Parish or Bust!

A new phrase is set to enter the lexicon of library reductions: ‘parishing!’. It’s something I’ve warned about in previous posts but has mainly happened at a low level and very much under the radar. However, some recent high profile examples are bringing the issue to the fore. Parishing is the natural outcome of the localism and devolution agendas and in simple terms is the process whereby local authorities pass responsibility for universal and discretionary services to parish and town councils.

This is a rather cynical political ploy. The rationale being that councils don’t want to raise taxes above the referendum threshold but parish councils can raise the local precept to pay for services. With many councils set to raise the council tax by almost 4% this represents a double whammy of tax hikes for local communities, with low income families particularly vulnerable.

According to the BBC ‘thousands of parish and town councils in England increased their share of the annual bill, raising £18.9m in extra funds.’ The analysis shows that 5,217 parish and town councils increased the bill, 3,659 increased the basic demand by above 1.99%, and 60 parish councils at least doubled their bills in 2015-16. This is set to continue in the 2016-17 financial year with some parish and town councils significantly raising the precept.

What the article makes clear is the reason for the rises is to take on services previously provided by the principal local authority such as libraries, youth provision, and community buildings.

This is the approach being proposed by Cornwall under a devolution agenda. The Council’s Cabinet Member for Localism, Jeremy Rowe states

“Across Cornwall, our most significant current devolution priority is in relation to libraries and one stop shops, but there are a number of other exciting devolution projects underway locally, relating to a wide range of services and assets including open spaces, recreational facilities and community buildings.”

However, it’s not just in Cornwall but across many counties and unitary authorities that devolution is the catalyst for forcing additional responsibility onto lower tier councils and increasing precepts.

The justification for parish and town councils taking on services, such as libraries, is that if local people want the service then local people should pay for it. Unfortunately, such an approach and attitude lends itself to increasing social inequality between those communities that can afford services and those that cannot. It also continues the decline and fragmentation of library services, which further exacerbates such inequality.

This is rather at odds with the aim of creating robust, sustainable communities and services. Instead it appears a desperate  race to the bottom to provide the least service for the least cost, with some communities in danger of losing out altogether.

Equally, how parish councils taking on libraries fits into the 1964 Act remains to be seen and perhaps challenged. What is almost a certainty under these proposals is more job losses for library staff, replacement by volunteers, and a fall in the quality of service provision.

So it seems that along with localism and devolution, ‘parishing’ is yet another disingenuous term for drastic cuts to important local services including libraries.






5 thoughts on “Parish or Bust!”

  1. A few points:

    The DCLG growls every year about the occasional Parish Council who puts up their precepts by more than 2% – it is good politics. But the amount spent by Parish Councils is very small. Council Tax raises 50 times as much as Parish Precepts.

    I’m sceptical about the idea that many Parish Councils will be willing to take on local libraries. A Parish Council is unlikely to agree to take on a public library that a County or Unitary Council wants to devolve unless the appropriate funding is devolved too.

    Whilst a Parish Council can legally run a local library, it has no specific power to tax residents to fund it. A Parish Council can only raise a precept to pay for services that it is legally required to provide. This doesn’t include libraries. Parish Councils do have a limited power to spend on good works that benefit the Parish – in 2015/16 the maximum amount allowed is £7.36 per parish elector. Some of this money could be spent on the local library but obviously this would reduce the amount available for other good works. The Parish would thus be at a disadvantage compared to another area where the library was funded by the County or Unitary Council.

    Opposite the 1964 Act I guess the County or Unitary Authority decides whether a particular library branch is part of its statutory service or not. The fact that it is run by a Parish Council is no different to the position of any other devolved non-Library Authority run library.


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