The Work of Lichfield City Council

You could assume that a talk about the work of the City Council would be an uninspiring topic for a cold winter's evening but our City Clerk, Peter Young, soon proved any doubters wrong with an upbeat and sometimes amusing tour of the origin and role of City and Parish Councils. Firstly dealing with nomenclature, he explained that City Councils have the same duties and responsibilities as Parish Councils. (They are called Community Councils in Wales. In Scotland, they hardly exist, despite efforts to revive them after earlier abolition). Their roots can be traced back to 1601 when communities were empowered to form councils based on ecclesiastical parishes which could levy a rate to finance activities in support of the community. Thus created, they passed a quiet life administering to the needs of their communities until the great Local Government Act of 1894, which established the modern local government system. The Parish Councils were formally recognised and, crucially, Urban District and Rural District Councils were created. (County Councils had already emerged from the 1888 Local Government Act). Bringing us up to date, the 1974 Local Government Act did away with UDCs and RDCs as well as Municipal and County Boroughs, grouping authorities into Districts. Hence, here in Lichfield, our UDC and RDC came together as the District Council. The old City Council was abolished, to be replaced by a slimmed down organisation, the Charter Trustees, whose role was to ensure that the City's ancient privileges and practices were protected. This endured until 1980 when a new Parish Council was created, based on the boundary of the former UDC. It sought permission to designate itself as a City Council, which was duly agreed.

The District Council then transferred to the new City Council the responsibility, inter alia, for the maintenance of 76 acres of open space, 4 miles of paths, 13 acres of allotments, the Clock Tower, Pool Walk, and Market Square. In addition, the Council now manages four community halls, Dr Johnson's Birthplace Museum and the market. It is responsible for civic events, such as St George's Court, leads the twinning initiative and organises the Xmas lights in the City Centre It comments on planning applications and on the District Council's local plan and participates in a range of inter-organisation working parties. It recently bought Donegal House, which is now its headquarters. All this is performed with 29 staff, many of whom are part-time. For the technically minded, that's 12.5 full-time equivalents! All this costs 595,000 per annum. Little funding comes from the government, about a third from services it provides and two thirds from its council tax precept, or 18.50 per resident per annum. There are 28 councillors, who receive no allowances, representing six wards (which will grow to nine in the May elections).

Peter admitted to liking statistics, so we found ourselves in a mini-quiz. At 32,000 persons, Lichfield is the 33rd largest parish in England. Which are the largest? No one guessed at Weston-super-Mare (76,000), Shrewsbury (72,000), Aylesbury (58,000), Keighley (56,000), Crewe (formed only in 2013) 53,000 and Hereford (53,000). At the other extreme, at least one has no resident's at all. Those at the meeting have the answer; those who didn't must make an educated guess! The average population size for a parish is about 2,000 persons. Closing his talk, Peter looked into the future. He saw little central government appetite for further local authority amalgamations into larger unitary authorities. Cooperation now was the name of the game. Local government was moving into difficult, uncharted waters where the knee jerk reaction to budget stringency was to make deep cuts to services. He appealed for a positive approach to service review; one which sought to protect what was best by finding innovative ways of managing services.

Roger Hockney
January, 2015