A parish council is a civil local authority found in England and is the lowest tier of local government. They have few powers but can play an important role in providing representation and consultation with district and county councils in matters such as planning, environment and recreation. They are elected corporate bodies, have variable tax raising powers, and are responsible for areas known as civil parishes, serving in total 16 million people. A parish council may decide to call itself a Town Council (if the parish covers a town) Village Council, Community Council, Neighbourhood Council, or if the parish has city status, the parish council may call itself a City Council. However the powers and duties of the parish council are the same whatever name it carries.
Civil parish councils were formed in England under the reforming Local Government Act 1894 to take over local oversight of civic duties in rural towns and villages from the vestry committee.
Powers and duties
Parish and town councils vary enormously in size, activities and circumstances, representing populations ranging from less than 100 (small rural hamlets) to up to 100,000 (Sutton Coldfield Town Council). Most of them are small: around 80% represent populations of less than 2,500; and two thirds spend under £25,000 per year.
Parish councils have the power to tax their residents to support their operations and to carry out local projects. Although there is no limit to the amount that can be raised, the money can only be raised for a limited number of purposes, defined in the 1894 Act and subsequent legislation. The "General Power of Competence" is a power awarded in 2012 to eligible councils. There are large variations in the size, resources and abilities of parish councils, and a correspondingly large variation in the services they provide, as such there are only a limited number of duties which they are legally obliged to fulfil, but a more extensive range of powers which they can exercise at their discretion. Rodington Parish Council does not currently have the "General Power of Competence", however will obtain this power once an officer of the Council obtains the Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA) qualification.
Staffing and Councillor structure of a local Council
Depending on the size and status of the local Council, the number of Councillors and staff vary, as such the roles and responsibilities of Councillors and staff members can be quite varied also.
Up to 80% of local Councils in England are registered as civil-parishes and therefore have a Chairman, Vice Chairman and often just one member of staff who is the Clerk. In Rodington Parish the Council has seven Councillors and one Clerk. Regardless of the size and status of the Council the relationship between Councillor and staff remains the same, generally meaning that the Councillors will be decision makers through democratic processes of voting on resolutions (proposals) and the staff will act as advisors and often expected to fulfil the actions that derive from decisions made.
Councillors all have a collective responsibility to represent the views of their electorate (residents) and make informed decisions for the benefit of their local community, this should not mean that a Council will pursue expensive or high resourced tasks on behalf of one or a very small number of residents, instead they should seek advice from staff regarding finance and legal powers, opinions from the public and the anticipated effects of their options when making these decisions.
The Chairman of the Parish Council does not hold any executive powers, their powers are restricted to chairing meetings and in some cases using the "casting vote" if voted decisions are locked at a draw. They may also hold civic responsibilities such as wreath laying at ceremonial events or speaking on behalf of the Council where requested to do so by the media.
The role of a Clerk is often referred to as the "Chief Executive" of the Parish Council when compared with larger Councils such as unitary or county Councils. The Clerk oversees the overall day to day management of the Councils operations and services, this could be from administering financial documents and payments to issuing agendas and taking those minutes. The Clerk will also generally handle contracts the Council holds with service providers and maintain up to take records of the Councils insurances, land ownerships and other responsibilities that the Council may have.
The Clerk to Rodington Parish Council holds various roles due to being the only member of staff. For this Parish Council they are the "Proper Officer" which is a legal role to ensure the Council is legally compliant within the Local Government Act 1972, the "Burial Officer" who oversees any matters relating to the cemetery, the "Responsible Finance Officer" which is a role overseeing and administering all financial matters relating to the Parish Council, including budget proposals and financial advice and they are also the "Data Protection Officer" which is a role created by Information Commissioners Office (ICO) in 2018 to oversee and manage any Data Protection enquiries and compliances on behalf of the Parish Council.