What is a Local Council

What is a Local (Parish) Council? 

A Local Council is a parish, town, village, neighbourhood or community council.  These councils are the first tier of Local Government and parish councils were created by statute in 1894.  Before then for many years, the affairs of the parishes had been administered by a vestry, or meeting of the village inhabitants.  Usually the squire, the parson and the principal ratepayers dominated these meetings.  Some became ‘select vestries’, and were only open to those to those people deemed ‘suitable’ to serve.  In most parishes, especially the more rural ones this system worked well but in others it was virtually non-existent or very inefficient.

Due to a general movement towards greater ‘democracy’;  and a desire to break the power of the Church of England over the lives of nonconformists and non-believers, a Bill was promoted to create Parish Councils.  After a difficult passage through parliament and many amendments, this Bill became an Act in 1894.  Its effect was to transfer all non-ecclesiastical functions from the church to the elected Parish Councils.  Some other functions were added, such as those relating to the burial of the dead, which had, many years before, been vested in Burial Boards, an early form of QUANGO.

The regulations under which the first Parish Councils operated were not very tight in the beginning and the influence of the church was not easily diminished.  In fact in the early days the Chairman would usually be the Parson, and he would at times be Co-opted on to the Parish Council if he had not been elected in order to take up the role.

There were many anomalies and difficulties encountered in the years between 1894 and 1972, when the present basic Local Government Act came into being.  Now Parish Councils, which are now known by many different names but generally referred to as local councils, are closely regulated and the amount of administrational bureaucracy and red tape that has to be dealt with increases month by month or so it seems, a negative effect of this is the rise in costs of audit and insurance.  On the other hand, now that the lines of responsibility are clearly laid down, there is generally much more openness and those people the Local Councils were formed to serve are fully aware of what is being done on their behalf and in fact are encouraged to participate.

Powers and Responsibilities of Local (Parish) Councils

The Local Government Act, 1972, is the one most often referred to when describing the modern powers and responsibilities of Local Councils but it is by no means the only one.  The Criminal Justice and Public Order, Act 1994, gives them the ability to pay for measures to combat crime and the fear of crime in the Parish.

Local Councils may only spend public money on projects or actions for which they have a Statutory Power.  If this rule is not adhered to the Auditor has the right to ‘fail’ the accounts and each of the councillors could be required to repay the money illegally spent (a list of the most relevant legislation is below).

As in 1894 there is still only one power that a Local Council must consider using, if requested, and that is to provide allotments.  All other powers are voluntary. 

Local (Parish) Council Income

Local Councils are empowered to raise money for their activities through a tax, called the  "precept", on the residents of the Parish.  This is collected on their behalf by either the District or City Council in addition to the normal tax collected.  It is then paid to the Local Council in two equal instalments.

It is up to the Local Council how much they demand by way of ‘Precept’ but when setting the annual budget they must take into account how much they intend to spend and on what.  They are not allowed to ‘just precept’, they must have a clearly defined budget that will withstand enquiry.

A Local Council can ‘borrow’ money (i.e. arrange a loan) up to a set limit, but permission must be sought first.  It has to be for a defined purpose and proof has to be given that the loan can be repaid, with interest.

Grants can also be obtained from various sources, including the higher levels of local government but these are usually for specific projects and are therefore no good for general administration and maintenance purposes. 

Limited fund raising can be done but there are so many restrictions in place that it is hardly worth it.

Some Statutory Powers of Local(Parish) Councils

Local Government Act 1972  

s.101

Assume a function delegated by another authority

s.111

Ensure effective discharge of council functions

s.112

Employ someone to carry out council functions

s.124

Buy or lease land for the community

s.142

Publicise council and local authority functions

s.144

Encourage tourism

s.145

Provide entertainment

s.150

Raise money by precept (Council Tax)

s.175

Train councillors

s.214

Assume responsibility for a closed churchyard

s.222

Make representation at public enquiries

s.226

Acquire historical records

Sch.13

Borrow money

Sch.16 para 20

Comment upon planning applications

 

 

Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953 

s.4

Provide bus shelters

 

 

Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 

s.19

Provide or support recreational facilities

 

 

Open Spaces Act 1906  

s.9

Acquire and manage any open space including valuable habitats.

s.10

Administer open space held in trust
Provide lighting for any open space

 

 

Commons Act 1899  

s.5

Manage common land

 

 

Public Health Act 1875  

s.164
(see also LGA, 1972 sch.
14 para 27)

Acquire and manage land for a village green
Provide parks, pleasure grounds, public walks
Make bylaws to prevent dog fouling or to ban dogs

 

 

Public Health Act 1961  

s.54

Provide a boating lake

 

 

Public Health Act 1936  

s.87

Maintain public toilets

s.125

Use a local water course to obtain water

s.260

Maintain a local water course

 

 

The Countryside Act 1958  

s.27

Erect signs for a right of way

 

 

Highways Act 1980  

s.30

Create a right of way

s.43

Maintain a right of way

s.96

Plant verges with trees shrubs and bulbs (with Highways Authority consent)

 

 

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984  

s.57

Take action to relieve traffic congestion
Provide Parking facilities

 

 

Parish Councils Act 1957  

s.1

Provide roadside seats (with Highways Authority consent)

s.3 (see also LGA 1972 Sch14, para 34)

Provide lighting for footways and public places

 

 

Litter Act 1983  

s.5

Provide litter bins

 

 

Smallholding and allotments Act 1908  

s.26

Provide allotments

s.34

Acquire land for common pasture

 

 

Local Government (Records) Act 1962  

s.1

Make community records available to the public

s.2

Purchase records of local interest

s.4

Support local archives

 

 

National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 

s.16

Make agreement with English Nature to manage council-owned land as nature reserve.

 

 

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 

s.39

Local authorities make management agreements with landowners

 

 

Environmental Protection Act 1990
        and
Litter (Animal Droppings) Order 1991 

 

 Must keep own land free of litter and dog faeces

This list is by no means exhaustive there are many other Acts and Statutes which govern the activities of Local  Councils.