Your Parish and Town Councils need you!

ALDC are often reminding us that we should run candidates everywhere in local elections, and far be it for me to disagree. But it isn’t always easy – not everyone wants to be a councillor, and in years like 2023 with the prospect of a Conservative collapse in the Districts, there is a risk that even supposedly paper candidates may get elected.

But let me introduce you to a world where elections are usually uncontested, and where not every seat is filled.

The National Association of Local Councils has published its review of the 2022 elections at Town and Parish Council level and, whilst it was a relatively “off year” for the tier, with just 10% of local councils holding elections, just 11% of those elections were contested, representing 888 of the 8,068 council seats up for grabs. Worse still, 1,639 seats remained vacant after the elections, or 20% of the available places.

As liberals, that tends to offend, especially given our general view that citizens should be engaged and consulted by those who represent them. Indeed, the laws that determine how local councils are elected permit co-options within thirty days of an election where vacancies remain unfilled, a recipe for affirming undemocratic local cliques.

For many small Parish Councils, the lack of power is a contributory factor – how can you entice people to sit in meetings every two months where most of the issues are dealt with at higher tiers of local government? – but even towns with five figure populations and significant budgets struggle to find sufficient candidates.

So, if the amount of power is limited, why do people run to be Parish and Town councillors? NALC asked councillors that question, and the answers were rather interesting:

In May 2022, 86% of local councillor survey respondents stated that they stood for election to serve the community (exactly the same proportion as in May 2021). 31% of respondents said they wanted to change things in their community (a reduction of 25% from 2021). 7% stood for their political beliefs/values (down from 15% in May 2021). 15% stated they stood for election because they were asked to, down from 22% in May 2021. 4% stated they had stood to resolve an issue (down from 8% in 2021), and 4% said they had stood for other reasons (down from 7% in May 2021).

That does rather support my contention that, for the most part, the lowest tier of local government is political but not party political.

So, why tell you this? Well, 2023 is probably the biggest year for Town and Parish Council elections, as they tend to coincide with District Council elections in England, and therefore, if you live in a parished area, there may well be elections taking place. Promote them, stand as a candidate and why not use it as an opportunity to support your campaigning at other levels of local government and beyond?

Parish and Town Councils offer a relatively gentle avenue to develop skills that can be applied elsewhere, a source of potential members and candidates for higher tiers, and provide an opportunity to serve your community.

So, will there be more Liberal Democrats amongst the ranks of Town and Parish councillors next May? It’s entirely up to you, but you’d be more than welcome.

* Mark Valladares is the Chair of Creeting St Peter Parish Council in Suffolk’s Gipping Valley, and represents Suffolk on the National Assembly of the National Association of Local Councils.

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7 Comments

  • Graham Jeffs 28th Oct '22 - 6:56pm

    I agree that Town Councils and Parish Councils can provide good basic experience. However, they come in various forms – some Town Councils are legacy councils from the reform of local government in the early 1970s and may be warded. They are more likely to have ongoing party-political representation.

    Many Parish Councils appear to be unwarded and not necessarily so obviously party political. I can only speak currently from experience of my own parish council. There are no wards and none of the councillors are there representing a political party. Were there to be party political elections I have no doubt that a number of the existing councillors would not be elected as the area is overwhelmingly Conservative. The quality of this ‘sounding board’ of local opinion would not be improved.

    I’m all for fighting almost anything that moves – but I do not believe we should set out to politicise the lowest level of local government in areas where representation is currently on the basis of people simply wishing to serve their local community. Mark – I’m not suggesting that was your intention, I’m simply making an associated observation

  • One way is to get good party publicity from a sound Commons by election result for the party.
    Chester is only a month away, I do hope we are going to do a proper campaign, we could come second in the present climate,
    that would significantly help to stimulate the interest you want.

  • Kevin Hawkins 29th Oct '22 - 5:01pm

    I think we should be careful about assuming that just because a parish or town council appears to be non-party political that this is the case in reality. Some years ago I did a bit of research on a town council and found that all thirteen councillors had been elected as Independents, twelve out of thirteen, in their declarations of interest, stated that they were members of the Conservative Party and that the party had contributed to their election funds. The thirteenth “Independent” was a member of the Liberal Democrats. I believe in honesty in politics – if you really are an Independent then fine, but if you are backed by a party you should stand as such.

  • Graham Jeffs 29th Oct '22 - 5:13pm

    Each case needs to be assessed on their merits. There are lots of people who serve on parish councils who are unaligned. They simply wish to contribute.

  • Barry Fleet 30th Oct '22 - 6:24pm

    Town and parish councils do have an important role to play but not all conform to the description in the article : Witham Town Council, which has 16 councillors, had, I believe, 47 candidates in 2019, most with party labels. Sadly, no Liberal Democrats were elected.

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