Why do we have a Parish?
A Parish is the most local tier of administration and the first tier of democratic government. A statement of the services we provide for Doddinghurst and what Brentwood Borough Council and Essex County Council are responsible for at Feb 2011 is here:
What the Parish Council does..
What is a Parish?
There are two sorts of parishes, whose boundaries do not always coincide. These are:
- The Ecclesiastical Parishes centred on an Anglican church with a parochial church council chaired by the vicar or rector.
- The Civil Parishes that are part of local administration.
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 Doddinghurst Parish Council will be in May 2012. Bye-elections may be held to fill vacancies occurring between elections. The council is the corporation of its village and each year at the Annual Parish Council meeting in May 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 can provide allotments, look after play areas and village greens. They maintain or guard such things as rights of way, bus shelters and public seats and lighting. They also have powers to provide and support 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, litter bin's and public seats. Many appoint charitable trustees and school governors. In Doddinghurst the cemetery is managed by the Parish Council. They have powers 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. Doddinghurst is recognised as a Quality Parish Council with a qualified Clerk and proven attainment of standards of information and service levels to the community.
The Parish Council can do these things by 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 through precept but get no general government grant, so they have every incentive to ensure that they give and get value for money.
Doddinghurst Parish Council has worked to beome eligible to adopt new powers known as the "Power of Well-Being". On the 5th November 2009 the council formally adopted the new powers which enable it to make improvement for the benefit of the social, economic or environmental well-being of the community. This marks a significant strengthening of the Council's powers to spend money on projects or objectives that the council regards as of benefit to the Village.
The Chairman of the Council, assisted by the Clerk, has to call an Assembly Meeting for all parish electors, known as the Annual Parish Meeting (it is not a meeting of the Parish Council) that, by law, to be held every year in April or May and must chaired by the Chairman of the Parish Council.
More about the Parish Council and the role of the Clerk.
The elected Chairman controls the business of a Parish Council full meeting and the Council operates as a Body Corporate - no one individual has the power to decide what the Council does - the full council has to resolve by majority vote to spend money and/ or take action. Parish Council meetings are open to the public, unless closed by resolution, and will normally provide time for the public to speak. Doddinghurst has eleven councillors who are all unpaid volunteers. Doddinghurst Parish Councillors receive no allowances (apart from the Chairman who has been voted a small allowance used for funding items outside the powers of the council) and have rarely claimed any expenses - none since 2005 - even though they would be entitled to do so. The Parish Clerk, who is the Council’ s Chief Executive, prepares the meeting agenda and related paperwork, issues the summons to attend, ensures meeting are quorum, records the minutes, makes recommendations for the solution to problems and carries out the approved policies of the Council. The Clerk has to ensure Councillor needs are met for training and that they are kept informed of issues arising including changes in Council powers or codes of conduct. The Clerk is also likely to be the Contract Manager and/or Project Manager for capital projects as well as the Operational Manager for the maintenance of the Parish Council facilities, which in the case of Doddinghurst includes a cemetery, allotments, football fields, children's play area, general recreational fields, Parish Room and games changing rooms and showers. The Clerk has responsibility for supervising Council personnel and office management including organising areas such as the office IT systems, website, office safety checks and first aid arrangements. In addition, if the Clerk is also the Responsible Financial Officer, he/she ensures that accounts are strictly kept and audited by both an internal auditor and an external auditor every year, prepares annual budgets and precept recommendations, arranges supplier payments and claims VAT refunds and undertakes governance management, including risk assessments and insurance arrangements and prepares personnel payroll, pay cheques, tax and National Insurance returns and the annual tax return.
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. Within Brentwood Borough Council the Parish Councils have formed the Brentwood Borough Parish Council Association (BBPCA) to provide a forum for bottom-up feedback to the Borough Council and other service providers on local issues needing action and provided an opportunity for neighbouring parishes to discuss issues of common concern.
The following is extracted from the recent Rural White Paper, A Fair Deal For Rural England:
The first requirement of a parish council is that it is representative of its community. To demonstrate that, it will actively engage all its residents, businesses and surrounding landowners and managers in its work through regular meetings and events, newsletters, surveys, working groups, youth councils etc. In conjunction with them it will identify the needs of its community and set out its priorities for action in a readable and widely available parish plan. Working in partnership with principal local authorities (counties, districts and unitary authorities) and other agencies affecting its village, it will be a key part of their local consultation processes – contributing to housing, transport, health and other local plans. Working with partners, including the voluntary and community sector, (it) will undertake services funded from its own resources – looking after the village environment (litter, bus shelters, village green, cemeteries etc) and provide public facilities such as playgrounds and village halls. To promote inclusive communities it will support community transport schemes and childcare provision; seek suitable sites and projects for affordable housing, and help develop youth activities and services for the elderly. In partnership with its principal authority and others, (it) may wish to take on the delivery of some services (e.g. facilities management, litter collection, street lighting) ... where this represents best value and gives the local community the best deal. In most local areas strong links already exist between parish and town councils and the principal tiers. Following the joint Local Government Association/National Association of Local Councils concordat on relations between the tiers, many local authorities have agreed local level concordats and agreements on consultative and other links. These agreements can help parish and town councils, whatever their size, to contribute more effectively to local governance.