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Southwark and Lambeth leaders pour cold water on parish councils

The ruling Labour groups in both Southwark and Lambeth have come out against the creation of parish councils to provide a new layer of local democracy at sub-borough level.

Liberal Democrat councillors in Southwark had floated the idea of parish councils in areas such as Borough and Bankside and Bermondsey in the wake of the decision to cut back the responsibilities of the borough's community councils and reduce the number of areas and meetings.

Unlike Southwark's community councils, a parish council would be autonomous from the borough council and have its own separately elected members.

Southwark Labour has portrayed the idea of parish councils as a stealth tax, warning that residents could see an extra precept on their council tax to fund the additional layer of local government.

A parish council could only be established if it was approved by a referendum of local residents after a consultation and community governance review.

Now Cllr Gavin Dodsworth, Lib Dem councillor for Bishop's ward in Waterloo, has tabled a question to the leader of Lambeth Council Steve Reed to gauge that borough's reaction to the prospect of residents petitioning the authority to carry out a community governance review.

"The Queen's Park area in Westminster has recently voted to introduce London's first town/parish council under the Local Government & Public Involvement in Health Act 2007," said Cllr Dodsworth.

"Would the administration welcome communities in Lambeth joining them in having their own directly elected community council?"

Cllr Steve Reed replied: "If there are groups in the borough that feel strongly enough to petition the council in order to create an elected community council then clearly the changes in the 2007 act allow them to do that.

"However, as for the residents in Queen's Park, there would be an additional tax to pay to cover the costs of an additional layer of government and I am sure residents will take that into consideration.

"My preference is for models that directly empower citizens and communities to give them control over the services that matter to them, rather than models that simply empower more politicians or create additional bureaucracy and related cost for residents."

In Southwark, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians have been trading jibes on Twitter and blogs.

Labour councillor Gavin Edwards this week wrote that "for some unknown reason, during these tough times, local Liberal Democrat councillors have decided to prioritise introducing more council meetings, paid for by an increase in council tax.

"They are campaigning for new parish councils to be introduced – and they are being very hush, hush about the fact that this unnecessary layer of additional bureaucracy comes with a price tag."

Southwark Council leader Peter John tweeted that "whilst Southwark Lib Dems want to spend 5 million on more meetings we could pay university tuition fees for 5,500 Southwark residents", and called on the backers of the parish council plans to "come clean" about the costs.

Southwark opposition leader Cllr Anood Al-Samerai said: "Liberal Democrats are looking into parish councils as a way of giving residents more say in local services.

"This does not have to cost more and would be dependent on what services the parish councils were running. So far, people have said they find the idea interesting and would like to find out more and for the council to carry out a consultation.

"Instead of having a sensible discussion about these ideas the Labour Party has resorted to putting out letters to local residents full of nasty Labour lies. I'm all for having an honest debate about decision making in Southwark.

"But instead of that, Labour are scaremongering about it costing more because they don't want local people to make real decisions."

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