Grass Roots Democracy
Local (town and parish) councils are the first tier of local government. Owing to their unique place embedded within local communities they are well-placed to identify and respond to local needs. Local councils are corporate bodies and their councillors attend meetings to make decisions for that council.
Dependent upon the size and demands of a local community, councils differ in terms of their activity levels, expenditure, the number of councillors and the frequency of meetings. Local councils can raise a precept which spreads the cost of local projects and activities among the council tax-paying households in that area. Councils also raise money through grants and sponsorship or have other income streams or use volunteers to help keep community activities cost-effective.
Local councils have few duties imposed by central Government but have a vast array of statutory powers which give them the flexibility to deal with matters affecting the community. Local councils can support or influence other tiers of local government (county and district/borough councils) who have many distinct duties including planning, economic development, highways, sports and leisure, library and other social services.
Most local councils will have a consultation role in respect of planning applications affecting their area, although they are not the deciding authority. They support village events and community buildings and also provide assets which support the identity of the community such as village signs, dog litter, waste bins or public benches. Depending on the identity and size of the town or village, activities and facilities could be wide-ranging providing allotments, burial grounds and cemeteries or markets, toilets, parks and play areas.
Local councils exist to serve the community and how they achieve this is largely determined by the serving councillors and the nature of the local area.
As a tier of government, local councils are elected bodies with discretionary powers and rights laid down by Parliament to represent communities and provide services for them. Parishes vary greatly in size. Where the population of a parish is very small, there may be no parish council, but electors may still meet together as a Parish Meeting.
Powers and Duties of a Council (PDF, 229 Kb)
A list of powers and duties of a council.
A councillor is elected to represent constituents and manage the business of the council.
A councillor's responsibilities include corporate decisions, formulating policies, employer obligations, representation on external bodies, as a spokesperson and trustee of the parish assets and environment.
A local council in England consists of a number of councillors which may be fixed from time to time, but not being less than five. Where a parish has a relatively large population, is scattered over a wide area, or contains two or more geographical sections with separate identities, the parish may be divided into wards for the purpose of electing councillors.
Most councils employ a salaried Clerk whose overall responsibility is to carry out the policy decisions of the Council.
The Clerk is the head of the council's administration and is the 'Proper Officer'. They are often the only employee and may also act as the Responsible Financial Officer.
The Clerk ensures that the business of the council runs smoothly and efficiently and is conducted in accordance with the law. They execute the decisions of the council.
In the Responsible Financial Officer role, they also ensure that the council's financial transactions are properly authorised and recorded.
A local council must hold an annual meeting each year. In addition to the annual meeting, a local council in England must hold at least three other meetings each year. The public may attend, other than for confidential matters, and many councils provide a public forum for representations from electors on parish matters.
Town and Parish councillors are elected for a term of four years. The next local elections are scheduled for 2023.
Local Council Award Scheme
Norfolk ALC is proud to boast its work with councils in raising standards resulting in Norfolk having the second highest number of Quality Councils in the country.
Norfolk ALC encourages parish councils to be recognised for their achievements in order to maximise their role and influence within the community, local and central government. There are significant challenges in local government and it has never been more important to maintain the high standards and reputation of local councils and their good work recognised. For further information about the Local Council Award Scheme, click here.