What is a Parish Council? An Introduction.
A Parish Council is a civil corporate entity with its own legal standing. It is run by elected members (Councillors) and has its own ‘chief executive’, the clerk who may have additional staff to carry out specialised work on the Council’s behalf. Councils have been formed by Government statute and have the right to raise money from their constituents via the precept and spend it as regulations permit.
Parish Councils are the third tier in local government, but they are the authority closest to its people and the most community based. Members live in or near the area they represent, and their diverse range of interests and skills ensures they are closely attuned to issues and the needs of their local community. The first tier is the County Council (in the case of Fradley and Streethay, Staffordshire County Council) and the second tier is Lichfield District Council. Each Council has its own duties and responsibilities. (See the separate listing on this site). Although Parish Councils do not have a wide range of responsibilities, they do have an unrivalled ability to represent and consult with higher authorities on items which matter to people locally. As an example, they are statutory consultees on all planning matters.
Parish Councils work as a team with the elected Councillors and the clerk working to implement policies. It is the responsibility of the Councillors to devise policy and direction for the Council. These policies and projects are voted on at a formal parish meeting and then become binding on all Councillors. Individual Councillors cannot devise policy for the Council, but work can be delegated to them by full Council. The Clerk is responsible for implementing policies agreed by the full Council and is the proper legal officer in Law. He or she reports only to the Council, not individual Councillors. The clerk also provides help and advice to the council and tasks can be delegated to them as the professional officer.
Parish Councils are also able to co-opt members of the public to help, advise and work on local projects.
Parish Councils have several statutory duties which they must fulfil. In addition, they are only able to undertake tasks as permitted in law and are prohibited from work outside these regulations. Parish Councils also adopt, at the annual meeting at the start of each financial year, a set of ‘Standing Orders’ and ‘Financial Standing Orders’. These are the general policies by which the Council will operate. Councillors themselves operate under a ‘code of conduct’ to ensure they always operate reasonably and honestly. They also elect a Chair and Vice Chair for the year to come whose job is to help devise and guide policies through Council, ensure that all meetings run smoothly and be the public face of the Council.
Parish Councils are committed to ‘making a difference’ and improving their parish. All Parish Councillors are unpaid and cost the taxpayer nothing. Council meeting are free to attend and every year, usually in May, they present their previous work and future plans at the Annual Parish Assembly. Why not go along?