Government at the Local Level; Parish, Town and Community Councils Given the Power to Make a Difference

Article excerpt

Byline: TOBY MASON Welsh Affairs Editor

THERE are about 736 town and community councils in Wales, but few people know what they do or even where they meet.

In short, they have a public image problem.

So it comes as little surprise that a new survey has shown worrying levels of participation at this, the lowest tier of government.

It was only three to four years ago that parish, town and community councils in England and Wales were thought of as the neglected part of local government.

A commonly held view was that these councils were made up of a few members and officers who would sit for hours in draughty, dark meeting rooms to discuss an agenda which would have very little impact on the community.

But there are major developments taking place to boost the role of community councils, which receive pounds 80m a year from our taxes.

This even includes a proposal to give them the freedom to borrow for individual capital projects without first having to secure the Assembly's approval.

In Wales, community councils came into being in April 1974, replacing parish councils, which still exist in England. The two share most of their functions - and have an equally low profile.

Members are elected for a term of four years and councils are funded principally by an annual precept, which is piggybacked on to Council Tax bills sent out by local authorities.

The councils receive no direct funding from the Treasury or from the National Assembly.

However councils can apply for other funding such as grants and awards, as well as European Union money from Objective One and Two.

Things have changed dramatically over the last couple of years, in no small part thanks to the work of the National Association of Local Councils.

Parish, town and community councils have been empowered to develop their role in providing services and functions to their local community.

`Community strategies provide an opportunity to develop specific solutions'And this, say many, is right because this is the closest tier of government to the community.

In Wales the NALC is in constant talks with the National Assembly and this has resulted in a Scoping Study for Town and Community Councils in Wales. …