How to become a Parish Councillor
Despite the name, Parish Councils have nothing to do with the church. Parish and Town Councils represent the first tier of local government and there are approximately 70,000 Parish/Town councillors in England. It is the most local level of government - local people elected by local residents to tackle purely local issues. While they may be responsible for smaller areas and fewer people than principal councils, they are recognised as the grassroots layer of democracy and are the most ‘local’ level of local government.
Many Parishes are ‘unwarded’ (not divided into wards), so councillors represent the whole Parish. Where Parishes are warded, these wards do not necessarily have the same boundaries as the District wards.
Some Parish Councils are allowed to use the description of ‘Town Council’. Councillors will then be known as Town councillors rather than Parish councillors and the council will have a town Mayor rather than a Parish chairman. The legal status of Town and Parish Councils is the same. They have small budgets and a limited number of powers, but they provide an important link between individual communities and the principal councils in that particular area.
Eligibility is identical as for principal councils as detailed earlier except that instead of the criteria that you must appear ‘either on the electoral register for the council area in which you are seeking election; or have lived or worked in that council area for at least the last twelve months’, you must appear ‘on the electoral register for the area in which you are seeking election; or be living within three miles of it, or working, owning/leasing land or property in that Parish for at least the last twelve months’.
Your Role as a Parish Councillor
Parish Council elections are held every four years, usually on the first Thursday in May. If you would like to stand for election, you will need to obtain a nomination paper from the Parish Council Clerk and arrange for someone (who is an elector for the locality) to propose and another to second your nomination.
Parish councillors may be elected if there is a ‘casual vacancy’, due, for example, to a councillor’s resignation. This vacancy may be filled by a by-election or by ‘co-option’ (where a Parish Council finds someone who might be suitable and then votes to select them, without a by-election).
Co-option usually occurs if there are not enough candidates to fill the vacant council seats. If you are interested in being co-opted, make yourself known to the Parish Council Clerk. Contact details should be on the Parish Council website.
The role of a parish councillor entails:
- To represent the ward and your electorate’s views at grassroots level.
- To ensure that council business is planned, run, improved and monitored correctly.
- To work in areas of community leadership.
The Time Commitment
There are regular meetings, usually in the evening and at least once a month, and you will be expected to work in and for your local community. It is worth checking this with your local council to ensure you will be able to attend these meetings. The Parish Council has a number of committees which you can join.
The Financial Cost
Parish or Town Councils do not have allowances but may reimburse councillors for expenses if they attend meetings outside the Parish, with the approval of the council. As well as their basic responsibilities to represent the whole electorate within the Parish, deliver services to meet local needs and strive to improve quality of life; Parish Councils can also be responsible for providing a range of community services such as: street lighting, allotments, local transport and traffic services, and tourist information centres.
They can make a particularly important contribution to tourism, planning, legal proceedings, licensing, community halls, representation, transport, management of town and village centres and providing community centres. Parish Councils have few restrictions on the use of their powers but expenditure does have to be paid by the Parish. As Parish Councils do not face ‘capping’ or receive any government grants they have more flexibility than principal councils on their spending.
The Parish also has a reasonable amount of power. A prime example of this is in planning applications. The planning authority is the District or Borough Council, but they often give details of planning applications within the Parish to the Parish Council and will consider the councillors’ comments when coming to a decision. Also the County Council is often the highway authority, but it often consults the Parish when considering any road scheme, for example, the placing of double yellow lines, or implementation of a cycle path.
Being a Parish councillor brings no special privileges other than the satisfaction of working for the Parish in which you live. Becoming a local councillor is life and career enhancing – it shows you can make decisions, work in a team, are community minded and proactive.
Useful organisations and websites
Local Government Association (LGA)www.local.gov.uk
The Electoral Commission www.electoralcommission.org.uk
National Association of Local Councilswww.nalc.gov.uk
Cannock Chase District Councilwww.cannockchasedc.gov.uk
Staffordshire County Council www.staffordshire.gov.uk
Be A Councillorhttps://beacouncillor.co.uk/
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