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What is a Parish Council

A Parish Council is a local authority.. All local authorities are corporate bodies created by statute or by royal charter. Parish councils make up the first tier of local government in England and are the layer of local government closest to the communities they represent

Parish councils are corporate bodies.  It is the corporate body, of a council acting in its own name, which undertakes activities conferred on it by statute and is therefore capable of owning or transferring land, entering into contracts and taking or defending legal action. A parish council enjoys its legal status and identity until it is dissolved by operation of the law. As a corporate body, a parish council has a separate and distinct legal identity to the Councillors who make up the council and the Officers who are employed by the council. 

Members of a parish council are democratically elected and have a fiduciary duty to their local government tax payers.

Since 1894 parish councils have been able to exercise functions and powers specifically conferred on them by legislation or by arrangement with another local authority. Importantly, as with any body corporate, a parish council can only do that which it is authorised to do by statute. It must not do anything which it is prohibited to do by statute.  A parish council must ensure that its processes and decisions are not ultra vires (beyond its legal powers). It is the principle of ultra vires which requires the need for governance in any local authority, including a parish council.  For there to be public confidence in a council’s decision making process, it is desirable for that process to be as transparent as the decision itself.

Basic effective governance for a parish council entails:-

  • Understanding statutory duties, powers, and subsequent legal obligations;
  • Efficiently prioritising and undertaking activities arising from statutory duties, powers, and subsequent legal obligations;
  • Observing statutory prohibitions and limitations to their statutory duties and powers; 
  • Engaging with local residents and other key stakeholders to deliver the services and facilities required;
  • Taking informed, transparent decisions and managing risk;
  • Developing and increasing resources (land, property, finances, staff) commensurate with activity undertaken.

Decisions made by any local authority must be made in accordance with procedures laid down in statute. The most important piece of legislation for parish council law and procedure is the Local Government Act 1972 (“the Act”).

All local authorities are required to conduct their business in an open and transparent way and must comply with statutory requirements in relation to decision making and activities undertaken.

Effective governance checks are in place to ensure that the decisions and actions of a local authority are lawful and transparent to the public at large and local council tax payers who have a vested interest in the activities of their parish council.

As with other local authorities or public bodies, if a decision or the expenditure of a parish council is deemed ultra vires for any reason, it can be legally challenged by a judicial review claim in the High Court.