What is a Parish Council?
A parish council is the lowest, or first tier, of local government. It serves the residents within a defined geographical boundary, known as a parish; it is the most local level of government and thus closest to the community it serves. Its main role is to exert influence on the decisions of the local authority, (who are above it in the hierarchy of government), health authorities, police etc.
A parish council is a statutory body, whose councillors are elected by those people in the parish who are on the electoral roll. Parish Councillors live or work in the parish and are elected to serve for four years. Dalton Piercy Parish Council is entitled to have seven councillors. If fewer than seven people stand for election, all who stood for election are automatically deemed to have been elected; the new parish council has the power to co-opt sufficient others to make up the required number of Councillors. Each year one of the elected Parish Councillors is elected, by their peers, to serve as Chairman.
What does a Parish Council Do?
A parish council has an overall responsibility for the well-being of its local community. Its work falls into 3 categories:
Representing the local community
Delivering services to meet local needs
Striving to improve the quality of life in the parish.
There are some things a parish council must do, they are mandatory, i.e. required by law.
A parish council must appoint such officers as it believes necessary for the proper discharge of its functions. Our parish council has only one such officer, the Clerk, who works part-time.
The Clerk’s role is:
to advise parish councillors on legal matters, ensuring that their decisions are lawful;
to provide administrative support, such as setting the agenda and, where relevant, producing papers in support of items on the agenda;
to draft the minutes of parish council meetings;
to implement any action points arising from the meetings and
to organise the Annual Parish Meeting.
In Dalton Piercy, being only a small parish, our clerk is also the Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) and has responsibility for managing the Parish Council’s money, issuing, managing and monitoring contracts and completing and forwarding the Annual Accounts to the auditors.
A parish council must hold an Annual Parish Meeting, an Annual Meeting (at which the Chairman is elected and Auditors appointed), and at least three other meetings a year. In practice, at Dalton Piercy, we meet every month, with the exception of August.
A parish council must have Standing Orders for the supply of goods and services to the parish council. In practice, Standing Orders cover the way in which parish councils work, for example how decisions should be made. Our parish council also has a number of Policies and Procedures which reflect changing legal requirements and good practice.
Mandatory duties also apply to other levels of local government. For example, a parish council must be consulted by the local authority (i.e. it is a statutory obligation) on: local Planning Applications; Highways/Road Safety issues; long term planning and wider community involvement strategies. In reality, we have very little power and influence, especially when it comes to Planning. We can express a view, but that doesn’t mean anyone further up the chain listens!
Parish councils also have discretionary powers, i.e. things that they may choose to do. For example, a parish council has the powers to provide and/or maintain some of the following:
• bridleways & footpaths – to maintain
• burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoria - to acquire and maintain
• bus shelters
• car, cycle & motor-cycle parks
• closed churchyards
• commons/village greens
• community centres
• community transport schemes
• conference facilities
• crime reduction measures
• drainage – ponds & ditches
• entertainment – provide and also support the arts
• gifts – to accept
• grants to local community organisations – to provide
• land – to acquire or dispose of
• leisure facilities – to provide
• lotteries – to promote
• play areas/play equipment
• public baths & washhouses (swimming pools)
• public buildings and village hall – to provide for public meetings
• public clocks
• roadside seats/shelters
• tree planting, grass verge layout & maintenance
• to maintain, repair, protect and alter war memorials
• to utilise well, spring or stream and to provide facilities for obtaining water from them
It can also work with its local authority to provide other services, for example:
litter/dog waste bins
local youth projects
traffic calming measures
A parish council also has the power to make Bye-Laws in regard to pleasure grounds, open spaces/commons/village greens, cycle parks, baths and washhouses, and burial grounds.
Where does the Parish Council’s money come from?
Each year the parish council asks for a sum of money, called a ‘precept’, (a mandatory demand), which is collected through the local council tax. Parish Councillors must decide, usually around the end of the calendar year, what they intend to do in the next financial year, and cost this (i.e. produce a ‘budget’). This budget is used to identify how much they will require as the ‘precept’ for that year.
In our village, we undertake some work on behalf of the local authority, such as grass cutting, as we can do it more effectively than they can. Hartlepool Borough Council pays us to undertake this work on their behalf, through a Concurrent Payment.
Other sources of income include grants - for example, we might apply to the National Lottery, or a local charitable trust, for funds to undertake a specific project. A parish council may also take out loans, e.g. from a bank, (though we should need to have a VERY good reason for doing this, and be able to demonstrate how we would repay the money borrowed and how quickly).