A Parish Council is a corporate body - a legal entity separate from that of its individual members. Its decisions are the responsibility of the whole body. In 1894 an Act of Parliament created the civil parish, separating it from the church after its long history of delivering local services such as care for the poor, maintenance of roads and collecting taxes. Parish councils have been granted powers by Parliament including the important authority to raise money through taxation (the precept) and a range of powers to spend public money.
The Parish Council is an elected body in the first tier of local government. Other tiers, known as principal authorities, have many legal duties to deliver services such as education, housing, town and country planning, environmental health and social services.
The law gives local councils choice in activities to undertake; but surprisingly there are very few duties - activities that they must carry out in delivering services to local people.
Exceptions are that a council must:
The parish council also has a duty to ensure that all the rules for the administration of the council are followed. They must:
These rules are set out in law to guide the council and together these rules make up the standing orders as formally agreed by the council.
Planning, highways, traffic, community safety, housing, street lighting, allotments, cemeteries, playing fields, community centres, litter, war memorials, seats and shelters, rights of way – these are some of the main issues that concern parish councils.
The Government is encouraging local councils to deliver more services and play a greater part in their communities. For example a parish council could provide or give financial support for:
A Parish Council Chairperson has the role of team leader for council meetings. In all other respects the Chairperson is a member of the Council.
The Chairperson is elected at the Annual Meeting of the Council to be in charge during council meetings for one year; this is an office created by legislation commanding respect. They have a duty to ensure that council meetings run smoothly, that all business is properly considered and all councillors who wish to speak can do so. They have few special powers. For instance, it is unlawful for a council to delegate decision making to any individual councillor and the chairman is no different. However, when a vote is tied, the chairman may use a second, or casting vote.
It is good practice for the chairman to refer to the clerk for advice.
No person can act as a Parish Councillor until they have signed a formal declaration of acceptance of their office. The declaration of acceptance of office includes an agreement to observe the current code of conduct adopted by the council.
In addition to the obligations arising from a council’s code of conduct, members have a responsibility to:
The Parish Clerk
The clerk is also a vital team member. The clerk provides advice and administrative support, and takes action to implement council decisions. The clerk may have to act as a project manager, personnel director, public relations officer and finance manager. The clerk is not a secretary and is answerable only to the council as a whole. The clerk is the proper officer of the council in law.
Legally councils can delegate decisions to clerks because they are trusted professional officers whose objectivity allows them to act for the council.
Where councillors, clerk and chairman work together as a team they combine knowledge and skills to deliver real benefits to the community they serve. Good working relationships, mutual respect and an understanding of their different roles are vital.
Council meetings are important; this is where Councillors play their part as decision makers. The chairman is in charge of the meeting, and the clerk supports the council as it discusses business. The meeting is the council team in action.
Council meetings are formal events, not social occasions. They have a clear purpose – to make decisions – and are not just forums for debate. Furthermore, they are public events; the press and public have a right to observe how the council operates.
The council makes its decisions in council, committee and sub-committee meetings. Council and committee meetings must all be advertised and open to the press and public. The council should decide on a schedule of meetings for the year.
Briefly, the Code of Conduct adopted by a parish council includes provisions that are mandatory by regulations. So a Parish Councillor must:
A full copy of the code of conduct adopted by Bramley Parish Council can be found on the Legislation pages.