What is a Parish Council?
Have you ever thought about becoming a Parish Councillor for The Lee? To appreciate what is involved in being a Parish Councillor you need to know what a Parish Council is, and what it can and cannot do. To start, you have to get the image of the Vicar of Dibley out of your mind; the Parish Council is nothing to do with the Church or the Diocese, nor is it a voluntary and community sector body.
A Parish Council is a separate legal, corporate entity, and is the local authority closest to the Electorate. First created by the Local Government Act of 1894 in most rural areas, the current consolidated legislation is that of 1972.
A Parish Council also provides services for the local people. In The Lee these services include the playground and allotments, but like any statutory body it can only do the things for which the law or any governing document gives a power.
Parish Councils must meet annually in May to elect a Chair for the forthcoming year, and must also meet on at least three other occasions during the year. The Lee Parish Council complies with these requirements by holding meetings in January, March, May, July, September and November. Parish Council meetings are not normally acrimonious like the famous “Jackie Weaver moment” of Handforth Parish Council, but are usually far more mundane.
Members of the public are always welcome at meetings of the Parish Council, and anyone interested in becoming a councillor is encouraged to attend.
The Parish Council has one particular asset that is extremely valuable — it has the ability to set a Precept (sum of money), which is collected from all residents through the Council Tax system. With the right to levy a form of taxation come some duties – in particular a duty to behave in an ethical manner according to a Code of Conduct (such as declaring interests and leaving the room when likely to be prejudiced) and a duty to have the annual accounts subjected to audit.
Why would I want to be a Parish Councillor?
There are many reasons why you might like to become a councillor:
- to make a difference and help shape the future of the local community
- concern about your local area and wanting to ensure the community gets the right services
- to represent the views of local people and ensure that community interests are taken into account
- concern about a specific issue and wanting to do something about it
- having good ideas for the council and community in a time of scarce resources
- to contribute your skills
- to build on other community work through a charity, voluntary group or school governing body
- to contribute to your community
- it can be a career-enhancing activity, allowing you to develop leadership and analytical skills and to obtain practical and managerial work experience.
Each councillor has their own reasons for running but the role offers the chance to make a difference to the quality of life for people in the local area. Being an effective councillor requires both commitment and hard work, balancing the needs and interests of residents and the council.
How can I become a Parish Councillor?
Elections are held for the Parish Council every four years, with the next elections being due in May 2025 to coincide with the elections for Buckinghamhire Council.
From time to time a casual vacancy may arise if a councillor steps down mid-term. In such a situation the vacancy will be announced, and there is a period of 14 working days during which an election can be requested by registered voters of the parish:
- If a minimum of 10 registered electors request an election, this will be organised by the Returning Officer and must be held within 60 days of the vacancy being announced.
- If fewer than 10 electors formally request an election, the Parish Council has the power to co-opt a new councillor under the Local Elections (Parishes & Communities) Rules 2006, and is expected to make an appointment as soon as practicable after the expiry of the period of 14 days.
To date an election has never been requested in respect of a casual vacancy, and the usual situation is that the council will co-opt after the expiry of the 14 day period.
Co-opting a councillor is a little like recruiting for any position; applicants will be asked to submit an application setting out why they wish to become a member of The Lee Parish Council and what they believe they can contribute to the Council. If there are more applicants than vacancies, candidates will be interviewed before a new councillor is co-opted.
So if you want to do more for your community, if you want to spend your time productively, and if you can think, listen and act locally — become a Parish Councillor.
Who can become a Parish Councillor?
A person is qualified to be elected (or co-opted) and to be a councillor if they are a British, Commonwealth, Irish or European Union* citizen and on the relevant day (that is, the day of nomination or co-option/election) they are 18 or over. In addition, the person must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- On the relevant day and thereafter they continue to be on the electoral register for the parish, or
- During the whole of the twelve months before that day they have owned or tenanted land or premises in the parish, or
- During the whole of the twelve months before that day their principal or only place of work has been in the parish, or
- During the whole of the twelve months before that day they have resided in the parish or within three miles of it.
* EU citizen eligibility is subject to certain conditions, click the link for details
Except for qualification (1), these qualifications then continue for the full term of office, until the next ordinary elections.
There are certain people who are disqualified from being elected to a parish council in England and Wales. You cannot be a candidate if at the time of your nomination and on polling/co-option day:
- You are employed by the parish council or hold a paid office under the parish council (this includes the Clerk)
- You are the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order
- You have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three months or more (including a suspended sentence), without the option of a fine, during the five years before polling day.
- You have been disqualified under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (which covers corrupt or illegal electoral practices and offences relating to donations). The disqualification for an illegal practice begins from the date the person has been reported guilty by an election court or convicted and lasts for three years. The disqualification for a corrupt practice begins from the date a person has been reported guilty by an election court or convicted and lasts for five years.
How will I know what to do as a councillor?
Training is available and support will be found from colleagues, the Clerk to the Council, as well as from the Bucks and Milton Keynes Association of Local Councils (BMKALC), a body affiliated to the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
What will be my responsibilities as a Parish Councillor?
Legally there are only two requirements of a Parish Councillor:
- to conduct oneself at all times in line with the Code of Conduct and other governance documents
- to attend council meetings
The reality is however that a bit more is expected!
The different responsibilities of the council – see below – are divided between councillors, with each councillor taking a lead in different areas. Wherever possible, responsibilities are allocated taking into account the interests and experience of councillors. More details of the day to day tasks associated with each area can be found in the Risk Assessment (including Allocation of Responsibilities) document.
The Lee Parish Council is not the Planning Authority – that is Buckinghamshire Council – but aims to respond to all planning applications within the parish. Each application is assigned to one of the councillors in turn to take a lead; that councillor will prepare a summary of the application and their intial thoughts as a basis for discussion by all councillors. Once agreement has been reached on the response, it will be submitted to the Planning Officer at Buckinghamshire Council. New councillors are not immediately expected to take a lead on an application, but will be expected to participate in discussion.
Details of the ways in which The Lee Parish Council manages its responses to planning applications can be found in the Planning Application Procedures document.
How much are Parish Councillors paid?
That’s an easy one to answer – being a Parish Councillor is a completely voluntary and unpaid role. Expenses such as mileage may be paid for travel outside the parish.
No Parish Councillor in The Lee represents a political party; the council is completely apolitical. This helps bring a breadth to discussions and deliberations, as councillors can express their own opinions without fear of being in breach of any party policy.
Councils, including The Lee Parish Council, rely increasingly on information and communications technology and councillors are expected to play a full role in this, for example by using email. Councillors are assumed to have internet access via a phone, tablet, laptop and/or desktop computer.
In order to provide both privacy and segregation of council correspondence from personal correspondence, all new councillors will be provided with a dedicated Parish Council email address.
Responsibilities of The Lee Parish Council
The responsibilities of The Lee Parish Council fall roughly into three areas:
- those areas where there is a legal or ownership requirement to fulfill
- those areas where there is no legal or other requirement but which the Council has chosen to fulfill
1. Legal requirement
Those responsibilities which the council has to fulfill are:
- maintaining accurate accounts – these are maintained by the Clerk, monitored by the Finance Group and reviewed at each council meeting
- maintaining and ensuring adherence to all governance documents
- commenting on all planning applications within the parish
- maintaining the equipment and environment at the playground and allotments, ensuring compliance with appropriate legislation and safety standards
- maintaining the War Memorial and Jubilee Well, both owned by the Parish Council
- maintaining benches, notice boards and other assets
2. No legal or other requirement
In order to provide addtional services to parish residents, the council has chosen to take an active role in:
- providing an information service to residents and others via this website and The Lee Forum
- carrying out minor maintenance works
- actively monitoring the state of footpaths, bridleways, waymark posts and signposts within the parish
- keeping a close eye on the state of roads within the parish
In theory there is no obligation on the council to engage with HS2 or its contractors, but in practise it becomes ever more necessary. The Parish Council probably spends as much time on HS2 as on all other tasks combined, hence it sadly being listed in a category of its own.