Why do we have a Parish?
A Parish is the most local tier of administration and the first tier of democratic government.
What is a Parish?
There are two sorts of parishes, whose boundaries do not always coincide. These are:
A Civil Parish is an independent, local democratic unit for villages and smaller towns, and for the suburbs of the main urban areas. Each Parish has a Council which is a small local authority. Its councillors are elected for four years at a time in the same way as for other councils. The next local elections for parish councils in South Staffordshire will be in May 2011. Bye-elections may be held to fill vacancies occurring between elections. The council is the corporation of its village and each year the councillors choose a Chairman from amongst their number.
What powers have Parish Councils to do things for their areas?
Parish Councils have more formal powers to do things than are often suspected. They monitor street lighting, they can provide allotments, look after play areas and village greens. They have a hand in communications by maintaining or guarding such things as rights of way, bus shelters and public seats. They can also be involved in the provision of halls and meeting places. They provide village newsletters, guides or leaflets to newcomers — they make village surveys. Many provide car and cycle parks and others provide public conveniences, litterbins and public seats. They can also prosecute noisemakers or litter bugs. Many appoint charitable trustees and school governors. Very often a cemetery is managed by the Parish Council. They have the power to improve the quality of village life by spending sums of money on things, which, in their opinion, are in the interests of the parish or its inhabitants.
The Parish Council can do these things by actually providing them itself or by helping others (such as volunteers or a charity) financially to do them. Parish Councils thrive on volunteers. Parish Councils are the cheapest and least bureaucratic kind of local authority. They are funded by a small part of the Community Charge and get no general government grant, so they have every incentive to ensure that they give and get value for money.
Who controls the Parish Council?
The elected Chairman controls the business of a Parish Council meeting. The Parish Clerk, who is the Council’s Chief Executive, takes the Minutes, carries out the approved policies of the Council and ensures the accounts are strictly kept and audited every year. Parish Council meetings are open to the public and an Assembly Meeting for all parish electors has, by law, to be held every year in April or May.
Parish boundaries are regularly reviewed by District councils under the auspices of the Local Government Boundary Commission. The aim is to help ensure that parish boundaries correspond to the social communities in which people live.
What else is important?
Parish Councils are becoming more important because District Councils have become larger and more remote. Parish Councillors know the area they represent and are entitled to be consulted on planning applications, on such things as roads and footpaths and are invited to put the parish’s case at public enquiries.
The following is extracted from the recent Rural White Paper, A Fair Deal For Rural England:
COUNCILS' ACCOUNTS: A SUMMARY OF YOUR RIGHTS
The basic position
By law any interested person has the right to inspect the council's/meeting's accounts. If you are entitled and registered to vote in local council elections then you (or your representative) also have the right to ask the appointed auditor questions about them, or challenge an item of account contained within them.
The right to inspect the accounts
When your council has finalised its accounts for the previous financial year it must advertise that they are available for people to look at. Having given reasonable notice of your intentions, you then have 20 working days to look through the accounts and supporting documents. You will be able to make copies of the accounts and most of the relevant documents from your council. You will probably have to pay a copying charge.
The right to ask the auditor questions about the accounts
You can only ask the appointed auditor questions about the accounts. The auditor does not have to answer questions about the council's policies, finances, procedures or anything else not related to the accounts. Your question must be about the accounts that they are auditing. The auditor does not have to say whether they think something the council has done, or an item in its accounts, is lawful or reasonable.
The right to object to the accounts
If you think that the council has spent money that they shouldn't have, or that someone has caused a loss to the authority deliberately or by behaving irresponsibly, you can object to the external auditor by sending a formal 'notice of objection', which must be in writing to the address below. You must tell the auditor why you are objecting. The auditor must reach a decision on your objection. If you are not happy with that decision, you can appeal to the courts.
You may also object if you think that there is something in the accounts that the auditor should discuss with the council or tell the public about in a 'public interest report'. Again, you must give your reasons in writing to the auditor at the address below. In this case, the auditor must decide whether to take any action. The auditor will normally, but does not have to, give reasons for their decision and you cannot appeal to the courts. You may not use this 'right to object' to make a personal complaint or claim against your council. You should take these complaints to your local Citizens' Advice Bureau, local Law Centre or your solicitor. You may also be able to complain to the Standards Board if you believe that a Member of the Council has broken the Code of Conduct for Members. The Standards Board can be contacted at: The Standards Board for England, 1st Floor Cottons Centre Cottons Lane London SE1 2QG, telephone 0845 078 8181.
What else you can do
Instead of objecting, you can give the auditor information that is relevant to their responsibilities. For example, you can simply tell the auditor if you think that something is wrong with the accounts or about waste and inefficiency in the way the council runs its services. You do not have to follow any set time limits or procedures. The auditor does not have to give you a detailed report of their investigation into the issues you have raised, but they will usually tell you the general outcome.
A final word
Councils, and so local taxpayers, must meet the costs of dealing with questions and objections. When the auditor decides whether to take your objection further, one of a series of factors they must take into account includes the costs that will be involved. They will only continue with the objection if it in the public interest to do so. If you appeal to the courts, you might have to pay for the action yourself.