Jackie Weaver: Don’t infantilize town and parish councils

Town and parish councils should be treated as equal partners by other parts of local government, Jackie Weaver urged higher-level authorities.

The chief executive of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils told a panel at the Association of Local Governments conference that those at the most local level are sometimes treated like children.

The discussion, focusing on how the three levels of local government could work better together, was organized by the National Association of Local Councils.

Ms Weaver said town and parish councils should be given more responsibility. “Like children, they grew up,” she said, but warned that higher levels of government “infantilize them”, using language around consultation instead of partnership.

“There’s something about working with them as equals,” she added.

In response, Angie Ridgewell, chief executive of Lancashire CC, agreed that “language is really important”. She said: “I was having a conversation today with someone from the government and I was like ‘we need to have adult conversations’.”

Ms Ridgewell said counties should be mindful not to “replicate the way we are treated” and that issues should be “constructively reported”.

Meanwhile, Broadland and South Norfolk DC general manager Trevor Holden suggested everyone should focus on why they have the power to do things in the first place.

He said “the question of ‘who has the authority’ is interesting, when you get under it and uncheck it”, and suggested the answer lies in “where does the power to do things come from? “.

He described his experience working with town and parish councils as a “mixed bag”, adding “but that’s no excuse for us to be discourteous in any way”.

Mr Holden said a partnership working across different levels was important and his organization was in the process of appointing a senior relationship and engagement manager who would focus on “how do we work together to deliver”.

He said there was no point in having “top-down reporting relationships” because “we just deal with different parts of our geography and we have common interests.”

In response to the question about power, he said, “Power alone is not the answer. It is the authority to exercise that power.

Mr Holden underlined why all levels exist for the ‘community we serve’, adding: ‘We only have authority because it is lent to us’.