A Parish Council is an elected body in the first tier of local government, supporting the democratic process by holding Elections every 4 years. The role of the Parish Council is to represent the interests of the whole community they serve and improving both the quality of life and the local environment.
The Parish Council is a corporate body, and a legal entity, separate from that of its Members, and is accountable to the local community. Its decisions are the responsibility of the whole body and are made collectively by a majority vote.
Parish Council’s have powers granted by Parliament, including the authority to raise money through taxation, known as the precept, and a range of powers to spend public money. The Parish Council is an employer with the Parish Clerk working for, and with, the Council to action its decisions.
A Chairman is elected annually by the members of the council at the annual meeting of the council. Unless he resigns or becomes disqualified, the Chairman continues in office until his successor becomes entitled to act as chairman at the next annual meeting of the council.
The Chairman’s main role is to run council meetings. The Chairman is responsible for ensuring effective and lawful decisions are taken at meetings of the council and, assisted by the clerk, guides activities by managing meetings of the council. The Chairman is responsible for involving all councillors in discussion and ensuring that councillors keep to the point. The Chairman summarises the debate and facilitates the making of clear resolutions, being responsible for keeping discussions moving.
The Chairman has a casting vote. His/her first vote is a personal vote as a member of the council. If there is a tied vote, the Chairman can have a second or casting vote.
The Chairman will often be the public face of the council and will represent the council at official events. He/she 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 give his or her personal views. The Chairman cannot legally make a decision on behalf of the council.
The clerk is employed by the council (under section 112 (1) of the Local Government Act 1972) to provide administrative support for the council’s activities. Any other staff, although employed by the council, answer to the clerk who is their manager and responsible for their performance.
The clerk’s primary responsibility is to advise the council on whether its decisions are lawful and to recommend ways in which decisions can be implemented. To help with this, the Clerk may be asked to research topics of concern to the council and provide unbiased information to help the council to make appropriate choices. The clerk has a wide range of other responsibilities which are set out in his / her job description. The clerk must recognise that the council is responsible for all decisions and that he / she takes instructions from the council as a body.
The clerk is not answerable to any individual councillor – not even the Chairman. The Council must be confident that the clerk is, at all times, independent, objective and professional.
‘Proper officer’ is a title used in statute. It refers to the appropriate officer for the relevant function. In town, parish and community councils, the proper officer is normally the clerk. In financial matters, the proper officer is known as the Responsible Financial Officer.
Parish Councillors are elected representatives, not volunteers or employees, and serve for a 4 year term, unless co-opted or elected in a bye-election when they serve until the next election. They must apply the law and comply with the Code of Member Conduct.
A Parish Councillor represents the views of all residents within the Parish and listens to, and understands, the views and needs of the differing groups within the community. As a Councillor, there is a responsibility to be well-informed, especially in relation to any diverse local views. Councillors cannot assume they represent the interests of electors without consulting them.
Councillors contribute to the work of the Council by suggesting ideas, influencing policy, engaging in constructive debate and by responding to the needs and views of the community. Councillors comment on proposals to ensure the best outcome and vote to enable the Council to make decisions.
Individual Parish Councillors cannot make decisions on behalf of the Council and have no powers outside of the Council meeting. Occasionally there will be a conflict of interest requiring sensitive judgement, and the need to take difficult decisions in an open, honest and reasoned way. Councillors are also required to act in an ethical way and to declare an interest when necessary.