The implications of COVID-19 and Brexit for England’s town councils: views from the town hall, and beyond

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Gordon Morris


Town and parish councils are the English government bodies closest to local people. Hierarchically, they are subordinate to both national and higher tier local governments (unitary, county and borough/district councils). Town councillors represent approximately 11,000,000 people; one-fifth of the population of England. Their mainly small towns will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (‘Brexit’). To what extent is not known, but councillors will have roles to play in determining how their towns respond. This paper presents and discusses the views of 156 respondents to an online survey, some of whom were also interviewed. Councillors, town clerks, academics, and interested individuals with policy and practical experience of the sector contributed. Although respondents’ views differ (eg, as to whether town councils should have more powers), most believe they will have to do more. Indeed, they want to do more, especially in relation to planning, housing and transport. They are, however, uncertain about how to achieve their aims, given the constraints of time and resources on a mainly volunteer body, their partial dependence on higher-tier authorities, and the need for, as some strongly believe, effective monitoring of standards, performance, transparency, and accountability.


Article Details

How to Cite
Morris, G. (2022). The implications of COVID-19 and Brexit for England’s town councils: views from the town hall, and beyond. Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance, (26), 114-138.
Research and Evaluation (peer-reviewed)
Author Biography

Gordon Morris, Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter

Gordon Morris, originally an engineer, trained and served with the Royal Navy until 1976, when he left to work in industry. After a spell lecturing in Further and Higher Education he joined the Rural Development Commission as a Business Adviser in 1993. In 1999, he joined the Countryside Agency, where he worked on various aspects of rural regeneration, including the Market Towns Initiative and Beacon Towns Programme, both of which he helped to design and manage. Gordon’s interests are in rural policy and community development, mainly in the UK, but also overseas. In addition to his work in England, he has visited Australia as a member of a joint Canadian, New Zealand and Australian rural development team. He has also taken part in a North America-UK Countryside Exchange programme, and has visited Gambia and Uganda as part of a team involved in linking between ‘communities of interest’ (eg health, schools) in Commonwealth countries. A Member of the Institute of Management, Gordon has a Certificate in Education from the University of Greenwich, a Post-graduate Diploma and MSc in Rural Development from the University of Plymouth, Seale Hayne, and a PhD in Politics from the University of Exeter. He currently works as a Visiting Lecturer, and is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Exeter. He is a Fellow of the RSA, a founder member of Small Towns for Tomorrow, a Trustee of BUILD (Building Understanding through International Links for Development), and a member of the editorial board of the Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance.


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