Thank you to everyone who attended the 18 September meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for District Councils.
It was standing room only in the Palace of Westminster’s Churchill Room as senior councillors and chief executives of district councils mixed with MPs and peers to discuss the unique value that district councils can offer.
The meeting was hosted by the APPG’s chairman Sir Brandon Lewis MP, who said: “I believe in district councils. They have a hugely important role to play.”
However, Sir Brandon noted that districts faced a period “uncertainty”, with Local Enterprise Partnership powers moving to county councils in two-tier areas, despite districts having existing responsibility for economic development. He urged everyone present to “make it clear to Government, prospective governments and civil servants of the valuable role [district councils] play.”
Professor Colin Copus, Emeritus Professor of Local Politics at De Montfort University, made a similar point, saying the challenge of the district sector was to “show them that size doesn’t matter”.
He described the local government finance system as “irreparable”, noting that while English authorities had limited ability to determine their own funding, Belgian municipalities were able to pick from 90 different tax options to fund themselves.
“Districts deliver,” was the message of Cllr Bridget Smith, DCN Vice Chair and the Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council. She noted her council had proportionately housed the highest number of Ukrainians escaping war and, working with its Integrated Care System, was using 19 village-based wardens to support older people to live independently.
“We deliver for Government, for business, for people, every day of the year,” Cllr Smith added.
Cllr Susan Brown, DCN Vice Chair and Leader of Oxford City Council, spoke about how districts could lead on economic development, with her own council contributing to the conditions which led BMW to invest £650m to ensure a new generation of Minis were built there. The authority is working on a £5m scheme which it is hoped will see a rail branch line to Cowley currently used only for freight to reopen for passengers.
And Jonathan Werran, chief executive of the Localis thinktank, highlighted how districts’ convening power could bring about a uniquely localised and powerful place leadership.
While our challenges are significant, our localised ability to overcome them is unique.