Powers and Functions

1. Introduction

There are some 8,500 councils at parish level in England. As a tier of local government they are elected bodies, with discretionary powers and rights laid down by Parliament to represent their communities and provide services for them. Policy has centred on the fact that they act as a focus for local opinion, and provide a means of getting things done in ways best suited to their local community.

Parish councils in their current form were created by the Local Government Act 1894. Their governance, shape and form was consolidated in the Local Government Act 1972 (the Act). Under the Act, by passing a resolution, a parish council may be renamed a “town council”. This is particularly important since old urban district councils were incorporated into parish form. As a result of changes to the Act, brought about by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, a parish council may be known alternatively as a “community”, “village” or “neighbourhood” council. This latest development is a reflection of the change in the nature of parishes, especially the needs of urban and suburban areas where there has been little tradition or expectation of a parish tier of local government.

All councils are constituted in the same way; councillors are elected by the local government electorate and each council has a Chair, who must be one of the elected councillors. Councils vary in size and capacity; many are small, representing a few hundred people, others represent communities of over 30,000 people with budgets of over £1m and expenditure and staffing levels per head of population similar to a small district council.

A council is a corporate body with perpetual succession and a name. Local councillors are often referred to as “Members” – for example in the Code of Conduct. The number of councillors is fixed by the district (or unitary) council. A parish council’s lawful acts, assets and liabilities are its own and not those of its councillors or any other council.

A council must act within the law. It can only spend, raise or use money if it has a statutory power to do so, otherwise it acts ultra vires (beyond its powers). Parish councils have a wide range of powers under different acts of Parliament. Most of these powers are discretionary, i.e. a council may do something, rather than it must do something.

A parish council has the unfettered right to raise money by precept (a mandatory demand) on the district council. The precept required by a parish council is then collected by the principal council as part of the council tax levied on tax payers in that parish.

Parish councils act as sounding boards for local opinion, though the range of services and amenities provided varies enormously. They often work with local voluntary organisations and other tiers of local government and have an important role in providing and improving very local services and amenities. Councils are represented nationally by National Association of Local Councils (NALC), which works with independent county associations to provide routine support for councils and their clerks. County training partnerships provide training to the members and employees of parish councils.

There are certain obligations which by law a parish council must fulfil. For example:

· It must hold an annual meeting;

· It must hold at least three other meetings a year;

· It must appoint such officers as it believes necessary for the proper discharge of its functions. This must include an officer responsible for the proper administration of financial affairs;

· It must make Standing Orders for the supply of goods and services to the council.

The arrangements for meetings and proceedings of local councils are set out in Part II of Schedule 12 to the Local Government Act 1972, as supplemented by any standing orders adopted by a council.

Parish councils should not see themselves as operating in isolation. They will achieve far more by being prepared to work constructively with other public bodies and organisations around them.

Parish councils will wish to:

· Be consulted on planning applications and will need a close relationship and understanding with the planning office of their district/unitary council. Parish councils are encouraged to prepare parish plans in consultation with the planning office with a view to the plan being taken into account by the district council in considering planning applications and preparing the local development framework.

· Have points of contact with principal council services, such as highways, cleansing, parks, elections etc and to contribute to the way such services are provided.

· Work closely with the standards committee and monitoring officer of the principal council on ethical framework matters and the members’ code of conduct.

· Be represented, collectively with other parish councils, on the Local Strategic Partnership.

· Liaise with other stakeholders operating services within the parish council boundaries.

· Contribute to proposals which may be made to the Secretary of State under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007

As the lowest tier of democratically elected representatives in the country, parish councils have the mandate to speak on behalf of the people they represent. It is important that parish councils learn how to do this with authority and integrity in order to have the optimum effect.

2. List of Parish Council Powers – (this is not an exhaustive list)

Function Powers & Duties Statutory Provisions
Allotments Duty to provide allotments.

Power to improve and adapt land for allotments, and to let grazing rights

Small Holding & Allotments Act 1908, ss. 23, 26, and 42
Baths and washhouses Power to provide public baths and washhouses Public Health Act 1936, ss. 221, 222, 223 and 227
Burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoria Power to acquire and maintain

Power to provide

Power to agree to maintain monuments and memorials

Power to contribute towards expenses of cemeteries

Open Spaces Act 1906, Ss 9 and 10; Local Government Act 1972, s. 214; Parish Councils and Burial Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, s. 1

Local Government Act 1972, s. 214(6)

Bus shelters Power to provide and maintain shelters Local Government (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1953, s. 4
Bye-laws Power to make bye-laws in regard to pleasure grounds
Cycle parks
Baths and washhouses
Open spaces and burial grounds
Mortuaries and post-mortem rooms
Public Health Act 1875, s. 164

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, s.57(7)

Public Health Act 1936, s.223

Open Spaces Act 1906, s.15

Public Health Act 1936, s.198

Clocks Power to provide public clocks Parish Councils Act 1957, s.2
Closed churchyards Powers as to maintenance Local Government Act 1972, s.215
Common pastures Powers in relation to providing common pasture Small holdings and Allotments Act 1908, s.34
Conference facilities Power to provide and encourage the use of facilities Local Government Act 1972, s.144
Community centres Power to provide and equip buildings for use of clubs having athletic, social or recreational objectives Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 s.19
Crime prevention Powers to install and maintain equipment and establish and maintain a scheme for detection or prevention of crime Local Government and Rating Act 1997, s.31
Power to contribute to police services e.g. PCSOs Police Act 1996, s.92
Duty on Parish Councils to consider crime reduction in every policy and action s17 Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (as amended)
Drainage Power to deal with ponds and ditches Public Health Act 1936, s.260
Dogs Power to make a Dog Control Order

Power to take enforcement action against those who commit an offence against a Dog Control Order

Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005
Entertainment and the arts Provision of entertainment and support of the arts Local Government Act 1972, s.145
Fly posting and Graffiti Power to take enforcement action against those that fly post or graffiti Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005
Gifts Power to accept Local Government Act 1972, s.139
Highways Power to maintain footpaths and bridle-ways

Power to light roads and public places

Provision of litter bins

Powers to provide parking places for bicycles and motor-cycles, and other vehicles

Power to enter into agreement as to dedication and widening

Power to provide roadside seats and shelters

Consent of parish council required for ending maintenance of highway at public expense, or for stopping up or diversion of highway

Power to complain to highway authority as to unlawful stopping up or obstruction of highway or unlawful encroachment on roadside wastes

Power to provide traffic signs and other objects or devices warning of danger

Power to plant trees and lay out grass verges etc. and to maintain them

Highways Act 1980, ss.43,50

Parish Councils Act 1957, s.3;

Highways Act 1980, s.301

Litter Act 1983, ss.5,6

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, ss.57,63

Highways Act 1980, ss.30,72

Parish Councils Act 1957, s.1

Highways Act 1980, ss.47,116

Highways Act 1980, s.130

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, s.72

Highways Act 1980, s.96

Investments Power to participate in schemes of collective investment Trustee Investments Act 1961, s.11
Land Power to acquire by agreement, to appropriate, to dispose of

Power to accept gifts of land

Local Government Act 1972, ss.124, 126, 127

Local Government Act 1972, s.139

Litter Provision of receptacles

Power to take enforcement action against those that litter

Litter Act 1983, ss.5,6

Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Lotteries Powers to promote Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976, s.7
Mortuaries and post mortem rooms Powers to provide mortuaries and post mortem rooms Public Health Act 1936, s.198
Open spaces Power to acquire land and maintain Public Health Act 1875, s.164 Open Spaces Act 1906, ss.9 and 10
Parish documents Powers to direct as to their custody Local Government Act 1972, s.226
Telecommunications facilities Power to pay public telecommunications operators any loss sustained providing telecommunication facilities Telecommunications Act 1984, s.97
Public buildings and village hall Power to provide buildings for public meetings and assemblies Local Government Act 1972, s.133
Public conveniences Power to provide Public Health Act 1936, s.87
Sustainable communities Able to be represented on a panel of representatives to be consulted on proposals that would contribute to sustainable communities Sustainable Communities Act 2007
Town and country planning Right to be notified of planning applications Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Sched.1, Para. 8
Tourism Power to encourage visitors and provide conference and other facilities Local Government Act 1972, s.144
Traffic calming Powers to contribute financially to traffic calming schemes Highways Act 1980, s.274A
Transport Powers in relation to car-sharing schemes, taxi fare concessions and information about transport

Powers to make grants for bus services

Local Government and Rating Act 1997, s.26, 28 and 29

Transport Act 1985, s.106A

War memorials Power to maintain, repair, protect and alter war memorials War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923, s.1; as extended by Local Government Act 1948, s.133
Water supply Power to utilise well, spring or stream and to provide facilities for obtaining water from them Public Health Act 1936, s.125
Well-Being Power to promote well-being of the area (for eligible councils) s2 and 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (as amended by Part 4 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007)

3. A very rough guide to who does what in local government

County Councils District Councils Parish Councils
Monitoring Officer for County Members only Monitoring Officer

Ethics & Probity for District & Parish Members


Most schools

Special education

Nursery, adult, community

Personal Social Services

Securing provision for the elderly, children and those with disabilities (including social care and health and residential care)

Inspection Services


Management and maintenance of council houses

Working with Housing Associations (known as Registered Social Landlords)

Housing advice

Renovation grants


Unfit housing

Residential care

Cemeteries and Burials, Crematoria Closed Churchyards Burials/Cemeteries

Strategic planning/structure plans

Minerals and waste planning

Historic buildings


Local Development Framework

Development control (Planning applications and enforcement)

Advertising consent

Historic buildings

Conservation areas

Tree preservation

Planning – as consul-tees

Public transport

Highways and parking

Traffic management

Footpaths and bridleways

Transport planning

Street lighting


Unclassified roads

Off-street car parking

Traffic management

Footpaths and bridleways

Road safety

Local transport plans

Street lighting

Street naming

Bus shelters, War and other memorials

Street lighting

Emergency Planning Emergency Planning

Parks and open spaces

Support for the arts

Archives and Record Office

Museums/Art Galleries


Parks, open spaces and halls

Swimming pools and leisure centres

Support for the arts

Museums and art galleries

Public Open Spaces, Village Halls

Playing fields

Museums and the Arts

Economic Development Economic Development
Tourism Development Tourism Development Tourism Development
Environmental Services

Refuse disposal


Gypsy sites

Trading Standards

Environmental Services

Refuse collection/street cleansing


Management of travellers/gypsy sites

Food safety

Public conveniences


Dog and pest control

Noise abatement

Health & Safety



Litter bins and litter clearance, Local charities


Public seating

Licensing – as consul-tees

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths Allotments Allotments
Library & Information Service Electoral Registration/Elections
Council Tax and Business Rate collection
Grants to voluntary bodies Grants to voluntary bodies Grants to voluntary bodies
Help with Lottery Applications
Community Planning Community Planning, Community Safety (anti-social behaviour, alcohol byelaws)

NOTE: Both the county and district functions are discharged by single authorities in the case of metropolitan district councils and unitary councils.

4. Parish Clerk – Roles and Responsibilities

The parish council Clerk is the ‘engine’ of an effective parish council. He or she is its principal executive and adviser and, for the majority of smaller parish councils, is the officer responsible for the administration of its financial affairs. The Clerk is sometimes a council’s only employee.

The Clerk is required to give clear guidance to Councillors, including the Chair, before decisions are reached, even when that guidance may be unpalatable. The Clerk has a key role in advising the council, and Councillors, on governance, ethical and procedural matters. They must also liaise with the Monitoring Officer at the district/unitary council on ethical issues and the Councillors’ Register of Interests.

Some larger councils employ a range of administration and support staff and the Clerk is normally responsible for advising the council on staffing provision and managing the recruitment process. In smaller councils the Clerk may also carry out the role of the Finance Officer. However, it is common, especially in larger councils, for a separate Responsible Finance Officer to be appointed and given specific duties relating to the budget, annual accounts and audit to ensure proper financial management and transparency.

Many parish councils encourage their clerks to seek professional recognition for the work that they do. A qualified Clerk is one of several pre-requisites for a parish council achieving Quality Council status and also in becoming a council eligible to exercise the power of well- being.

The Clerk is an independent and objective servant of the council who takes instructions from the corporate body and must recognise that the council is responsible for all decisions.

In an emergency (e.g. to cover a temporary vacancy) a Councillor may fulfil the role of Clerk to the parish council (this must be unpaid (see below)). However, it is not good practice for Councillors to do this as it confuses Officer/Member roles.

It should be noted that Councillors may not be paid employees of their council (as there is an unacceptable conflict of interest) and may not become employees of their former council until at least 12 months after ceasing to be a Councillor (Sections 112(5) and 116 Local Government Act 1972).