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Local Councils

Grass Roots Democracy

Local (town and parish) councils are the first tier of local government. Owing to their unique place embedded within local communities they are well-placed to identify and respond to local needs. Local councils are corporate bodies and their councillors attend meetings to make decisions for that council.

Owing to their strong connection with the local community, they differ in terms of their activity levels, expenditure, number of councillors and frequency of meetings. Local councils can raise a precept which spreads the cost of local projects and activities among the council tax-paying households in that area. However, many councils also raise money through grants and sponsorship or have other income streams and use volunteers to help keep community activities cost-effective.

Local councils have few duties imposed by central Government but have a vast array of statutory powers which give them the flexibility to deal with many of the matters affecting local people. Local councils can support or influence the other tiers of local government (county and district/borough councils) who have many distinct duties including deciding planning applications and providing library and trading standards services.

Most local councils will consider and make recommendations on planning applications affecting the area (although they are not the deciding authority), support village events and community buildings and also provide assets which support the identity of the community (village signs, dog litter and waste bins and benches). However, depending on the identity and size of the town or village, activities could be wide-ranging such as providing allotments, burial grounds and cemeteries, open spaces, markets, newsletters, toilets and play areas.

Local councils exist to serve the community and how they achieve this is largely determined by the councillors that serve on the council and the nature of the local area.

"I think that good councillors recognise the transient nature of their tenure relative to the life of the parish, value what is there and endeavour to leave it better, and in safe hands"

Cllr William Sargeant, Botesdale

As a tier of government, local councils are elected bodies with discretionary powers and rights laid down by Parliament to represent their communities and provide services for them. Parishes vary greatly in size. The majority are very small (40% represent fewer than 500 people). In contrast, 8% of the councils (those over 5,000 in population) represent 49% of the population with a local council. Where the population of the parish is very small, there may be no parish council, but electors may still meet together as a Parish Meeting.

Council Powers

Councillors

A councillor is elected not only to represent their constituents but also to take decisions affecting the area of the council as a whole.

They may have many different roles including corporate decision maker, corporate employer, policy formulator, representative on external bodies, citizens advocate and corporate protector of their parish and its environment.

A parish council in England consists of such number of councillors as may be fixed from time to time, not being less than five. Where a parish has a relatively large population, or where the population is scattered over a wide area, or where one parish contains two or more geographical sections with separate interests or identity, it may be convenient to divide the parish into wards for the purpose of electing councillors.

Clerks

Most councils employ a salaried Clerk whose overall responsibility is to carry out the policy decisions of the Council.

The Clerk is the head of the council's administration and is the 'Proper Officer'. They are often the only employee and would also act as the Responsible Financial Officer.

The Clerk ensures that the business of the council runs smoothly and efficiently and is conducted in accordance with the law. They execute the decisions of the council. In the Responsible Financial Officer role, they also ensure that the council's financial transactions are properly authorised and recorded.

Meetings

A local council must hold an annual meeting each year. In addition to the annual meeting, a local council in England must hold at least three other meetings each year. The public may attend, other than for confidential matters, and many councils provide a public forum for representations on matters on the agenda prior to the council making its decisions.

Elections

Parish councillors are elected for a term of four years. Elections are held on the first Thursday in May. The next ordinary elections are scheduled for 2019. For further information click here

Local Council Award Scheme

SALC wants Suffolk councils to be recognised for their work and achievements and to be able to maximise their role and influence within the community and within local and central government. These are challenging times for local councils and it has never been more important that the reputation of local councils is maintained and their good work recognised. For further information about the Local Council Award Scheme, click here.