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Parish Councils

What is a Parish

A civil parish (or just parish) is a subnational entity forming the lowest unit of local government, lower than districts or counties. Civil parishes in their modern form were created in 1894, and although their origins are in the system of ecclesiastical parishes, they no longer have anything to do with the Church of England. Civil parishes vary greatly in size, many cover tiny hamlets with populations of less than 100, whereas some large ones cover towns with populations of tens of thousands. The largest civil parish is Weston-super-Mare, which has a population of 71,758. In many cases, several small villages are part of a joint parish


What is the Difference between a Parish Council and a Town Council?

Any parish or community can decide to describe itself as a town. The chairman of a town council is usually called a Town Mayor. Usually small villages will have a parish council and larger communities may adopt the title town council but there is no magic number of electors that determines when a parish council becomes a town council. A parish council can become a town council unilaterally, simply by making a resolution to do so. Around 400 parish councils are called town councils. There are about 8,700 parish and town councils in England and 30 parish/town councils in Leeds.


What are the Powers of a Parish/Town Council?

Typical activities undertaken by parish or town councils include:

  • The provision and upkeep of certain local facilities such as allotments, bus shelters, parks, playgrounds, public seats, public toilets, public clocks, street lights, village or town halls, and various leisure and recreation facilities.
  • Maintenance of footpaths, cemeteries and village greens
  • Since 1997 parish councils have had new powers to provide community transport (such as a minibus), crime prevention measures (such as CCTV) and to contribute money towards traffic calming schemes.
  • Parish councils are supposed to act as a channel of local opinion to larger local government bodies, and as such have the right to be consulted on any planning decisions affecting the parish.
  • Giving of grants to local voluntary organisations, and sponsoring public events, including entering Britain in Bloom.

The role played by parish councils varies. Smaller parish councils have only limited resources and generally play only a minor role, while some larger parish councils have a role similar to that of a small district council.

Parish councils receive funding by levying a "precept" on the council tax paid by the residents of the parish.

For a full list of powers click here.


Who Runs a Parish/Town Council?

Parish councils are run by volunteer councillors who are elected to serve for four years and it is rare for them to be paid. Different councils have different numbers of councillors.

Most parish councillors are elected to represent the entire parish, though in parishes with larger populations or those that cover large areas, the parish can be divided into wards. These wards then return a certain number of councillors each to the parish council (depending on their population).

Only if there are more candidates standing for election than there are seats on the council will an election be held. It is common in rural parishes for the number of seats available to exceed the number of candidates. When this happens, the vacant seats have to be filled by co-option by the council.

When a vacancy arises for a seat mid-term, an election is only held if a certain number (usually 10) of parish residents request an election. Otherwise the council will co-opt someone to be the replacement councillor.


Who is the Town Clerk?

The Town or Parish Council Clerk is the ‘engine’ of an effective Local Council. He or she is its principal executive and adviser and – for the majority of smaller Local Councils - is the officer responsible for maintaining financial processes and records. The Clerk is often the Council’s only employee.

The Clerk has a duty to give clear advice to all Members of the Council, including the Chairman, before decisions are reached, even when that advice may be unpalatable. The Clerk has a key role in advising the Council, and individual Councillors, on governance and ethical matters and liaising with the Monitoring Officer at the District/Unitary Council on ethical issues and the Councillors’ Register of Interests.

A qualified Clerk is one of several pre-requisites for the Local Council to achieve Quality Council status


How would GarforthTown Council be funded?

The Council is funded by means of a "Parish Precept", which is collected as a supplement on council tax. It is added to the Leeds City Council charge in the same manner as the fire precept and the police precept. The town council decides what the precept should be based on commitments and plans for the coming year. The amount paid by each household depends upon the property band of the household. Another source of funds is section 106 monies. This is money paid to the city council by house builders whenever they construct more than 12 homes in the community. The money is paid to provide greenspace facilities for the community. If the town council has plans for greenspace facilities eg sports fields, playgrounds, it can claim the money back from the city council, to pay for its plans. The recent College Fields development in Lidgett Lane generated 74 thousand pounds of greenspace money that has been allocated to refurbish the playground at Glebelands.


Can I attend Council Meetings?

Visiting your council is the best way to find out what happens there. Give the council a call and find out when its next public meeting happens. By law, ordinary people are allowed to be present at most council business.


How are Ward Boundaries Decided?

Ward Boundaries & the representative number of Councillors are determined by the Boundaries Commission according to a formula. However, the Town Council may be able to decide upon the names of the wards.



What is a councillor?

Councillors are elected to represent an individual geographical unit on the council, known as a ward or - mainly in smaller parishes - the entire parish or town council area. They are generally elected by the public every four years.


How are Councillors elected?

Councillors are elected via secret ballot, normally timed to coincide with Leeds City Council elections. Anyone over 21 can stand as a Town Councillor, subject to some straightforward qualification criteria, which include getting proposed and seconded by two people who are registered on the electoral roll for the Ward in question.

There are no deposits to be paid in local elections. They are generally elected by the public every four years


What do councillors do?

Councillors have three main components to their work.

  • Decision making - Through meetings and attending committees with other elected members, councillors decide which activities to support, where money should be spent, what services should be delivered and what policies should be implemented.
  • Monitoring - Councillors make sure that their decisions lead to efficient and effective services by keeping an eye on how well things are working.
  • Getting involved locally - As local representatives, councillors have responsibilities towards their constituents and local organisations. These responsibilities and duties often depend on what the councillor wants to achieve and how much time is available, and may include:
    • 1. Going to meetings of local organisations such as tenants' associations
    • 2. Going to meetings of bodies affecting the wider community
    • 3. Taking up issues on behalf of members of the public
    • 4. Running a surgery for residents to bring up issues
    • 5. Meeting with individual residents in their own homes 

How are decisions taken?

Each Committee makes decisions based upon majority voting of all members. In the event of a tie, the Chairman also has a casting vote which is also the case for the Mayor at full Council. All Committee decisions are ratified at full council, either by acceptance of the minutes or via formal motions on more major decisions.


How much time does it take up?

Quite often councillors say that their duties occupy them for about three hours a week. Obviously there are some councillors who spend more time than this - and some less, but in the main, being a community, parish and town councillor is an enjoyable way of contributing to your community, and helping to make it a better place to live and work.


Can I be a Councillor?

There are a few rules - you have to be

a British subject, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union; and 21 years of age or over on nomination or election date;

and additionally:-

  • a local government elector for the council area for which you want to stand; or
  • have during the whole of the last 12 months occupied as owner or tenant any land or other premises in the council area; or
  • have during that same period had your principal or only place of work in the council area; or
  • during that 12 month period resided in the council area.

In the case of a sitting member of a parish or community council you can also satisfy the criteria to be elected if you have lived in the council area or within 3 miles of it for the whole of the 12 months preceding the “relevant day”.


You cannot stand for election if you

  • are subject of a bankruptcy restriction order or interim order
  • have, within five years before the day of the election, been convicted in the United Kingdom of any offence and have had a sentence of imprisonment (whether suspended or not) for a period of over three months without the option of a fine
  • work for the council you want to become a councillor for (but you can work for other local authorities, including the principal authorities that represent the same area).


I am not a member of a political party and do not want to be

Most community, parish and town councillors are not party political.

If you wish to stand as a party political candidate, you are also welcome to do so but would need permission from the relevant party. Contact your party's local office Conservative Party (, Green Party (, Labour Party (, Liberal Democrats (,


Questions to be Answered