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Parish Council Roles and Responsibilities

"Parish" is an old English word that means a local territory or catchment area, and in ancient times played a very important role in the lives of people, from providing them with a sense of communal identity through to how they were governed. A Parish had two principal functions: firstly to act as a civil unit which was responsible for the collection of taxes and tithes, the dispensing of justice and the raising of armies; secondly it was an ecclesiastical institution served by a local church or chapel, with a priest or similar clergyman tending to the spiritual needs of local people.

By the late 19th Century, the two functions of civil and ecclesiastical parish were formally split in law. The civil parish went on to develop into what we call the Parish or Town Council today, which is the principal subject of this document. The ecclesiastical parish is now an entirely separate body, usually with entirely different borders to their civil counterparts, and with the proliferation of different churches most people today will live in several different such religious parishes.

Parishes are the smallest areas of civil administration in England and provide the statutory tier of local government closest to the people. A Parish Council is a statutory local authority set up under the Local Government Act 1972.  It operates in the area of a defined civil parish or group of parishes.

Parish Councils are an essential part of the structure of local democracy and have a vital role in acting on behalf of the communities they represent. They -

  • give views, on behalf of the community, on planning applications and other proposals that affect the Parish;
  • undertake projects and schemes that benefit local residents
  • work in partnership with other bodies to achieve benefits for the Parish; alert relevant authorities to problems that arise or work that needs to be undertaken; and
  • help the other tiers of local government keep in touch with their local communities.

What powers do Town and Parish Councils have?

They have a wide range of powers which essentially relate to local matters, such as looking after community buildings, open spaces, play areas, street lighting, bus shelters, car parks and much more. A Parish Council has the power to raise money through the precept. The precept is the Parish Council's share of the council tax. The precept demand goes to the billing authority, the District Council, which collects the tax for the Parish Council.  They are required to hold at least four meetings each year which are open to the public, one of which must be an Annual Meeting of the Parish Council. Meetings are open to the public but when the meeting is in "closed" session, members of the public are only permitted to speak with permission of the Chairman and Councillors.