Jackie Weaver: How parish councils can learn from Handforth zoom furore and help bring Britain up to standard
But you may have more power than you think. In a third of England, you might turn to a body with local power and democratic legitimacy to turn around: the town or parish council.
These civilian organizations, staffed with thousands of volunteer counselors and professional clerks, help communities regain control of their communities.
We need them and we need them to do more. Parish and city councils focus on the things that matter most to communities. They can organize a garbage collection, raise money to renovate a town hall, or take over the provision of a local bus service or community store.
Their responsibilities are as diverse as the needs of the communities they serve. And the best part about these boards is that they really know what their place needs – they’re inherently local, made up of people who live and work locally.
But because they are small, they are often overlooked as engines of positive social change. People often underestimate the power they can have, either by being on the board or by engaging with the board.
And as I know firsthand, when advice becomes a topic of discussion, it’s not always for the best of reasons. The Handforth Parish Council Zoom meeting that I chaired may have become a social media sensation, but it confirmed many people’s impression of local politics as argumentative, parish and frustrating.
But good news rarely makes the headlines.
There was no nationwide attention, for example, when Farnham City Council in Surrey created a protective structure and a 500-person volunteer network during the pandemic to help nearly 2,000 vulnerable people gather supplies or just stay connected.
Or when Tollerton Parish Council in Nottinghamshire, in partnership with local businesses, helped build, decorate and design local spaces – including the community pub and specialty retailers – for people to come together and thrive .
In none of these cases did the board act alone. These councils could not accomplish so much because, firstly, as members of the community, they knew what was needed and how it could be done and, secondly, they had the support of the communities they represent.
But the good work done by councils up and down the country should not be an excuse to rest on our laurels.
There is much to be done to expand city and parish councils in places that do not have them and to give local people even more control over their own destiny.
A good start, as the Onward think tank recently proposed, would be to reform the responsibilities and resources available to city and parish councils.
When local ambition is held back by insufficient powers, it is incredibly frustrating.
Why wouldn’t a community have the power to take charge of its neighborhood?
And at the same time, why not empower local municipal and parish councils to make changes themselves, on their own, rather than constantly having to look to central government for additional funds?
Finally, since some councilors will occasionally need not only to read the bylaw but also to understand it, we should take steps to ensure that there is proper training for clerks and more support. for councils, so that they can use their powers more effectively and better represent the communities they serve.
This training is available to district and county councilors. We should also extend our support to communities.
The first level of local administration has too often been forgotten in successive government devolution reforms. It is time for ministers to engage parish and municipal councils in their efforts to upgrade.
Jackie Weaver is President of the Association of Local Councils of Cheshire.
She gained national notoriety earlier this year when she chaired a now infamous Handforth Parish Council meeting in Cheshire that went viral on social media.
This made Acting Clerk Jackie Weaver a star as President Brian Tolver told her she had “no authority here” to chair the meeting.
However, the council has now been renamed Handforth City Council because councilors wanted to “get away from the toxic side of Handforth”. Since the infamous meeting, three advisers, including former president Mr. Tolver, have left.
During this time, Weaver became a minor celebrity and wrote a book called You Have Authority Here! : What would Jackie Weaver do?
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