Time to abolish Parish Councils?

Much of my day to day work is concerned with transporting elderly and less mobile people to everyday appointments. The top three most frequently visited destinations in the last three years have been Abingdon Precinct, the Co-op and Didcot Parkway rail station.

Over the years, though, I have also safely transported the great and the good of Oxfordshire society. Baronesses, knights of the realm, council leaders, district council chairmen and six former mayors of Abingdon also number amongst my passengers.

These journeys can provide opportunity for informal discussion on some of the issues facing small business owners in Abingdon, and for elected representatives to see the effect of decisions they take, on the lives of those who have to deal with them.

In the Vale of White Horse, there are more than one hundred pages of terms and conditions with which the holder of a Hackney Carriage licence must comply, in addition to the highways laws. We remain one of the most regulated of all small and medium-sized enterprises operating in Oxfordshire. Hackney Carriage licences are issued by the district council, but Oxfordshire County Council is the highways authority.

From time to time, I invite local councillors to come out for a drive during operating hours, so they can see for themselves some of the issues faced by those over whom they have regulatory responsibility.

One or two have taken me up on that, like the county councillor who, a few years ago, rolled up at 9pm and stayed the entire night, until the early hours of Sunday morning. That same councillor spent his entire term of office without claiming a penny of expenses.

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In the small village in which I live on the outskirts of Oxford, there are city council elections tomorrow. Elections are almost an annual event in the city, but this year, there is to be a concurrent additional ballot, for the parish council. It is the first time any candidate has stood with a party political description and it is the first contested election in four years.

Parish councils are peculiar institutions: a hangover from the time when we were located in neighbouring South Oxfordshire and transferred wholesale into the city, without even being asked if we wanted it. They have real authority within their jurisdiction over people's lives and revenue-raising powers on the council tax bill.

Yet the last time there was an election for the parish council, the turnout figure was 12 per cent - hardly a ringing endorsement of even having a parish council at all.

Perhaps it is time for them to vote themselves out of existence and transfer their functions to the city council, who can provide them on a more cost-effective basis.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 02 May 2018

  1. Vale of White Horse District Council, Joint Taxi Licensing Policy (PDF, 195.8 Kb), updated 26 February 2015, retrieved 01 May 2018
  2. Oxford City Council, Election of Parish Councillors for the Parishes of Oxford City Council Summary of Results - Old Marston (pdf), 27 June 2014, as retrieved 08 May 2018