What is a Parish Council?
A parish council is a local authority that makes decisions on behalf of the people in the parish. It is the level of government closest to the community. Above Wicklewood Parish Council is the District Council (South Norfolk) and above that is the County Council. Parish councils have been granted powers by Parliament, including the important authority to raise money through taxation (the precept) and a range of powers to spend public money. Parish councils are often the first place people will go with concerns or ideas. For this reason, they are a vital part of any community.
What decisions do Parish Councils make?
Parish councils make all kinds of decisions on issues that affect the local community. Probably the most common topics that parish councils get involved with are planning matters (they are statutory consultees), crime prevention, helping local groups, managing their open spaces and campaigning for and delivering better services and facilities.
It’s true to say that on their own, parish councils have limited powers to make decisions. But they do have the ability to negotiate with, and the power to influence those organisations that do make the final decisions (such as the district or county council, health authorities, police etc.). These organisations know that a parish council gives the best reflection of how a community feels about something, and its views will be taken seriously.
What services does the Parish Council provide?
Parish Councils have a range of powers and duties around the services they can provide. In Wicklewood the main services currently are:
The village hall – as well as being a valued community asset, the income from hall hire is a major part of the parish council income and enables the precept to be kept lower than most other villages of comparable size.
Allotments – including the community orchard and the two farm-based tenancy plots
Playing field and play area
Cutting the verges in and around the village – this is a delegated service funded by the District Council
SAM2 speed sign
ROLES IN THE COUNCIL
- Holds a statutory post defined in law
- Is a member of the Council and is elected annually
- Is the interface between the public and Council
- Is to make sure the decision is clear for the clerk to act upon.
- The Chairman on his own has no power to make decisions without the Resolution of the Council.
- The Chairman cannot decide which items should appear on the agenda for meetings. The Clerk is responsible for the agenda, apart from Extraordinary Meetings. Normal practice would be for the Clerk to consult with the Chairman when drawing up the agenda to ensure that appropriate and necessary items are added.
The Chairman should:
- Be familiar with the Agenda and business to be covered
- Ensure the meeting is quorate
- Start the meeting on time by declaring it open, and end it by clearly stating it closed and the time it ended.
- Know that he/she has no more statutory power than any other Councillor except that of the casting vote.
- Ensure that all points of view have a clear hearing
- Keep the discussion to the point, and that it is relevant and ensure the Council deals with clear issues
- Remain impartial and not ‘guide’ Councillors to his/her desired decision.
- Create an atmosphere which encourages participation
- Ensure the Council/committee acts only within its terms of reference and/or legal powers and functions
- Ensure compliance with standing orders, financial regulations, Council policies, etc.
- Understand the principles of debate and voting (see Standing Orders and Good Councillor Guide)
- Ideally not allow the meeting to continue for more than 2 hours without a break (depending on Standing Orders).
- Be in control of the meeting.
- Know that he/she cannot be a committee of one (Hillingdon Case Law)
- Respect and understand the role of the clerk/RFO and other officers, and ensure that employment issues (e.g. performance, disciplinary matters) are only raised in Council meetings when appropriate and in line with Council policy and employment law.
- Co-operate with officers and Councillors
- The Clerk is employed by the Council to provide administrative support and professional advice for the council’s activities.
- The Clerk is not answerable to any individual Councillor – not even to the Chairman. The Clerk is an independent and objective servant of the Council, recognising that the Council is responsible for all decisions and taking instructions from the Council as a body.
- The Clerk must be objective in responding to the interaction between Councillors. It is not professional to favour one Councillor or group of Councillors over another.
- The Clerk is the ‘proper officer’.This title used in law refers to the appropriate officer for the relevant function. The Council must appoint the officers it needs to discharge its functions. In finance, the proper officer is known as the Responsible Financial Officer (RFO). In smaller parishes such as Wicklewood, the Clerk is also the RFO. The RFO is responsible for maintaining the financial records and ensuring that all financial transactions are carried out in a timely and accurate manner. The RFO advises the council on financial matters and makes sure that the Council complies with the Audit requirements. The RFO sets up and enforces proper financial controls designed to prevent and detect fraud and to tackle bad debts.
- As an independent and objective professional, the Clerk advises the Council on whether decisions are lawful and ways in which decisions can be implemented. The Clerk can be asked to provide information that helps the Council make appropriate choices.
- It is good practice for a Council to delegate to the Clerk the power to make decisions on its behalf – especially in an urgent situation.
- The Clerk keeps up to date with all developments affecting the work of the Council and should therefore be alert to training needs and opportunities.
- The Clerk is employed by the Council as a body and not by any individual Councillor or Chair.The Clerk is the line manager of any other people employed by the Parish Council. Councillors should not intervene in the management of other staff which are the Clerks responsibility.
In Wicklewood there are 7 councillors, including the Chair of the council. The main role of a Parish Councillor is to represent the views of all residents within the Parish and to listen to, and understand, the views and needs of different groups in the community (such as young and older people). As a Councillor, there is a responsibility to be well-informed, especially about diverse local views. Councillors cannot assume that they represent the interests of electors without consulting them.
Parish Councillors are elected representatives, not volunteers or employees, and serve for a four-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 Conduct (available on Documents on website). 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, but they can actively lead and engage with local projects. Parish Councillors have no powers outside of the Council meeting. Diversity is encouraged. Councillors from different backgrounds better represent the whole community and possess different enthusiasms, skills, attitudes and interests. The Parish Council needs a wide range of skills to work as a team.
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.
For more detailed information about the responsibilities of different levels of councils and of councillors, see linked documents:
The Parish Council meets on the first Monday of every month, at 7.45pm in the Village Hall. Agendas and minutes are posted on this website.
There is a specific Agenda item set aside for the public to raise any matters they wish. Matters can also be raised by contacting the Clerk prior to the meeting. The Clerk will place the item on the agenda where appropriate. Please note that for inclusion in discussion, any item must be received by the Clerk ten full days before the meeting.
The public are invited to remain at the meeting as observers, but may not take part in the meeting unless specifically invited to do so by the Chairman.