HC Deb 31 January 2002 vol 379 cc467-8W
Mr. Drew

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will list the policy initiatives her Department, or its predecessor Departments have made since 1997 which affect parish and town councils. [27663]

Alun Michael

The Government set out a number of policy initiatives to support parish and town councils in the Rural White Paper, published in November 2000. The main measures to help parish and town councils develop a new role and give communities the opportunity to shape their future have now been put in place. These arethe Community Service Grants scheme, providing £15 million (over three years) to help maintain or introduce services which are local priorities; the £15 million (over three years) Parish Transport Grants scheme for small scale projects to meet local needs; £5 million (over three years) to help up to 1,000 parishes draw up their own town or village plans to set out local needs and aspirations. the national training and support strategy for parish and town councils published by the Countryside Agency and the National Association of Local Councils, to which we have allocated £2 million; detailed proposals for putting the quality parish and town councils concept into practice, set out in a consultation paper published in November.

The Department is also responsible for the £32.5 million Leader+ European Community Initiative, which can be expected to benefit the parish and town councils involved in the 24 Local Action Groups approved by the Secretary of State.

In addition, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions continues to take the lead on a number of policy areas and initiatives inherited from the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which directly affect parish and town councils. These include: the creation of over 80 new parishes since 1997; the local government White Paper "Strong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services", published in December which contains a chapter on "the way forward for parishes". This sets out how the Government will work to make the financial arrangements for parishes more responsive to their needs and aspirations—and those who use and pay for the services they provide; the inclusion of parish and town councils with annual budgeted income of over £500,000 (in the years 1997–98 to 1999–2000) within the Best Value regime: a Statutory Instrument passed to increase the threshold above which a parish or town council is required to prepare income and expenditure accounts from £5,000 to £50,000; and parish councils are also included within the new ethical framework—the main elements of which are now in place. This framework includes a code of conduct which all parish councillors must sign up to and a new independent body, the Standards Board, which will investigate breaches of this code.