What is a Town or Parish Council?
Town and Parish Councils are the closest level of democratic government to the community they represent. They are statutory bodies and subject to statutory requirements; they only have the powers or functions vested in them by Acts of Parliament.
The council is a body corporate formed to represent the interests of the community it serves. It is the council which is deemed responsible for its actions, not councillors as individuals, however, councillors are bound by the Code of Conduct by which it members, should abide.
Parish and Town Councils raise their money from the local community through the Council Precept and this is used to improve facilities and services for the community.
Town and Parish Councils also have access to grants for local projects not available to other levels of local councils, such as District and County Councils.
Town and Parish Councils have the right to comment on planning applications and can be represented at planning inquiries.
They also advise the District and County Councils on the views of their communities on a wide variety of issues.
Duties and responsibilities
- Hold an Annual Parish Council Meeting and elect a Chairman at that meeting
- Hold at least three other Parish Council Meetings a year
- Appoint a Proper Officer and Responsible Financial Officer
- Appoint an independent Internal Auditor
- Consider the impact of its decisions on reducing crime and disorder
- Consider the provision of allotments if demand is unsatisfied
- Consider the adoption of a churchyard if it is closed if asked to do so
- Ensure Meetings are open to the public
- Provide value for money
- Receive financial reports
- Review financial regulations
- Act as a responsible employer
- Consider and comment on planning applications
- If directed by First Secretary of State, be consulted by principal councils
- Veto applications to the magistrate’s court for certain highway issues
The following is intended as a guide only to which level of council is responsible for which service or facility some facilities can be provided by more than one of the authorities:
County Council (or unitary authority)
Childrens Services / Education / Fire Service / Highways / Traffic management / Street lighting / Bus shelters / Libraries / Recreation and Arts facilites / Museums / Social Services / Strategic Planning / Trading Standards / Transport / Waste Disposal
Collection of Council tax and rates as well as -
Allotments / Arts / Car Parks / Cemetaries / Environmental Health / Housing / Local Plans / Organising Elections / Museums / Parks / Planning applications / Public Toilets / Recreation facilities / Refuse Collections / Street Cleaning / Tourism
These are some of the facilites a Parish Council could be responsible for, but it must be noted that they do not have to provide these facilities as small Parish Councils may not have the financial capabilty to provide such facilities:
Allotments / Burial grounds / Bus shelters / Litter and Dog Bins / Public Seats / Public Rights of Way (footpaths across fields etc) / Parks / Playgrounds / Public Toilets / Village Signs
Different Acts of Parliament give councils powers that may be exercised if they so chose. However, it is important to note that a local council is empowered only to exercise its statutory powers. Any body which acts beyond its legal powers is said to be ultra vires and local councils can be restrained by the courts if they act ultra vires.
What do Town and Parish Councillors do?
A Town or Parish Councillor is there to represent and listen to their local communities and take decisions on their behalf. They are expected to:
- Respond to the needs and views of the local community
- Attend the meetings of the town/parish council
- Accept the majority view of the council
- Act as part of a team
- Engage in constructive debate, take part in the meetings and vote on proposals
- Sign a declaration of acceptance of office
- Give a written undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct adopted by the council
- If unable to attend meetings to send the reason for absence
- Complete a Register of Interests
- During council meetings declare personal interests and if interest is deemed prejudicial leave the meeting for that item
- Ensure that the local council is properly managed
What does a Parish Clerk do?
A Parish Council must employ a Proper Officer, usually the Clerk, to carry out its functions and to implement decisions made by the Council, that person can also be the Responsible Financial Officer.
Duties and responsibilities
- To receive declarations of acceptance of office
- To record declarations of interest at meetings
- To receive and retain plans and documents
- To sign notices or other documents on behalf of the Council
- To issue a signed summons to members to attend Council meetings
- To take accurate minutes of Council meetings
- To assist members in matters of fact and law
- Ensure the Council acts within the law and that the Code of Conduct is followed
- Carry out decisions of the Council
- Carry out administrative functions of the Council
- Arrange appropriate insurance cover
- Receive goods
- Pay invoices
- Carry out risk assessments
- Ensure Health and Safety procedure are followed
- Manage Council resources
- Have delegated powers in emergencies
- Be a point of contact for electorate
- Act in a manner that does not harm or reflect badly on the council
What does a Responsible Financial Officer do?
Duties and responsibilities
- To present accurate accounts to the council
- Issue the Precept
- Make VAT, NI, and TAX returns
- Payment of salaries Prepare end of year accounts for internal and external audit