The parish/town council is the tier of local government closest to the people. A parish/town council represents the concerns of the local community. It is an elected body made up of local people who wish to represent the interests of the community on a voluntary basis. It should not be confused with the District and County councils which deal with things like drains, roads, planning, footpaths refuse and other things. They can be contacted by going to the websites below
What is a Parish?
There are two sorts of parishes, whose boundaries do not always coincide. These are a) Ecclesiastical parishes centred on a church with a parochial church council, and b) the Civil Parishes, which are part of local administration.
A civil parish is an independent local democratic unit for villages, smaller towns and suburbs of urban areas. Each parish has a Parish (or Town) Meeting, and where the electorate exceeds 200, have a Parish or Town council.
The Parish Council
The Parish council is a small local authority. Its councillors are elected for four years at a time. Vacancies occurring between elections are filled by bye-election (if requested) or co-option. Each year the councillors choose a chairman from amongst their number. There is also a vice-chairman and a clerk, who is the Proper Officer and the Responsible Finance Officer of the council.
Parish Councils have a number of formal powers. Many provide allotments, look after playing fields, play areas and village greens, They maintain and guard things such as rights of way, public seats, small scale street lighting, and often provide village halls and meeting places. The Parish council can do these things by actually providing them itself, or by helping someone else (such as a charity or volunteers) financially to do so. Parish councils have the power to improve the quality of community life by spending sums of money on things which, in their opinion, are in the interests of the parish or it’s inhabitants.
How much do they cost?
Parish councils are the most unbureaucratic and cheapest kind of local authority in existence. Their funds are a tiny part of the council tax. They get no general government grant, and so have every incentive to be economical. The accounts are strictly audited every year by an internal auditor and the Audit Commission.
Powers and Responsibilities of Parish Councils
The Local Government Act, 1972, is the one most often referred to when describing the modern powers and responsibilities of Parish Councils but it is augmented by many earlier and later Acts, such as The Criminal Justice and Public Order, Act 1994, which, on the face of it, would not appear to relate to Parish Councils but which gave them a long needed ability to pay for measures to combat crime and the fear of crime in villages.
Parish Councils may only spend public money on projects or actions for which they have a Statutory Power. Breaking this rule is likely to result in a PC’s accounts being refused by the auditor and, possibly, the individual councillors being required to repay the money illegally expended. For those of an enquiring nature, a list of the legislation conferring some of these powers appears at the end of this section.
There is still, as there was in 1894, only one power which the Parish Council must consider using and that is to provide allotments for the labouring poor, if asked for them. All other powers are voluntary – the Parish Council is not obliged to exercise them and indeed the majority would find it difficult to raise enough money to exercise them all on a permanent basis.
Parish Councils are empowered to raise money for their activities through a tax (the “precept”) on the village residents which is collected on their behalf by the District Council, as an addition to the District and County Council Tax. This is then paid to the Parish Council in annually.
Some Statutory Powers of Parish and Town Councils
There are many other Acts and Statutes which govern the activities of Parish Councils and these are being added to every few months