Town and Parish Councils are set up under the Local Government Act 1972 and are an essential part of the structure of local democracy. Parish Councillors are elected to this voluntary role every four years, after which the Parish Council has the power to co-opt any person or persons, meeting the statutory requirements, to fill the vacancies.
Parish Councils are the tier of local government closest to their electorate and best placed to serve local communities. They are local authorities created by statute and can only act where there is an express power or duty. Local Councils remain outside the jurisdiction of the Local Government Ombudsman.
In law a local Council is a single corporate body and decisions taken are the responsibility of the Council as a whole. A Council is responsible for the services it provides, it establishes policies and decides how money will be raised and spent for the whole community. As a corporate body, the Council can work in partnership with other organisations in its area.
A Council will always attempt to make balanced, informed decisions, where it has statutory powers and duties to act, based on the differing needs of the whole community.
Town and Parish Councils have a range of responsibilities including:
- representing the local community interests, for example, by commenting on planning applications
- supporting local organisations and activities, for example with grants
- providing amenities, such as allotments, burial grounds, bus shelters and public seats
- control of litter, recreational grounds and playing fields and children’s play areas
- looking after green spaces
Parish Councils have the power to raise money through taxation ( the precept ). The precept is the Parish Council’s share of the Council Tax, which is collected by the District Council on their behalf. This gives them a degree of autonomy and continuity which may not be available to other community organisations.
A Parish Council must hold at least 4 meetings a year, one of which must be the Annual Meeting of the Council. Town and Parish Councils are an essential part of the structure of local democracy and have a vital role in acting on behalf of the communities they represent.
In summary they:
- Give views on behalf of the community, on planning applications and proposals that affect the Parish.
- Alert relevant authorities to problems that arise or work that needs to be undertaken.
- Help the other tiers of local government keep in touch with their local communities.
The Role of Parish Councillors
Councillors are collectively responsible for making Council policy, for which they are accountable to the electorate. They are recognised nationally as the level of local government closest to people.
Councillors are not directly involved in the day-to-day provision of services to the public. This does not of course mean that there should be no contact between Councillors and the Clerk on such matters and, indeed, Councillors may often find that they are asked by electors to pursue matters on their behalf. However, Councillors have no executive authority, and will need to deal with all matters either through a properly constituted meeting or in liaison with the Clerk concerning, say, a Parish opportunity or problem.
It therefore follows that there are no circumstances where an individual Councillor can issue an instruction to the Clerk or a Contractor. Likewise, a Councillor must never act “on behalf of the Council” in the organisation of any function or service. Particular care should be taken in all types of communication, especially via comments to ensure understanding you speak as a “Parish Councillor” and not on behalf of the Council as a whole. Generally, the Clerk on behalf of the Council issues all correspondence.
On a personal level it is well to remember that comments from the community should be addressed to the whole of the Council and not to any one Councillor as the Council is collectively responsible.
Statutory Powers and Duties
The Council derives its powers from statute. A few of these are mandatory ( i.e. the Council must carry them out ) but most are discretionary ( i.e. the Council can carry them out if it wishes ). In all cases, both Councillors and Clerk must work within the law.
The Role of the Parish Clerk
The Parish Clerk provides the ‘engine’ of an effective Council. The Clerk is the professional advisor to the Council on matters of policy, and the executor of Council policy, i.e. in carrying out the instructions of the Council.
- The Clerk must always obey the lawful and proper instructions of the Parish Council
- The Clerk must comply with all the standing orders and known policies of the Parish Council
- The Clerk is expected to co-operate fully with the Chair of the Parish Council
- The Clerk will obviously assist individual Parish Councillors but the Clerk must never place the interests of individual Councillors above duty to the Parish Council as a whole
- The Clerk must not be instructed by any individual Parish Councillor and in particular the Clerk must not be induced to disregard statutory duties
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