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Useful Council Information

Useful Information for Parish Clerks and Councillors

What is a Parish?

There are two sorts of parishes whose boundaries do not always coincide.

1. Ecclesiastical Parishes centred on an Anglican church with a parochial church council.
2. Civil Parishes which are part of local administration: some of them are called Towns.

What is a Civil Parish?

A civil parish is an independent local democratic unit for villages, for the smaller towns, and for the suburbs of the main urban areas. Each parish has a Parish (or Town) Meeting consisting of all its local government electors and most (where electorate exceeds 200) have a Parish or Town Council.

What is the Parish (or Town) Council?

The council is a small local authority. Its councillors are elected for four years at a time in the same way as for other councils. The usual election years are 1994, 1999 etc. but some councils will have elections in 1994, 1998 etc. or 1996, 2000 etc. Bye-elections may be held to fill vacancies occurring between elections. The council is the corporation of its village or town. Each year the councillors choose a chairman from amongst their number: in Town Councils usually called Town Mayor.

What Powers have Parish Councils to do things for their areas?

Parish Councils have a number of formal powers. Many provide allotments: look after playing fields, village greens and other ways of getting exercise such as swimming pools. They have a hand in communications by maintaining or guarding such things as rights of way, bus shelters and public seats: smaller scale street lighting: the provision of halls and meeting places.

How do they do it?

The Parish Council can do these things by actually providing them itself or by helping someone else (such as a volunteer or a charity) financially to do them.

What else do they do?

A variety of things. Some provide village guides, help with Meals on Wheels, or provide a local bus service. One runs a holiday hotel. Many provide car or cycle parks. They undertake village surveys. Others provide public conveniences, litter bins and seats, and can prosecute noise makers or litter bugs. Many appoint charitable trustees and school managers. Very often the cemetery is managed by the Parish Council. They have the power to improve the quality of community life by spending sums of money on things which, in their opinion, are in the interests of the parish or its inhabitants, and many kinds of activities are aided this way.

How much do they cost?

Parish Councils are funded by a tiny part of the council tax, and are the most unbureaucratic and cheapest kind of local authority in existence.

Who controls the Parish Council?

You elect its members every four years and are entitled to go to the annual parish meetings and say what you think. There are also public participation sessions in Parish Council meetings (see later). The accounts are strictly audited.


ELECTIONS

Background

Elections for town and parish councils normally occur every four years. At that time all serving councillors come out of office on the fourth day following the day of election, and if they wish to stand again must be qualified to stand as councillors and complete the necessary nomination forms.

Qualifications for election and holding office as a Councillor

1. A person (unless disqualified see paragraph 2 below) is qualified to be elected and to be a councillor if he is a British subject, a Commonwealth citizen or a Euro national, if on the relevant day (i.e. the day on which he is nominated and, if there is a poll, the day of the election) is 21 years of age or over and

a. on the relevant day is, and continues to be, a local government elector for the parish or community, or
b. has during the whole of the 12 months preceding that day occupied as owner or tenant any land or other premises in the parish or community, or
c. his principal or only place of work during those 12 months has been in the parish or community,
d. or has during the whole of those 12 months resided in the parish or community or within three miles of it.

The courts have previously held that carrying out duties as a councillor qualifies as work (Appeal Court Parker v Yeo (1992))

2. A person is disqualified from being elected or being a councillor if he

a. holds any paid office or employment (other that the office of chair, vice chair or deputy chair) to which he has been appointed by the council or any committee or sub-committee of the council, or by a paid officer of the council, or by any joint committee on which the council is represented; or
b. is the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order (A bankruptcy restrictions order is not issued for every bankrupt as it depends on the behaviour of the bankrupt whether it is applied or not).
c. has within five years before the day of election or since his election been convicted of any offence and has had passed on him a sentence of imprisonment of at least three months (whether suspended or not) without the option of a fine; or
d has been found guilty of corrupt or illegal practices, or was responsible for incurring unlawful expenditure and the court orders his disqualification.
e. A Councillor ceases to hold office if they fail to attend any meetings of their council for a period of six months, and their apologies have not been received or accepted by the council. In this case a casual vacancy would then exist.
For further information see NALC Legal Topic Note 28

CO-OPTION AND CASUAL VACANCY

Background


Following an election, where there are insufficient candidates, those who are and remain validly nominated are declared elected. Providing this constitutes a quorum (3 or 1/3 of the total membership, whichever is greater) the remaining vacancies can be filled through co-option. If the council is inqourate the District Council may fill the vacancies.

Co-option following main elections

Vacancies occurring because insufficient candidates stood for election are not regarded as casual vacancies - so can be filled by co-option without further advertisement (although advertising for suitable candidates is usually necessary and is good practice). No poll can be claimed in this circumstance.


Casual Vacancies

A casual vacancy occurs when:

a) A local Cllr fails to make a declaration of acceptance of office within the proper time (28 days)
b) When his notice of resignation is received.
c) If the Cllr passes away.
d) In the case of disqualification.
e) In the case of an election being declared void.
f) Where a person ceases to be qualified or where they are persistently absent from meetings.

Considerations are:

a)A casual vacancy must be declared and publicly notified.
b)The Returning Officer of the District/Borough Council should be notified.
c)If a poll is claimed by at least ten electors within 14 days excluding weekends and certain public holidays, then one must be held within 60 days of the notice.
d)A poll cannot be claimed if the vacancy arose within six months of the day when the councillor whose office is declared vacant would ordinarily have retired.
e)If no poll is claimed, or one cannot be claimed (as above), then the councillors must try to fill the vacancy by co-option.
f)To be co-opted the successful candidate must receive an absolute majority of votes over all other candidates. This is simply achieved when there are two candidates, but with three or more, more than one vote with the candidate with the least number of votes being withdrawn may be necessary to achieve this result.


MEETINGS - Procedures, Making Decisions and Record Keeping, Including AGM an Annual Parish Meeting.

Types of Meetings

a)The Annual (AGM) meeting of the Parish Council must be held every year in May. At this time a new chair must be nominated. In addition a vice-chairman may be nominated and appointments to committees made. In an election year this meeting must take place on the day when councillors take office, or within 14 days thereafter.
b)Additional parish council meetings must be held at least 3 times a year.
c)The Annual Parish Meeting must take place between 1st March and 1st June. This is where the parish hears all that has been going on in the parish in the previous 12 months. Parish Council business is not discussed at this meeting.

Agenda Setting

The clerk must put up a signed agenda, in a public place, 3 clear days before an ordinary meeting and send a copy to all members of the council. Also note:

a)Must have clear items to be discussed - a council cannot lawfully make decisions on anything that is not on the agenda.
b)'Any other business' and 'matters arising' are dangerous items for an agenda - avoid using these headings and use specific headings for all agenda items.

Remember the purpose of the agenda is so that councillors and the public know what issues they will be discussing and voting on.

Places for meetings

Public and press must have access to all meetings with some exceptions (see fact sheet on public participation). The meetings must not take place in licensed premises unless no other room is available free or at a reasonable rate. It is not advisable to meet in a private home.

Attendance at meetings

a)In order for meetings to be quorate 1/3 of your members or 3, which ever is greater, must be present.
b)Attendance and apologies, stating the reason for absence, must be recorded.
c)A councillor is disqualified if s/he has not attended a meeting in 6 months and apologies have not been received or accepted, a casual vacancy is then created.
d)If a member is late or leaves early a record of the timings must be made (this could be important re quorum, nb. See first bullet point).

Minutes

Minutes should be short and concise. The pages must be numbered and after they have been approved, signed by the chairman, if loose leaf minutes are kept, each page should also be initialled by the Chairman. Minutes are only legal evidence after they have been signed. The agenda and the minutes must tally up. Each resolution must be either Approved, Rejected or Actioned.

Taking Decisions

All matters coming or arising before a council must be decided by a majority of councillors present and voting, (excluding those disqualified by having declared a prejudicial interest).

Each councillor has one vote and must vote in person. In addition the chair has the casting vote in the event of an equality of votes.


GUIDANCE ON PUBLIC PARTICIPATION PERIODS

Outline


A meeting of the council must be open to both the press and the public. Many local councils set aside a period before or after or in the middle of the meeting when the public can ask questions or even make statements. This is excellent practice as long as the period is defined, and the public and council understand that the public cannot take part at any other time during the meeting other than the designated time slot. This also applies equally to committees of the council.

Exceptions

The public and press can be excluded by a resolution made under Public Bodies Act 1960 (Admission to meetings). If publicity would prejudice the public interest, if the business was of a confidential nature or for some other reason that is stated in the resolution that arises out of the business to be transacted.

Please note the power to exclude is not exercisable generally but only for a particular occasion.

As a rule it is desirable to treat the following types of business as confidential.

a) engagement, terms of service, conduct and dismissal of employees;
b) terms of tenders, and proposals and counter-proposals in negotiations for contracts;
c) preparation of cases in legal proceedings;
d) the early stages of any dispute


Press

The press has no greater right to be present than the public, but it is entitled on reasonable payment, to copies of the agenda. The council must also give the press facilities for taking their reports and for telephoning them.

 
 
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