Roles and Responsibilities of a Parish Council
The Council. The Local Government Act of 1894 created Civil Parish Councils effectively excluding the “Church” from Local Government. Local Government was further reformed in 1974 following the Local Government Act of 1972 with the result that Parish Councils had more freedom to operate without consents from Central Government. The Parish Council is a “Body Corporate” which means that it is an “it” in law and that the decisions it takes are the responsibility of the Council as a whole. The Parish Council represents and serves the whole community and is responsible for the services it provides. It establishes Policies for action and decides how money will be raised and spent on behalf of the community and consequently it is responsible for spending public money lawfully and achieving the best value for money. Except in certain circumstances (Public Bodies-Admission to Meetings-Act 1960) Council meetings are open to the public.
Throughout the Country, Parish and Town Councils normally form the first tier of Local Government but with the introduction of the Unitary Wiltshire Council on the 1st April 2009 Parish and Town Councils in reality have become the second tier as the District Council tier has been removed. As a Statutory Local Authority the Parish Council have the powers to provide many services and facilities. The Parish Council may not take a decision that involves spending money unless the matter is included on the agenda for a Parish Council Meeting. It must make decisions in an open, accountable and transparent way and its accounts are subject to internal and external audit. The Parish Council is required to set an Annual Budget or Parish Precept to fund the work it undertakes in the community. The Parish Council has the statutory right to be consulted on local planning applications. It is also consulted on occasion by upper tiers of government thereby providing input to, higher-level, decision making.
The Parish Council must conduct regular Parish Council meetings, manage elections and represent the interests of residents on appropriate matters.
All Parish Councillors are required to adopt a Code of Conduct that individual Councillors must sign up to. This Code demands that they must:
- declare their interests in a public register
- not bring their Council into disrepute
- leave the room for discussion of any item in which they have a prejudicial interest
The Clerk & Proper Officer. The Parish Council employs a Clerk & Proper Officer to provide administrative support for the Council’s activities. The Clerk’s primary responsibility is to advise the Parish Council on whether its decisions are lawful and to recommend ways in which decisions can be implemented. To help with this, the Clerk can be asked to research topics of concern to the Council and to provide unbiased information to help the Council to make appropriate choices and decisions. The Clerk has a wide range of other responsibilities. The Clerk takes instructions from the Council as a Body and is not answerable to any individual Councillor. It is the Council who are responsible for all decisions. It is essential that the Parish Council must be confident that the Clerk is, at all times, independent, objective and professional. “Proper Officer” is a title used in Statute and in Town and Parish Councils the Proper Officer is normally the Clerk and when considering financial matters, is known as the Responsible Financial Officer.
The Chairman. The Chairman of the Parish Council is elected by the Members of the Council at the Annual Council Meeting (usually in May, each year) and serves for a twelve-month period of office. The Chairman’s main role is to run Parish Council meetings. The Chairman can suggest the content and redesign of the Agenda, but as legal signatory, the Clerk has the final say. The Chairman is responsible for ensuring that effective and lawful decisions are taken at meetings of the Council and, assisted by the Clerk, guides activities by managing the Meetings of the Council. The Chairman is responsible for involving all Councillors in discussions and ensuring that Councillors keep to the point. The Chairman summarises the debate, facilitates the making of clear resolutions and is responsible for keeping discussions moving so that the Meeting is not too long. The Chairman has a casting vote, the first being a personal vote as a Member of the Council and if there is a tied vote the Chairman can have a second casting vote. The Chairman will often be the public face of the Council and will represent the Council at official events and also may be asked to speak on behalf of the Council and in such circumstances should only express the agreed views of the Council and not personal views. The Chairman cannot legally make a decision on behalf of the Council.
Parish Councillors are, normally, elected by Electors of the Parish, every four years. The last Elections were held in May 2013. The four-year cycle of Elections are for the whole Council Membership. A Councillor may also be returned by other methods, By-Election, Co-option, Appointment by the Wiltshire Council, or by return after a successful Election Petition. All Councillors are required to complete a Declaration of Acceptance of Office and to provide an undertaking that they accept the Council’s Code of Conduct. Individual Councillors work together to serve the community and to help the Council to make decisions on behalf of the local community. Councillors contribute to the work of the Council by suggesting ideas, engaging in constructive debate and by responding to the needs and views of the community and representing their constituents. Councillors comment on proposals to ensure the best outcome and vote to enable the Council to make decisions and they must accept the decisions of the Council as a whole even though they do/may not agree with it. Councillors are required to behave in an ethical way and to declare an interest when necessary.
Responsibilities. The Parish Council function is generally to provide, improve and maintain Parish facilities and also to represent its Parishioners on wider Local Government issues. They have a number of responsibilities and can become involved in additional matters should they decide to do so in the best interests of the local community. These are some as an example and is not inclusive:
- Consultation on planning applications
- Campaigning for better services
- Provision of footway lighting throughout the village
- Grass cutting to open spaces
- Consultation over traffic signing, speed limits and other related matters
- Consultation over street naming
- Parish facilities such as bus shelters, seats, notice boards
- Maintenance of the churchyard
- Provision and maintenance of a Recreation Ground and Play Equipment
- Provision and maintenance of trees and hedges
- Maintenance of footpaths
Chippenham Without Parish Council Meetings and Annual Parish Meeting
Chippenham Without Parish Council Meetings are normally held on the last Wednesday, in the months of May (also Parish Council AGM), July, September, November, January and March commencing at 7.45pm prompt in the St Peter’s Church Meeting Room, Lordsmead, Chippenham SN14 0LL and they are open to the public. A Schedule of Meeting Dates are agreed annually and published, which also sets aside the last Wednesday in the months of June, August, October, December, February and April for additional Council Planning Meetings that may be necessary to consider planning applications to meet the timescale of Wiltshire Council. Due Notice for all Meetings will be published on Parish Notice Boards and this Website.
In addition, the Parish Council has decided that the Annual Parish Meeting should take place on a separate evening, which is likely to be in April of each year. Additional meetings may be called at any time at the discretion of the Chairman when due Notice will be published on Parish Notice Boards and this Website.
A 15 minute Public Forum is held at the commencement of all Full Parish Council Meetings to allow Parishioners to raise issues and ask questions. Sometimes the Council cannot respond to individual questions of a detailed nature without due consideration. To try to avoid the possibility of the Council not being able to provide an adequate answer at a Meeting it is suggested that where a matter might require investigation any questions should be submitted in writing to the Clerk who can then place the matter on the Agenda for the Full Council at the next meeting.
Notices, Agendas and Minutes of Parish Council Meetings
Meeting Notices and Agendas will be published on Parish Notice Boards and this Website. It is intended that Draft Council Minutes will be published as soon as they are available but Parishioners are reminded that they remain “as Draft” until they been accepted at the following Parish Council Meeting. The Approved Minutes plus any other relevant documentation entered in the Parish Council’s Minute Record Book will be published on this Website once formally approved.
Contacting the Parish Council
Parishioners are encouraged to contact the Clerk to the Council, if they have any queries or wish to propose items for discussion by the Parish Council at a forthcoming Council Meeting. Parish Councillors can also be contacted direct. The Parish Council, at their AGM, appoints representatives to serve on various Outside Bodies. These appointments are generally for a twelve-month period and representatives, who are sometimes volunteers and not Parish Councillors, look after the interests of the local community and report to the Parish Council throughout the year.
Funding the Parish Council
The Parish Council is funded through a Parish Precept. This is a local Parish charge collected by the Wiltshire Council through your Council Tax Payment. The level of the charge is discussed and decided on an annual basis by the Parish Council usually during their November and January Meetings. The Parish Council’s Budget is published on Parish Notice Boards and this Website.