Jackie Weaver calls for more ‘hyper-localism’ to revitalise local government

Jackie Weaver has given her support to government proposals in the levelling up white paper that could lead to an increase in the number of parish councils.

www.room151.co.uk 

Weaver, who gained overnight fame in February 2021 when her attempt to control an unruly online meeting of Handforth Parish Council went viral, told Room151 that, as larger local authorities contract, “there is only one thing that can fill the gap – and that is parish councils”.

She described parish and town councils as “hyper-localism”, adding: “It’s your parish council that really understands what is happening locally. I don’t think that happens at district or county level. It’s your parish council that will know what the interests are within that area.”

The levelling up white paper promises a review of neighbourhood governance in England that will examine the roles and functions of parish councils in England and discuss how to make them quicker and easier to establish.

Weaver, chief officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils, will be discussing the issue of levelling up at Room151’s Local Authority Treasurers Investment Forum (LATIF) North conference taking place in Leeds on 22 March.

The footage from the Handforth meeting did not present a flattering picture of the lowest tier of local government, so why does Weaver think there should there be more parish councils?

“Most people will recognise that one of the reasons that went viral was because it is exceptional. If you saw something like that every month at your parish council meeting, would you even give it two seconds of your time? The criticism of most council sessions wouldn’t be that they are violent and aggressive, but they are dull.

“If you think that you have ineffective and dull council meetings, then do something about it. That is the beauty of your town or parish council. It is the intimacy and the immediacy of it. If you don’t like it, get in there and change it.”

A report last year from the centre-right thinktank Onward said that every neighbourhood should have a parish or town council. It estimated that currently 63% of England does not have this type of governance and called for automatic ballots of voters in these areas to test the views of local people.

Weaver said she had doubts about going this far. “I would prefer this to be community-led. The difficulty is if you create a parish council and there is really no appetite for it locally, then you are just creating another level of bureaucracy that probably isn’t going to be terribly effective.”

She said she wanted to use her unexpected fame to widen the general public’s knowledge and awareness of local government. The day before Weaver spoke to Room151, she had appeared on Good Morning Britain and the weekend before had come second in Celebrity Mastermind and taken part in two live comedy shows.

“I’m trying to find different ways of raising the subject because we have to reach a different audience. The things we have done before – newsletters, websites – are managing to hit the same targets as we have always hit. I want to break out of that and engage with different people.”