Ward Level Councils in London

As you will not know -- because it hasn't been made very public  -- the Tower Hamlets Local Area Partnerships (LAPs) have been 'reorganised' to 'enhance democratic deficit' as CS, an accidentally truthful, commentator stated. Councillors have been parachuted into LAPs as vice-chairs and the proletarian members will be 'selected' using a 'rigorous process' designed to populate LAP committees with sheeple acceptable to the borough council. The illusion of participation rather than participation itself is important here.

Two or three Limehouse activists were excluded in the last round, presumably for being too literate, too articulate or caring too much about their surroundings.

Happily (I'm being ironic) there will be 'public' meetings four times a year to 'hold the LAPs to account'. During the rest of the year, the councillors and 'selected' members will do as they like. Many of you may have noticed -- or not noticed -- that there are minimal levels of output and outcome from the LAPs, given that the total spent per year is pretty much unknown.

In spite of various freedom of information requests, I haven't yet been provided with a realistic figure. Indeed I had to wait about four months and threaten them with the information commissioner. I now have one unsupported total in the middle of an empty spreadsheet, gee, thanks guys!.

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2008 has amended the 2007 Act in one important sense: citizens of London boroughs, against huge opposition by the boroughs themselves, are allowed to petition for the formation of local level councils. These might be, for example, at the level of the borough wards. Now these would represent a genuine, transparent and effective opportunity for local democracy, accountability and small-scale service delivery that is clearly not being delivered by the LAPs.

Parish councils can raise precepts (cash) that is collected with council tax to provide funds for local use. In my view, the first stage of a switch from LAP to parish council could be tax neutral, because some of the funds consumed (notice I did not say "used") by the LAPs would be replaced by an equivalent parish precept. I would expect and hope that, as parish councils become more competent and skilful, their level of activity and service delivery would build up. I'm explaining this here because the borough will try and scare you with stories of huge additional spending.

Parish councils have many other possible virtues. They can avoid the futility of national party punch-and-judy, since many parish councils elect independent, non-party parish councillors. They can provide a greater responsiveness and alignment with the actual wishes of their constituents. Finally, they can provide a continuing point of contact, coherence and solidarity for a given local community, and an antidote to abstract political correctness.

Here, I'll declare interest: an old friend and colleague is mayor of a Hertfordshire town council, so I have been following the progress of their first steps and adventures.  And having a council this 'near' to the population it serves is a goodness, your councillors are your neighbours.

If anyone wants to form a working group or website, get a visit/talk from someone that has done this, or become active in a pre-parish council movement in the borough, please contact me here. I will reply to everyone who's interested.

If you are interested but don't want to contact me, I'd recommend http://www.nalc.gov.uk, the body that supports all aspects of town and parish councils, formation, running and best practice.

The presentation, at the bottom of the page, is one that I gave partially to the Local Democracy committee in Parliament.

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