Local councils are the first tier of governance and are the first point of contact for anyone concerned with a community issue. They are democratically elected local authorities and exist in England, Wales and Scotland. The term 'local council' is synonymous with 'parish council', 'town council' and 'community council'.
There are over 10,000 local councils in England and Wales, representing the concerns of local residents and providing services to meet local needs. Parish councils have a wide range of powers including looking after community buildings, planning, street lighting, allotments. They also have the power to raise money through council tax.
New measures announced by the Government in 2013 will make it much easier to create a new parish council in the future. The measures include reducing the number of petition signatures needed from 10% of the local population to 7.5%. Community groups will also have the freedom to set up a parish or town council without a petition as long as they create a neighbourhood plan.
Local councils are made up of locally elected councillors. They are legally obliged to hold at least one meeting a year. Most meet on a six-weekly cycle to discuss council business and hear from local residents. In addition to this, any committees or sub-committees dealing with specific subjects must also hold regular open sessions.
How do you become a parish councillor? To qualify to be a parish councillor you must be:
· A British citizen, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union.
· At least 18 on the day that he or she is nominated as a candidate
· A registered local government elector within the parish
· A resident in the parish, or within three miles of the parish, or working full time in the parish for at least 12 months prior to the nomination or election day.
A person is disqualified from holding office as a parish or town councillor if:
· They hold a paid office, or other place of profit in the council
· They are the subject of a bankruptcy restriction order or interim order.
· They have been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to more than 3 months imprisonment within the last five years · They incur illegal expenditure (when acting as a councillor) of over £2,000, or are found guilty of using corrupt or illegal practices
How are parish councils funded?
The funding for parish councils is allocated by the district council and is taken from the area’s council tax; this is called an annual precept. The income and expenditure for the next financial year are calculated in the form of estimates and this amount is added to the local council tax and then returned to the parishes in two yearly installments. They can also apply for UK grants and funding and EU money under Objectives 1 and 2.