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Ministers urged to empower local communities

The government should give every local area the ‘right to self government’ through a parish or town council, according to a new report.

The report by the think tank Onward warns plans to ‘level up’ parts will fail, unless there is a concerted effort to empower local communities.

It argues this can be achieved is by giving every local area a parish or town council.

At present, only 25% of England is represented by a parish or town council, compared to 70% of Wales and 100% of Scotland, and many recent attempts to create them have been thwarted by boroughs or districts, the report notes.

Instead, it argues that in next year’s devolution white paper, ministers should pave the way for the widespread introduction of town and parish councils, while also giving town and parish councils the right to assume ownership of, and responsibility for, green spaces, community sports facilities, community centres and local high street maintenance in their area.

It also calls on the government to empower communities to secure land for community-led housing to ensure a supply of local affordable or social homes. 

Where social housing waiting lists are excessive or housing is scarce, the report says there should be a new obligation placed on local authorities to identify, purchase and zone suitable land to meet the identified housing need for local people.

The report also recommends that ministers should offer discounted land to private rented tenants who want to self-build their own home, either individually on small plots or collectively across a larger site, in a new discounted ‘Right to Buy’ for renters.

The report is the latest in Onward’s Repairing our Social Fabric Programme, a major cross party programme launched last year to study the changing nature of community in the UK and to develop ideas for how to strengthen the ties that bind people together at a local level.

Earlier this month, Onward published another report which warned that almost half (43%) of workers in the Red Wall work in currently high-emitting industries, compared to 37% in the rest of the UK.

‘Everyone focuses on the impact of lockdown on the economy but the truth is that the pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the social fabric of our lives, compounding the long-term decline of community over recent decades,’ said Onward director, Will Tanner.

‘As we emerge – finally – from the pandemic, we need to not just revive a flatlining economy, we need to take steps to empower and recapitalise communities, to give people back a sense of belonging and rekindle the social networks and institutions upon which we all rely.’

Photo Credit – Andibreit (Pixabay)

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