The Parish Council Role
Parish Councils, along with Town Councils, are elected bodies that provide the first tier of local government. There are over 10,000 Parish Councils in England, serving largely rural communities.
Parish and Town Councils have the power but not an obligation to be involved in a wide range of activities and services. With that goes the power if required to raise income through a local element of council tax (a ‘precept’) although some rely solely on alternative sources of income. As a result, most have relatively modest budgets which do not provide the means to run large scale public services. They instead focus typically on activities such as managing parks and common land, footpaths, allotments, community centres, cemeteries, war memorials, street lighting, car parks and other local amenities. Chearsley Parish Council is typical in this respect, although it has also dedicated a lot of resource to traffic calming measures. It does not manage the Village Hall which is managed by a Trustees Committee, nor the allotments which are administered by the Church.
More broadly, Parish Councils exercise a general consultative role on behalf of local people: for instance, they have statutory consultation rights on planning matters. They can play a vital part in representing the interests of the community they serve and improving the quality of life and the local environment. Furthermore, they can influence decision makers and consequently impact the delivery of services to meet local needs.
Higher tiers of local government are known as principal councils or authorities. In Buckinghamshire there is just one higher tier, the principal authority being Buckinghamshire Council which since 2020 has been a Unitary Council. Principal authorities have many legal duties to deliver services such as education, housing, town and country planning, transport, environmental health and social services. Local Councils have the legal power to act in many of these areas but very few duties, which gives them greater freedom to choose what areas they wish to be involved with.
Buckinghamshire Council has established a number of Community Boards as a prime route for communications with its residents. Chearsley Parish Council is active in the Haddenham and Waddesdon Community Board and its Working Groups, campaigning for the interests of the village as well as taking an interest in matters affecting the County more generally.
At a national level, Parish and Town Councils are represented by the National Association of Local Councils, and its county-level associations.