Role of the Parish Council

About Local Councils

Local (community, neighbourhood, parish, village and town) councils are statutory bodies and are the first tier of local government in England. They serve electorates ranging from small rural communities, towns and small cities; all are independently elected and raise a precept – a form of council tax – from the local community. Together, they can be identified as among the nation’s most influential grouping of grassroots opinion-formers.

There are 9,000 local councils in England. Over 16 million people live in communities served by local councils, around 25% of the population. There are 80,000 councillors who serve these councils, making a difference in their communities. £1 billion is invested in these communities every year.

Local councils work towards improving community well- being and providing better services at a local level. Their activities fall into three main categories: representing the local community; delivering services to meet local needs; striving to improve quality of life and community well-being.

Through an extensive range of discretionary powers local councils provide and maintain a variety of important and visible local services including allotments, bridleways, burial grounds, bus shelters, car parks, commons and open spaces, community transport schemes, community safety and crime reduction measures, events and festivals, footpaths, leisure and sports facilities, litter bins, public toilets, planning, street cleaning and lighting, tourism activities, traffic calming measures, village greens and youth projects. These existing powers were recently strengthened by powers contained in the Localism Act including the extension of the General power of competence to eligible local councils.

The Role and Responsibilities of the Parish Clerk

The Parish Council Clerk is the ‘engine’ of an effective parish council. He or she is its main adviser and, for the majority of smaller parish councils, is the officer responsible for the administration of its financial affairs.

The Clerk:

  • Is sometimes a council’s only employee
  • Is required to give clear guidance to Councillors before decisions are reached
  • Has a key role in advising the council and its Councillors on governance, ethical and procedural matters
  • Must also liaise with the Monitoring Officer at the district council on ethical issues and the Councillors’ Register of Interests
  • Is normally responsible for advising the council on staffing provision and managing the recruitment process in larger councils
  • May also carry out the role of the Finance Officer in smaller councils. However, it is common, especially in larger councils, for a separate Responsible Finance Officer to be appointed and given specific duties relating to the budget, annual accounts and audit to ensure proper financial management and transparency
  • May be encouraged by their councils to seek professional recognition for the work that they do. A qualified Clerk is one of several pre-requisites for a parish council achieving Quality Council status and also in becoming a council eligible to exercise the power of well-being
  • May be a Councillor in an emergency (e.g. to cover a temporary vacancy). This must be unpaid. However, it is not good practice for Councillors to do this, as it confuses Officer/Member roles.
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