Role of the Parish Council

1. What is a Parish Council?

Parish and town councils vary enormously in size, activities and circumstances, representing populations ranging from less than 100 to up to 100,000. As a tier of local government they are elected bodies, with discretionary powers and rights laid down by Parliament to represent their communities and provide services for them.

The role of the Parish Council is to represent the interests of the whole community. It is a part of local government supporting the democratic process. Local Councils provide a focus for the community to identify concerns and projects, and endeavour to solve them locally themselves, striving to improve quality of life in the parish.

2. How does a Parish Council make decisions?

Councillors are elected by the local government electorate of the Parish and must have a Chair, who must be one of the elected Councillors. Local Councillors are often referred to as 'Members', for example in the Code of Conduct. Neasham has eight Members, the number being fixed by Darlington Borough Council (DBC). Neasham Parish Council's lawful acts, assets and liabilities are its own and not those of its Councillors or any other council.

There are certain obligations that by law a Parish Council must fulfil. For example:

  • It must hold an annual meeting.
  • It must hold at least three other meetings a year.
  • It must appoint such officers as it believes necessary for the proper discharge of its functions. This must include an officer responsible for the proper administration of financial affairs.
  • It must make Standing Orders for the supply of goods and services to it.

Neasham Parish Council (the Council) normally meets ten times per annum on the first Monday of each month at 6:30 pm with the exception of January and August. In addition it holds an Annual General Meeting in April or May and is responsible for convening an Annual Parish Assembley in May.

3. Where does the money come from?

Each year a sum of money called a 'precept' is collected through the council tax. This money is invested back into the parish to improve facilities and services.

A Parish Council must act within the law. It can only spend, raise or use money if it has a statutory power to do so, otherwise it acts ultra vires (beyond its powers). A Parish Council has a wide range of powers under different acts of Parliament. Most of these powers are discretionary, i.e. a council may do something, rather than it must do something.

4. The work of the Parish Council

The Council works with local organisations and other tiers of local government and has an important role in providing and improving local services and amenities. Of the wide range of powers it has, Neasham's 'normal' activities are to...:

  • maintain and manage the Village Green for amenity and recreational benefit;
  • promote the preservation of the appearance and character of the Parish;
  • use its points of contact with principal council services to ensure required services are provided in a timely way;
  • liaise with other stakeholders operating services within the parish council boundaries (for example transport providers, or the Environment Agency);
  • be consulted on planning applications and have a close relationship and understanding with the planning office of DBC;
  • work closely with the standards committee and monitoring officer of DBC on ethical framework matters and the members' code of conduct;
  • promote the well-being of its constituents (for example by involvement in crime prevention, planning consultations and traffic calming);
  • organise special events (for example celebrating the millennium, or commemorating the centenary of Armistice Day);
  • speak with the mandate of the people it represents.

Councillors are unpaid volunteers, and have three main areas of work:

  • Decision-making:
    Through attending meetings and committees with other elected members, Councillors decide which activities to support, where money should be spent, what services should be delivered and what policies should be implemented.
  • Monitoring:
    Councillors make sure that their decisions lead to efficient and effective services by keeping an eye on how well things are working.
  • Getting involved locally:
    As volunteers carrying out or commissioning some of the activities mentioned above; representing constituents and local organisations; representing the parish on outside bodies.

Councils' legal powers of action are represented nationally by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), which works with independent county associations to provide routine support for councils and their clerks.