An Introduction to Parish Councils
Parish and Town councils are the first tier of Local Government. They are statutory and their authority comes from the Law. They are fully autonomous and are accountable to their local government registered electors. They set their own precept (community charge) which is collected for them by their Local Authority (LA).
They are increasingly consulted by both Central Government and the LA through consultative documents and draft policy documents. Their powers to work in partnership with the LA have been increased under the Local Government Acts of 1997 and 2000.
Parish or Town Councils are in the main non-political although on some of the large Councils, candidates do stand on a local interest 'ticket'.
The Duties of a Parish Councillor
The duties of a Parish Councillor are governed by law and are not as far reaching as many casual observers may think. Being a Parish Councillor means that you are the nearest level of local government to the electors you represent. It gives the opportunity to be involved in local decision making and strategic planning which cover many facets of daily life. Being a Parish Councillor brings no special privileges other than the satisfaction of working for the Parish in which you live.
Becoming a Councillor
Anyone over the age of 18 who is a British subject, an eligible Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of any other member state of the European Union and fulfill at least one of the other criteria listed on the nomination papers may become a Parish Councillor providing that they are a registered elector of the Parish or live in or within three miles of the Parish.
There are three methods of becoming a Parish Councillor.
At the time of the four yearly elections, nomination forms should be completed by the due date with a proposer and seconder both of whom must be registered electors. If more than the prescribed number of nominations are received by the Returning Officer at the LA, positions are then filled by election.
Should a vacancy become available at a later time, 10 registered electors of the Parish have a right to request that the Returning Officer at the LA ensures that the vacancy is filled by election.
If, after the statutory notice period has elapsed and no election has been requested, the vacancy can be filled under the rules of co-option.
Statutory notices advertising any of the above are displayed on Parish notice boards at the appropriate time and the onus is on anyone interested to respond personally to that notice.
When you become a Councillor
Prior to or at the first meeting of the Council after election or co-option, Councillors are requested to sign, in the presence of the Clerk, a Declaration that they will undertake their duties in accordance with the law. They are also required to complete forms relating to the Code of Conduct which requires declaration of employment details, business interests, land ownership, beneficial interest in any land within the Parish, membership of trade unions, charitable organisations, professional associations and any organisation with a main purpose including influencing public opinion or policy. When completed and countersigned these documents are open for inspection by any member of the general public and must be available at every meeting of the Parish Council.
The Conduct of Councillors, collectively or individually, is now open to complaint within a set criteria by the local electorate through the Standards Board for England and Local Standards Committees which have the power, if a complaint is proven, to censure, disqualify or fine again both collectively or personally. Hence the following is very important:
Declaration of Interest
The Agenda of every Parish Council Meeting will have an item entitled 'Declaration of Interest'. If any Councillor finds that they have a personal or prejudicial interest, this must be declared. A personal interest is a matter that affects the well-being or financial position of a Councillor, relatives, or friends more than others in the Parish. A prejudicial interest is one which a member of the public could think is so significant that the Councillor's judgement could be affected.
The Role of the Clerk
Just as a Parish Council is a tier of Local Government, the Clerk is the Chief Executive of the Parish Council and is by law a Local Government Officer. The Clerk is responsible for ensuring that the Council carries out all its functions and appointments in accordance with the law. He/she is the first point of contact between the Council and the rest of the world and is responsible for the administration of the Council. All correspondence must be addressed or sent to or sent by the Clerk; only by special resolution of the Council may the Chairman or individual Councillors take on specific functions, place orders or send/receive correspondence on behalf of the Council. The Clerk is NOT a secretary to the Chairman or any individual Councillor but is, by Law, a "Servant of the Council as a whole".
Thirteen Excuses for Not Joining the Parish Council
- "I’m too young". If you are 18 you are old enough.
- "What's the point of just joining a talking shop, they don't do anything". Have you ever been to a meeting? Basing your judgement on watching The Vicar of Dibley is definitely not valid.
- "I haven't got any planning application in at the moment". Putting in for planning has got nothing to do with sitting on the Council, whatever may have happened years ago. In fact, if your own application is discussed by the Council, you must leave the room.
- "I'm too busy, I couldn't commit to attending every single meeting". Meetings are rarely more frequent than one evening a month, and missing the occasional one is perfectly acceptable. Most meetings only take a couple of hours.
- "I'm concentrating on finding a job, or furthering my career". Being a local Councillor is a definite plus point to add to a CV. It shows you can make decisions, work in a team, are community minded and pro-active. Prospective employees will be impressed.
- "I haven't lived here very long and I don't know the area well". If you have lived or worked in the Parish for a year you are eligible. Your views as an 'incomer' should be welcomed, as you will probably see things more objectively.
- "I'm worried that I won't get many votes, and look silly". Even if you are not voted on this time, you may very well be approached if a vacancy occurs in the future and co-opted on.
- "Our Parish Council is full of Old Fogeys". Join up and change it then.
- "I'd look like a fool because I would not know what's going on". You will be eased in gently; there is help, advice and more formal training available. The Clerk is the legal officer in the Council, and he or she will explain the rules.
- "I'll have to sign that code of conduct thing that the press keeps on about". The code of conduct is nowhere near as onerous as made out by the press; out of some 80,000 councillors, only 300 have refused to sign. The code stops situations like the planning one above.
- "I'll have to let everyone know about all my personal and business affairs". The declaration of interest asks you to declare business interests within the Parish area, to guard against bias when Parish issues are debated. As for personal affairs, get real, everyone knows about these already.
- "I'm too lazy, and not interested in my community". An excellent reason for not joining.
- "I prefer to let others do the work and then criticise from the sidelines afterwards". Also a valid reason for not joining, but do bear in mind that expounding your views in the pub, rather than the council chamber will not change a thing in your Parish.
For More Information
Please contact your local Parish Clerk.