Parish Councillors have an opportunity to make a real difference to their community, at a small cost in time and effort. Have you considered becoming a Parish Councillor? It may be easier and more rewarding than you think. But what is involved? Here is some background information you might find interesting.
What is a parish council?
Parish councils are the elected first layer of local government and, as such, are closest to the electors. The next levels are the borough and county councils. Parish councils are funded by a precept raised as part of the Council Tax and take responsibility for a range of local matters and community needs, such as the play area in the playing field, the burial ground and the maintenance of local facilities under the Council’s control including common land and bus shelters. Beyond this, they identify, support and manage local project initiatives and can fund grants to local organisations such as youth clubs and charities. Parish councils are consulted by the county council over matters such as planning applications in the parish.
What does a parish council do?
A parish council is a channel for the expression of local views to influence local policy, and acts as a local sounding board. The council comments on planning applications for developments within the parish, or occasionally beyond when it is considered that these may impact on the parish, for example by generating traffic through the parish village, or the local quarries and associated noise and traffic. The councillors know their parish and the concerns of local residents and are able to use this know-how in responding to the applications.
Parish councils have legal responsibilities to fulfil. Council meetings are held in public and need to be properly convened and run, Health & Safety issues require compliance, accounts need to be maintained in proper order. Charfield Parish Council holds meetings once every month (except in August) between 7.30pm and about 10pm, and also host the Annual Meeting of the Parish.
A key objective of the Council is to widen contact with the local community. While funds are limited, the Council can respond to requests of support from local organisations. The Council promotes projects which it feels will enhance the locality. Recent projects in Charfield Parish have included the play area refurbishment, the part-night led street lighting (in cooperation with StreetCare), the installation of the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA) and improving youth facilities where local authority funding has been removed, and of course the Village Plan and now the Neighbourhood Plan.
What does a parish councillor do?
Councillors represent the electors in their parish ward. They are accessible to residents to listen to their concerns and to deal with them or to pass them for action to the appropriate authorities directly or via the Parish Clerk. Councillors may represent the Council on local bodies and in meetings with other authorities. They help formulate responses to county or national consultations when relevant local issues are involved.
In everything they do, councillors need to bring integrity and common sense to their approach and look for viable, pragmatic outcomes that can be achieved. All this work involves time, of course. Meetings have to be attended. Planning applications and other documents have to be reviewed. The work load varies, but an average weekly estimate of 3–5 hours would be reasonable. In return is the immense satisfaction of putting something back into the community.
Councillors have substantial support in performing their duties. First of all there is the Parish Clerk. This is a paid position, and provides an experienced person to look after the administration of the council as well as to be on hand to offer advice and guidance to the councillors. Training is available to the new councillor which is of high quality and covers all aspects of the role. The Council acts very much as a team and fellow councillors are always there to support each other. Help is also available from organisations such as ALCA (Avon Local Councils Association)
The Council cannot operate effectively when it is at less than full strength. Currently Charfield Parish Council has two Casual Vacancies. If you think you might be interested do get in touch with the Clerk or any of the Councillors (probably you have one living near you and you may know them already), or come to a Council Meeting on the second Tuesday of each month (except usually not August, so you can have a holiday!)