there to help communities. I think that was the experience of the pandemic, actually: a lot of parish councils rolled up their sleeves, as they often do, and made things happen. I remember that my previous chair, Ken Browse from Devon, who was a small parish councillor, used to get his tractor out and dig out the ditches when there was flooding in Devon. It is about trying to use that potential of councillors, rather than getting them borne down, as you say, under a sort of semi-professional thing. That is not what they are there for: they are there to represent their local constituents and do their bit to make their local places much better.

We would like to see some real promotion of parish councils. It is ironic that over the past year they have probably had much more of a national profile because of the Jackie Weaver affair, but I think national Government should be investing significant money in promoting the potential of parish councils and why people should get involved. The National Association of Local Councils has its Make a Change campaign going at the moment, which is trying to encourage more people to get involved and stand for election. We are putting out a lot of material and, I think it would be fair to say, getting a lot of interest. The average age of a parish councillor is something like 61. We would like to see that much reduced, and we would like to see people from different backgrounds getting involved. As with all things, it needs to be marketed and promoted.

The second point I would make is that principal authorities get something like £18 million from Government to support the work of the Local Government Association and build the capacity and competence of councillors. We are really grateful to the LGA, which we are able to work with in some limited areas to access some of that funding, but our sector and our 100,000 councillors need some support from Government too, to make sure they are able to deliver the things that are required in a sensible way. I think that that investment in councillors as local leaders and place shapers, making a difference for their communities, would help tackle burnout.