Continuing the theme: Parish councils need to be reformed urgently

 Letter www.theguardian.com 

The recent Handforth parish council meeting (Editorial, 8 February) highlights the ongoing issue of dealing with bullying by councillors. The scrutiny of councils set out in the Localism Act 2011 sadly does not apply to parish councils. The government’s preferred approach is to leave complaints to be remedied through the ballot box but, with elections every four years, this is not a solution. Beleaguered councillors and residents have nowhere to go. Complaints may be made to the monitoring officer of the district or unitary authority, but they have no teeth to deal with bad conduct.

The government is aware of this problem. In 2015, a consultation on extending the remit of the local government ombudsman to larger parish and town councils was held, but the results were never published. In 2016, the draft public service ombudsman bill, in which all parish councils were to be included in the scheme, was drafted but not presented to parliament. Apparently, now it is not fit for purpose. In February 2019, a government briefing paper (No 04827) again highlighted the need for reform, but still nothing has been done.

In the meantime, good councillors are resigning following unacceptable behaviour from fellow councillors, and trying to recruit new ones is next to impossible in such a toxic environment. Parish councils are at the coalface of local government and communities. Only reform can solve this serious failing in local democracy.

Jane Brook

Former parish councillor, Northaw, Hertfordshire