All parish councillors are local residents who have volunteered; they have then either been elected by the public or the parish council; they are unpaid and serve a four year term. The parish clerk is a paid position that deals with the parish council’s administration.
Elections are held every 4 years, at the same time as the district council elections, therefore it will not cost a parish any money to hold an election on this date. Any interested resident can decide to stand as a parish councillor, you do not need to have experience of local government and do not need to have or state a political allegiance. You do need to be nominated by two other parish residents and submit a nomination form to your district council.
If you don’t want to become a parish councillor but are still interested in what is going on in your local area – any member of the public can attend parish council meetings, including the parish council’s annual meeting. Most parish councils provide an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions of the parish council or comment on parish matters.
If you’ve never been to a parish council meeting before, you may be forgiven for thinking that parish councillors are a group of (probably older) people who meet now and then in a draughty village hall to discuss budgets and parish precepts, making decisions that have little impact on the community they serve.
If, however, you live in a community where something ‘big’ has happened – such as a contentious planning application – you’ll know that when people in the community need support and guidance, it is that same group of people in the village hall they will turn to.
Probably the most common topics that parish councils get involved with are planning matters (they are statutory consultees), crime prevention and roads & highways.
It’s true to say that on their own, parish councils have limited powers to make decisions (other than those listed on the Powers & duties page (of South Norfolk’s website). But they do have the ability to negotiate with, and the power to influence, those other organisations that do make the final decisions (such as the district or county council, health authorities, police etc.).
In this respect parish councils are extremely powerful. The organisations that make the final decisions know that a parish council gives the best reflection of how a community feels about something, and it’s views will be taken seriously.
Councils usually meet once a month for the council meeting, to which members of the public are also invited. Meetings may last two or three hours, depending on what’s on the list of items to discuss. Some councils may also have sub-committees to deal with specific subjects, such as planning matters.
In addition to the regular meetings, councillors are required to spare time for ‘ad hoc’ meetings – for example with architects or agents to discuss planning applications that the council must give its opinions on. Such meetings won’t happen every day, so it’s not going to take over your life – and the bonus is you get to see the detail of what’s being planned for your community before anyone else.
To stand for election on a parish council, you must:
be a UK or Commonwealth citizen, or;
– be a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or;
– be a citizen of another Member state of the European Union;
be at least 18 years old;
To be eligible to stand for an election for a particular parish, you must:
be an elector of the parish, or;
in the past 12 months have occupied (as owner or tenant) land or other premises in the parish, or;
work in the parish (as your principal or only place of work), or;
live within three miles of the parish boundary.
The best way to find out what it’s like to be a parish councillor is to talk to someone who’s doing it now. Go along to a parish council meeting, speak to one of the councillors and find out what they think of the job.