Written evidence submitted by the Kent Association of Local Councils [POD 011]

 

The Kent Association of Local Councils (KALC) represents just over 97% of Parish, Town and Community Councils and Parish Meetings in Kent, representing an electorate of over 700,000 across the range of suburban, rural and urban Kent.

 

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee’s Inquiry. Whilst there has been no devolution bid from Kent, we have seen various forms of devolution across the country and would like to offer the following comments and observations:

 

        Devolution should be bottom up not top down. If devolution is to be sustainable then it should be a bottom up approach and not top down. There is a general feeling that these are impositions handed down from Government, rather than what local government and communities want to take on.

 

        Appropriate and adequate funding should follow any devolution deal. There is widespread concern based on other examples around the country that adequate funding does not follow the devolution of power and results in additional costs at local level, which then creates issues with costly referendums if local authorities then need to increase  council tax to cover the shortfall. Government should remove referendum principles for all tiers of local government.

 

      There should be double devolution. In many devolution deals, consideration is only given to devolution to county and district councils.  There are around 10,000 Local Councils in England (i.e. Parish, Town and Community Councils), who are the first tier of Local Government closest to their community. Yet strangely they are frequently left out of devolution discussions. As has been shown by the excellent work being undertaken by local authorities in relation to Covid-19, Local Councils have a key role to play in delivering services and support at a local level.

 

      Better Partnership Working between the different tiers of local government. All tiers of local government must work to save and sustain essential services.  This will involve more and greater partnership working than has ever occurred before. The current Covid-19 pandemic has created some excellent best practice examples of partnership working between the different tiers of local government. These examples should be used as a basis for working together in the devolution of services to the most local level.

 

    There should be genuine public consultation beforehand. There seems to be a complete lack of public consultation when devolution deals are being constructed and then negotiated with Government. If devolution is going to work and for the public to buy into the benefits of true devolution, they need to be able to have their say on what is being considered.

 

      There must be a genuine desire to devolve power and resources to local control. For example, on planning generally, more weight should be given to views put forward by Parish Councils on local planning applications as they are their 1st tier of local government closest to their community and are therefore in a good position to identify appropriate solutions at a local level.  Neighbourhood Plans have become an integral part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and their importance is emphasised in that document. The constraints on their content e.g. they should not promote less development than set out in the strategic policies for the area, means that they cannot conflict with the Local Plan. Yet their content has been continually ignored by District and County Councils and ultimately by Government. Alongside this, there is continued concern that a Neighbourhood Plan could be overridden if the Local Plan is deemed unsound if it does not have a 5-year land supply. As a consequence, Local Councils are not producing them and we lose the ‘power to develop a shared vision for their area’ as cited in the NPPF. Another example is around Infrastructure. When development is planned, the provision of the necessary infrastructure to support that development is also planned for. Local Councils should be statutory consultees on that provision and they should have the powers to ensure that it is in place before the development is occupied.

 

    If there is to be local government reorganisation as part of any devolution deal, then whatever models are being considered should also include the possible parishing of unparished areas i.e. undertaking a Community Governance Review on whether to create a new Parish, Town or Community Council in that unparished area.

 

In conclusion, we must be careful that devolution of Power does not just become an end for its own sake. Its components must be meaningful and at the end of the day apply across the board and not just individually.

 

 

May 2020