The Role of Parish Councils

There are about 8,700 parish and town councils in England, serving 30% of the population as their most direct tier of government and responsible for a budget of £493m. That is an average of about £20 for every parishioner. Individual budgets range from £100 to over £1million. Parish councils have wide powers in law, but relatively few duties, making individual councils very different in size and activity.

Typical Parish Council Business

As can be seen from our minutes, typical business includes helping parishioners with local issues, often by taking up their problems with the City Council, Police or other agency, commenting on local planning applications, managing Fulford Cemetery our playing fields & green and the Social Hall and working pro-actively on local issues such as development, flooding, traffic and recreation.

The History of Parish Councils

Parish Councils have their origins in Saxon and Norman times. Villages were ruled by the Lord of the Manor and sometimes the villagers all met to make decisions which affected the whole community. Parish Priests and later Schoolmasters took on roles of leadership and by 1601 Church Vestry Meetings were given the responsibility of levying the poor rate. These were the first effective local taxes.

There have been 25 Acts of Parliament over the last two centuries conferring, directly or indirectly, various powers on Parish Councils including Gladstone's 1894 Local Government Act which established them in their modern form as the third tier of Local Government and the 1972 Local Government Act which revised their role substantially.

The powers of Parish Councils include:

  • The maintenance of a village green or other common space or pasture.
  • The maintenance and protection of war memorials.
  • The provision of allotments, including the duty to provide allotments if demanded by parishioners.
  • The acquisition, provision and maintenance of cemeteries and the maintenance of closed church yards.
  • The provision of bus shelters, public clocks, buildings for public meetings, community centres and facilities for sports, recreation and social events.
  • The provision and maintenance of street lighting, roadside verges (including tree planting), litter bins, car parks, public conveniences, public seating, and some traffic signs.
  • The maintenance of rights of way, ponds, ditches, public footpaths and bridle-ways.
  • The right to appoint school governors.
  • The right to be notified of planning applications.
  • The passing of bye-laws in relation to open spaces, cemeteries, cycle parking and pleasure grounds.
  • The provision of public entertainment and support for the arts.

A full list of the acts of Parliament and powers that apply to Parish Councils can be found at the web site of the National Association of Local Councils, http://www.nalc.gov.uk In addition to all those things, a parish council can do anything, provided it is for the general benefit of the community, and that in any one year does not exceed £6.80 (2011-12) per local government elector in the parish. There is also now a new power called "The Power of Well Being" which was extended to local councils in 2008 enabling them to become involved in more projects and initiatives in their communities.