What is a Parish Council

Parish Councils were established in law in 1894, having their origins in the development of villages all over England during both Saxon and Norman times. Villages in those past days were ruled by the Lord of the Manor with little national control. Sometimes the villages all met to make decisions which affected the whole community. Gradually it seems that parish priests and sometimes school masters joined the Lord of the Manor to become an effective ruling clique and it was probably from this that the first Parish Councils were formulated.

After the Second World War the profile of local Councils increased significantly and the National Association of Parish Councils was formed. Since that time, however, there has been much debate concerning the value of these Councils. However, today, with a Central Government view of involving local communities and higher tier authorities seeking to devolve as much as possible, it may be that the involvements of Parish and Town Councils will increase in the future.

Parish Councils are the first tier of local government in England and Wales and are closest to the people. They serve the smallest area and are responsible for the most local of matters. In England they are called Parish Councils (or Town Councils if they cover a largely urban area). In Wales they are known as Community Councils. In both England and Wales they are elected units of local government whose activities are controlled by Acts of Parliament.

A Parish Council is democratically elected to serve a defined and local area. Members serve voluntarily and are unpaid.

How Parish councillors are elected

The Parish Council is an effective way to get involved in community life. It deals with local people and local matters on a day to day basis and welcomes help and interest. One way to get involved is to stand for election to the council.

Parish Councillors are elected by the public and serve four-year terms. Following elections, councils appoint a chair, or town mayor in town councils.

To be a Parish Councillor requires time and commitment. A councillor will usually spend a couple of hours a week on parish business and this will increase if they are a member of a permanent or short-term committee. Most councillors serve on at least one committee.

You do not have to have had experience of local government to get involved with your Parish Council, and the vast majority of councillors are independent of political parties. To become a councillor you would generally need to stand at the main election, which happens every four years.

However, volunteers can sometimes serve on the council without having to go through the formal process of campaigning and standing for election. People can be appointed to the council in two situations:

  • If there are not enough candidates to fill all council seats at election time
  • If a seat becomes vacant mid-term and the council chooses not to hold a by-election

In either of these situations the council can choose to ‘co-opt’. This is when, after advertising the vacancy, they collectively appoint new council members from a list of people, filling the vacant seats. You may add your name to this list at any point by simply contacting your Parish Council. If you join the council in this way you will, in most cases, be eligible to vote and therefore part of local decision-making.

The responsibilities of a Parish Council

Parish, Town and Community Councils in England and Wales have a number of basic responsibilities, including: representing the whole electorate within the parish; delivering services to meet local needs; and striving to improve quality of life in the parish.

County and Borough councils (higher tier authorities) are responsible for providing and maintaining many of the services. Residents, however, may sometimes prefer to contact their Parish Council in relation to local matters because of their smaller, less intimidating size and because they may be more in touch with their community’s needs.

The Parish Council is also the first point of contact for aspiring local projects. It is their responsibility to help get schemes under way by providing initial funding and space for public use.

The Parish Council must be notified of any planning application or highway development planned for the area – which they will then consider and make such comments or representations upon them as they think appropriate in the interests of the community. On some occasions the Council’s approval is also needed for any work to go ahead.

The Parish Council is by law entitled to raise money from the residents of the parish in order to allow them to conduct their business. This sum of money raised is referred to as the ‘PRECEPT’ and it is collected by the Principal Authority (Pendle Borough Council) on behalf of the parish by way of the Council Tax and appears on residents Council Tax bills as a separate item (although collected as part of the whole).

Higham with West Close Booth Parish Council therefore exists to protect the interests of our community, to maintain and improve the quality of village life for all residents and ensure improvements are made whenever appropriate and the budget allows.

We also employ the services of a lengthsman who supports and adds value to existing County & Borough authority services.

The Parish Council is not, however, a clearing house for complaints regarding the service delivery of higher tier authorities which should be normally addressed in the first place to the responsible authority concerned.

Legal Obligations of the Council

The Council conducts its affairs in accordance with recommended codes of practice and ruling legislation, including a Transparency Code under which various matters (such as Council Meetings, Minutes, Accounts and financial information) must be made available for public scrutiny. These matters are covered in the pages and links on this website.