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Role of the Parish Council

A brief outline of the role of parish and town councils

Parish and town councils are the lowest level in the British governmental structure and closely represent the interests of local communities. The parish council should not be confused with the Parochial Church Council (PCC) which deals with all ecclesiastical functions.  

Parish and town 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.  Councils:

  • 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
  • help the other tiers of local government keep in touch with their local communities.

The basic arrangement of parish councils is governed mostly from the Local Government Act 1974 and stemming from this and a variety of amendments and other Acts and Regulations councils have various powers (rights to undertake functions) and duties (requirements to undertake functions).  A list (prepared by the National Association of Local Councils) can be viewed here.

Councillors are elected by electors of the parish — elections being held every fourth year — or co-opted in order to fill a vacancy, although in certain circumstances an election must be held to fill a casual vacancy. Parish councils must hold an annual meeting in April/May plus at least three other meetings, each year. Freckenham meets every other month (May, July etc.) and will sometimes arrange a special meeting normally to consider a planning application. A number of smaller parishes do not have elected councils, but must hold parish meetings twice a year.

Councillors must comply with a Code of Conduct and are regulated by Standing Orders and Financial Regulations which they agree to from time to time.  For details of the various documents see Policies from the menu to the right.

Parish and town councils have the power to precept (tax) their residents to support their operations and to carry out local projects. In Freckenham the budget for the forthcoming year (April to March) is normally discussed at the November meeting and finalised at the January meeting when the precept for the following year is set. The precept is collected by the local authority (Forest Heath District Council) and passed on to the parish. See Budgets.

Members of the public may attend parish council meetings and the arrangement in Freckenham is that they are given an opportunity to talk on any matter on the agenda for a maximum of three minutes before the formal meeting is opened. The public may not speak whilst the formal business of the council is being conducted, unless invited to do so by the Chairman. The minutes of each meeting are adopted (with or without amendment) at the next council meeting. The minutes are published on the website shortly after each meeting in draft form.