PC response to 1998 Local Government Discussion paper

Compton & Shawford Parish Council

Responses to Local Government discussion paper

The questions in the DETR discussion paper have been reproduced here for the benefit of our councillors who reviewed our responses.

The questions from the discussion paper are in plain text – our responses are in italics.

Modernising Local Government

Chapter 2

The need for change


Q1. The Government therefore would welcome views on the desirability of statutory incentives and requirements to encourage councils to pilot democratic innovations, and what form such incentives and requirements might take.

Answer: At the Parish Council level we feel that we are already relatively free to engage in experiments and alternative ways of operating. We don’t feel that any statutory obligations to engage in innovation would be helpful. Incentives for innovation – if they took the form of financial or logistical assistance – would be welcome.

Chapter 3

Modernising local electoral arrangements

Increasing the electoral accountability of local authorities

Q.2 The Government would welcome views on how to move to annual elections in the light of the issues raised in that annex.

Answer: We do not feel that annual elections are appropriate at the Parish Council level. Furthermore, we have our “own” District Councillor and would strongly favour keeping it that way rather than be part of a larger area with four councillors one of whom was elected each year.

Other ways of increasing completeness of the register

Q.3 The Government is keen to encourage good practice and for authorities to establish new and innovative ways of maximising registration. It would welcome views on what local authorities have found successful and how the Government could most effectively encourage best practice throughout local government. In particular, how best can Government and local authorities encourage young people to participate.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the registration process.

The nature of the register

Q.4 The Government will be considering this issue. We would welcome views on whether some form of anonymous registration should be introduced, how this could be achieved and what safeguards against electoral fraud would be required.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the registration process.

Q.5 The Government would welcome views on the costs and benefits of implementing a rolling register.

Answer: If local democracy is to be extended to formalise referenda then there are arguments in favour of retaining the current system. Although it can be said to effectively disenfranchise people who have recently moved into the area, when we conducted a referendum recently we deliberately used the Electoral Register rather than sending forms to every household. The argument for doing this was that recent newcomers to the area would not be up to speed on all the arguments on the issue.

Where to vote

Q.6 The Government would welcome views on the principle and the practical implications of this idea and whether pilots might play a part in assessing these.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the voting process.

When to vote

Q.7 The Government would welcome views on whether such steps would be likely to increase turnout in a cost effective way and on any practical issues raised by the ideas. It would welcome views on whether they should be piloted.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the voting process.

How to vote

Q.8 The Government would welcome views on how far it might be practicable to change deadlines for absent vote applications, how far absent voting might be extended and what changes to process and safeguards against possible abuse would be necessary. It would welcome views on whether conducting whole elections by postal vote might be piloted.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the voting process.

Electronic Voting

Q.9 The Government would welcome views on electronic voting and on how it might be implemented.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the voting process.

We were however pleased to note that the text of this discussion paper was made available on the internet. It would have been helpful if the covering letter or the body of the report itself had included a reference to the URL (internet address). In the spirit of embracing the new technology, the government should have provided the option for bodies to return their comments on the discussion paper by e-mail.

Other voting arrangements

Q.10 The Government is keen for authorities to consider what might be done in this area and to learn of their views.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the voting process.

Timing of Poll Card Issue

Q.11 The Government would welcome views on best practice in these areas and on whether any legislative change might be practicable and worthwhile.

Answer: N/A – the Parish Council does not manage the voting process.

Chapter 4

Involving local communities

Increased public participation in debate and decision taking

Consultation strategy

Q.12 The Government would welcome views on how such strategies can be framed to serve a useful purpose. Should there be a statutory requirement to produce such a strategy?

Answer: N/A – a body the size of a Parish Council cannot be assumed to have the resources to produce formal strategies.

Q.13 However, the Government would welcome comments from local authorities and others who have experience of innovations such as those listed below, in particular on the circumstances in which they were tried, whether they were a success or failure and what lessons can be learned which will be of value to others. Is there a role for central guidance? If so, who should publish it? Would it be possible to keep such guidance up to date?

  • seeking the views of the citizen
  • recognising communities by increasing their involvement in direct decision making.
  • enabling the electorate to determine or influence policy on a specific issue
    • watchdog or scrutiny role for the citizen
    • opening up the authority

Answer: This Parish Council did conduct a referendum by postal ballot of all electors in the summer of 1996 to assess public support for our development plans for local facilities. Alternatives considered were a public meeting at which a vote could have been taken and a ballot with a polling booth. We took the view that a postal ballot with reply-paid envelopes was the way to ensure the fullest participation, after the Parish Council – and those opposing our plans – had circulated leaflets putting forward the arguments. A public meeting could have been susceptible to hijacking by militants. Although the parish council did not commit that the results of the referendum would be binding, we would certainly not have gone against a clearly expressed majority view. As it was, in round numbers, we had just over a two-thirds turnout and of the votes counted, just over three-quarters of whom supported the Parish Council. We consider that this exercise was a success. We were grateful to the officers of Winchester City Council who counted the votes for us, but it was a great deal of work to produce individually addressed and numbered ballot slips even for our electorate of about 1200 voters. Because of the effort and time delay involved in organising a referendum it is not an exercise that we would want to do more than once or twice every decade. If the government wishes to facilitate referenda at the parish level then we would appreciate being able to call on administrative support from the District or County Council.

Q.14 The Government would welcome views on whether it ought to legislate to create a specific power to hold local referendums and how they should be conducted, the issues on which referendums ought to be permitted, how they might be triggered a and whether on particular issues the results of referendums should be mandatory (i.e. binding on the council) or advisory.

Answer: Guidelines on when it is appropriate to organise a referendum and how to do so would certainly be helpful and we would be prepared to contribute based on our experience. But we do not believe that there should be legislation allowing the public to demand referenda. A disenchanted minority could easily disrupt local government if they were able to force frequent ballots. We believe that referendums should be advisory rather than binding. There are so many issues which would vary depending on local circumstances.

Q.15 The Government is keen to encourage and promote good practice. It would welcome any views on the steps that authorities have found successful in the past.

Answer: This Parish Council was the first in the Hampshire to establish the practice of publishing meeting reports on the Internet, thanks to the chairman’s experience in his full time job working with the internet, although we had to work out for ourselves the implications of the Data Protection Act as it applied to Parish Councils. Some central guidance would have been useful. Also, as the technology becomes more pervasive it might be appropriate for central government to sponsor the creation of a computer package to assist Parish Clerks in the management of what is a small business. The package should include at least correspondence and mailing lists, minutes and agenda, and accounting in line with the latest regulations. It should also allow for easy publication on the web.

Q.16 There are many specific statutory requirements to consult. Is there a need for legislation to extend or replace them by setting a new legal framework for the broader processes of consultation discussed above? Are there any particular forms of consultation which local authorities believe to be beyond their powers, or which could be undertaken with greater certainty if there was specific enabling legislation?

Answer: As a Parish Council we feel that we already have adequate ways of consulting our electorate.

Chapter 5
Modernising the way councils work
Q.17 The Government would welcome views on the form of any such longer term provision. Should it provide permanently for a wide range of political and management structures for councils? Or should the lessons of these experiments be codified in a narrow range of approved arrangements in the long term?

Answer: Not really relevant to small Parish Councils. Our Council, at least, does not run on party political lines.

Representative and streamlined councils

Q.18 The Government would welcome views on what factors deter people from standing as councillors, the difficulties they face whilst serving and what can be done about them.

Answer: At the Parish level I would say that ignorance, apathy and diffidence are factors but also it is difficult to combine a full time job with a role as a Parish Councillor. The time demands on a District Councillor are even greater. Furthermore members of the public who are not willing to give their own time have been known to criticise, sometimes very quite offensively, those who are serving as councillors. Such behaviour may well discourage others from putting themselves in the firing line.

On the other hand, the introduction of incentives to become a parish councillor would raise the danger that people would stand for the incentive rather than the idea of public service.

Chapter 6

Councils leading their communities

Q.19 The Government would welcome views on the value of community planning, and the form that any new responsibilities for local authorities and others should take

Answer: As a Parish Council we would like to see a stronger requirement laid on the District and County Councils to consult with parishes at all stages of the planning process. There is some consultation at present but we often feel were are involved at too late a stage.

Q.20 The Government would welcome views on the implications of placing a duty to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of their areas on local authorities, and the issues raised by these proposals

Answer: As a Parish Council for a mainly residential village we already feel that we have a duty to promote the social and environmental wellbeing of our area. Economic promotion is less relevant. It is hard to see how legislation would help.

Q.21 The Government would welcome views on the need to replace section 111, and on the proposed formulation set out here.

Answer: This has not affected us but we have no problems with replacement legislation to clarify Section 111.

Q.22 The Government would welcome views on the issues raised by these ideas.

Answer: In principle this Parish Council would welcome the option to take more powers upon itself in the interests of looking after our village. There are two potential problems:

  1. Logistical – there are limits to what a volunteer council with 9 members can handle
  2. Financial – we have seen with the Local Government and Rating Act 1997 that this can act as a hidden rate increase. The County Council is already taking the view that as the Parish Council now has powers over, for example, traffic calming, they can ask us to contribute financially where formerly we would not have had to do so.

Any legislation conferring greater powers on Parish Councils should make sure that if the Parish Councils choose to exercise those powers then either they receive a grant from the central county precept to carry out the new powers or their county precept is reduced and the parish itself will precept for the money. One particular area where we would welcome change is in the extension of the powers given to Parishes under the 1997 Act to add controls over parking to the traffic calming powers given under that Act.

Encouraging councils’ leadership role in guaranteeing quality services

Q.23 The Government would welcome views on whether powers are needed to assist local authorities developing a public forum in which non-elected bodies could be invited to respond to local concerns and explain actions and proposals affecting local communities, and on these proposals.

Answer: At the Parish level we do not feel that any further public forum would be helpful. Many local bodies already struggle to find officers and we already consult fairly frequently with the various clubs and societies within the parish as well as the school and the church.


The move to annual elections in England

Q.24 The Government would welcome views on what approach should be adopted as regards electoral areas in the context of annual elections, and in the light of those views, whether we should retain four year terms for councillors in England or move to three year terms.

Answer: We prefer to keep our own district councillor for several years rather than have a share in a larger ward with some members being elected each year. We see no requirement to reduce the term from four years to three.

Q.25 The Government would welcome views on the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches and their relative merits.

Answer: Any re-warding of the country to produce multi-member wards for the sake of annual elections would be seen as a massive waste of time and public money.


29. Parish councils present additional difficulties. They are a much smaller operation than county or district councils. Many parish council elections are uncontested. One fifth of parishes cover populations of under 200 and are too small to need a parish council. The benefits of annual elections do not seem great for this tier of authority and the Government is not inclined to disturb current electoral arrangements for parishes.

Q.26 The Government would welcome views on whether its commitment to introduce annual elections should include parish councils and which of the approaches to implementing annual elections outlined above should be adopted for each type of authority.

Answer: We agree with the Government’s intention to leave electoral arrangements for parishes unchanged. Normally, during the course of our council’s four-year term, there will be some vacancies due to resignations which have to be filled by election or co-option, and this turnover helps to preserve a measure of vitality on the council without being as disruptive as an annual turnover of councillors would be.

Q.27 The Government would welcome views on which of the approaches to implementing annual elections outlined above should be adopted for each type of authority.

Answer: N/A given our answer to Q26 above.



Adrian Walmsley, Chairman Compton & Shawford Parish Council
8 April 1998