This thesis examines the changing roles of rural parish councils in the context of the Government White Paper on Rural England (DEFRA, November 2000). This suggested that new responsibilities should be given to Parish Councils within rural policy and planning frameworks. Concepts such as ‘Partnership’, 'Parish Plans' and ‘Quality Parish Councils' were mooted as possible vehicles to promote greater community participation and increased local 'empowerment' in the governance of rural communities. The proposals for parish councils are part of a new 'integrated approach' to rural planning which seeks to combine the state and voluntary sectors through the ideals of partnership. \ud \ud The research examines the appropriateness and willingness of parish councils in Gloucestershire to fulfill the new responsibilities set down in the Rural White Paper \ud and the key they have as ‘agents’ of government. It explores and assesses how far they have adjusted to the new forms of governance set out by the White Paper, and considers how they have adapted alongside greater voluntary and community activity, focussing in particular on the new forms of partnership distributed across the countryside. \ud \ud The research found that the effectiveness of parish councils in Gloucestershire is extremely varied and often piecemeal in nature, influenced by a wide variety of social, economic and geographical factors. Both individual decisions and wider structural factors, including the opportunities provided by self-interest, influence the variations in the type and level of participation in community leadership. \ud \ud In Gloucestershire, the emergence of new organisations and actors in rural community governance has generated only a moderate shift in the way parish councils operate. Parish councils consider that they have very little influence in the broader sphere of rural governance structures. Recent government legislation regarding community involvement, partnership and participation has been slow to filter down to a large number of parish councils in the county. \ud \ud The geography of partnership initiatives across the UK has emerged as a very uneven map of rural governance. This “map” is mirrored in the incidence of effective partnerships within rural politics in Gloucestershire. Indeed the complex nature of participation in community governance and leadership revealed by the research confirms the need for further examination of the shift from “joined up” to “joining up” partnerships, and the incidence of partnership marginalisation felt across many parish councils in the county. \ud \ud Some signposts for future research are also identified
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