What is a Parish Council and why do we have them?
Since March, we have all received our Council Tax bill and are now ‘happily’ paying it. You have probably also noticed in the ‘Detailed Breakdown’ a heading for Silver End Parish Council and thought to yourself, “Why am I paying for this and what do I get for my money?” Now sit back in your chair, relax and let me tell you about Parish Councils; I’ll start with a bit of history.
Civil parish councils were formed in England under the Local Government Act 1894 to take over civic duties in rural towns and villages. The act created two new types of local authority, district and parish councils. The Local Government Act 1972 re-organised local government but retained the parish council as the “grassroots” tier of local democracy for local areas. This Act also gave parish councils the right to be informed and consulted on applications for development and make decisions on behalf of the people in the parish.
Why become a Parish Councillor?
If you’ve never been to a parish council meeting before you may think that we are a group of ‘older, retired’ people meeting in the village hall. Nothing can be further from the truth; we consist of various age groups. By becoming a parish councillor you become someone your community can look to for help, guidance and influence decisions for the benefit of the people you serve. As a result of the decisions you have helped to make, this is something that can give you a sense of achievement and pride.
How long does a parish councillor serve for?
Parish councillors sit on the council for a maximum of four years. They can then stand for re-election. Silver End Parish Council is allowed 13 Councillors, of which one is elected as Chairman and all of whom are unpaid. Where there are more candidates than vacancies, a poll must be held. Where there are fewer candidates than there are vacancies, all candidates are elected unopposed. Where there are fewer candidates than vacancies, the parish council has the power to co-opt any person to fill a vacancy.
Am I eligible to be a Parish Councillor?
To be eligible to stand for an election within the parish, you must:
be an elector of the parish, or;
for the whole of the previous 12 months have occupied (as owner or tenant) land or other premises in the parish, or;
during the previous 12 months have worked in the parish (as your principal or only place of work’ or;
for the whole of the previous 12 months lived in the parish or within three miles (4.8 km) of the parish boundary, or;
not have been bankrupt and have not served a prison sentence.
As well as the eligibility as above, to stand for election on the parish council, you must also be:
a UK or commonwealth citizen, or;
a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or;
a citizen of another Member State of the European Union;
at least 18 years old.
If you do become a parish councillor you will have to sign up to the Code of Conduct.
How much time does it take up?
The parish council meets once a month for the council meeting, to which members of the public are also invited. Meetings can last 3 hours, depending on the agenda set for discussion. In addition to regular meetings, councillors are required to attend other meetings representing the parish council e.g. public transport, new project for the community. These meetings don’t occur every day, so it won’t take over your life.
What decisions do parish councils make?
Parish Councils make all kind of decisions and recommendations to the County, District Councils and other bodies on issues that affect the local community. The most common are planning matters, crime prevention, managing open spaces and campaigning for better services and facilities. Although the parish council has limited powers, we do try to influence final decisions. The organisations that make the final decisions know that the parish council give the best reflection of how a community feels about something and comments must be taken into account.
What powers does the parish council have?
We have a variety of powers and duties, all of which impact directly on the community. The council also has the power to raise money through taxation, known as the precept. The precept is the parish council’s share of the council tax. This money is required to pay the employees (of which we have 6), the hire of the refuse truck, utility bills, hire of mini-bus scheme membership, BDC for office service charge, to name a few.
Administration and paid employees
The administration of the council is managed by the Parish Clerk, who is a paid employee acting in the combined role of secretary and treasurer. The necessary financial monitoring and reporting are the clerk’s responsibility. The clerk receives all official correspondence and issues correspondence on the instructions of the parish council, along with preparing agendas, records and publishing the minutes from meetings and is the formal point of contact with the public.
The duties and functions of the parish council are many and varied. All meetings are open to the public and, before the start of the meeting, members of the public can raise concerns and ask questions. If matters raised are not the responsibility of the council, the clerk can bring them to the attention of the proper authority. Along with an AGM, to which all parishioners are invited to attend, an annual Parish Assembly is convened when all village groups and organisations are invited to give a report on their activities from the previous year to the Parish Council and attending public. All meetings are advertised on the council’s notice boards in advnce.
Don’t take our word for it
The best way to find out what it’s like to be parish councillor is to talk to someone who’s doing it now. Parish councillors’ names are displayed on the council’s notice board at the Co-op. Come along to a parish council meeting, held on the second Wednesday of the month at 7.30 pm in the Parish Council’s room within the village hall and see what it is all about.