Have you ever thought of becoming a Parish councillor?

Now I fully accept that, for many of our readers, the idea of Parish Councils is all a bit redolent of “The Vicar of Dibley” (albeit the cause of confusion between Parish Councils and Parochial Church Councils), but they can be a key element of rural campaigning.

I ought to declare an interest first, in that I’m a Parish councillor in mid-Suffolk, and have been for about six years. Mine is a small Parish, population about 270, with an annual precept of less than £6,000. But this tier of local government is widely varied, ranging from the likes of Hereford City Council to a community like Darmsden, just down the road from me, with its population of less than fifty. They are, if you like, an entry level for local community activists, a bit less formal than Districts and Counties, and usually less demanding in terms of time commitment required.

What they offer is a chance to serve your community and to get to know it better. Parishes are ultra local, acting as statutory consultees for planning applications, providing some basic services – my Parish Council operates street lighting and pays for grass verges and the playing field to be mown, for example.

There are also opportunities to meet councillors in neighbouring communities, through the County chapter of the National Association of Local Councils, and discuss issues of mutual interest – transport, highways and policing, to name but three. It’s a useful stepping stone to contesting District and County seats too, as you can question your local principal authority councillors, who tend to use Parish Council meetings as a way of picking up issues on their patch.

It’s often quite easy to get involved too, as many Parish Councils struggle to fill all of their vacancies, and are able to co-opt in order to fill casual vacancies – by-elections aren’t that common at Parish level, as it requires intervention by the public in order to require one.

In larger Councils, at Town or, occasionally, City level, it’s a bit more competitive and political, as regular readers will be aware from weekly by-election reports. Candidates are more likely to run with political labels – something fairly unusual for villages – and the budgets are far more significant, the powers far greater.

But, regardless of the size of the council, the third tier of local government can be both rewarding and satisfying. And, with most Town and Parish Councils up for election next year, on the same day as the Districts, if you’re interested, now is a good time to find out more and to get involved in your local community.

* Mark Valladares is the Vice Chair of Creeting St Peter Parish Council, in Suffolk’s Gipping Valley.

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  • Matt (Bristol) 21st May '18 - 1:29pm

    Mark, if we were allowed to have parish councils round here, I’m genuinely getting to the stage where I’d think about it…

  • @Matt

    How to set up a parish council – https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/set-up-a-town-or-parish-council

    Go for it and campaign for it!

  • The process of co-option means that the existing parish councillors get to choose who is allowed to fill the vacancy. Forgive me, but is that very, well……. democratic ?

  • Andrew McCaig 21st May '18 - 8:39pm

    Chris Cory,

    No it isn’t, but as I recall it only takes 2 local voters to force a by-election.

    We did it in a large Parish Ward that is 1/3 of a Met ward, won the Parish election and then the same candidate won the Met ward 2 years later with a 14% vote increase (and against a Labour target campaign with 7 shadow cabinet visits).
    Parish and Town councils are responsible for Neighbourhood Planning, which is an excellent Lib Dem idea

  • This suggests that it is 10 electors to ask for by-election for a vacancy – but you only need 2 to nominate you as suppose to 10 for other councils – http://www.allesleyparishcouncil.org.uk/pdfs/electionsProcedures.pdf

    I did it for a parish council and then stood as a Lib Dem – the chair of the parish council wasn’t best pleased with me standing on a party political label as it was the first time it had been done and the local paper ran a story about him moaning about it – but then he was chair of the local Conservative association (which he didn’t reveal to the paper!).

    But I did win!!!!

  • John Marriott 22nd May '18 - 9:32am

    I was a member of my local Town Council for 24 years. It was an up and down ride, believe me. When I was one of the first three ‘Alliance’ councillors to be elected in 1987 it was a very cosy clique (for cosy read conservative) that did very little. We really shook it up and, by the mid 1990’s, had a majority. However, we never whipped our members but still managed to get CCTV, a new Town Cemetery, pelican crossings, new open spaces, new offices and allotments, as well as becoming a ‘Quality Council’. We set the ball rolling and the council now runs, amongst other things, the local volunteer library from a brand new Community Hub and has recently unveiled a Neighbourhood Plan to dovetail into the Central Lincs Local Plan. Unfortunately our representation has dwindled and we now have only three members, two of whom sit as independents.

    The secret of success at this was not to be overly political, pragmatic is the word, I think. If we ever do get real devolution in England and, particularly in Lincolnshire, Unitary Authorities, local councils like mine could take on enhanced powers if they were offered. The real stumbling block is that there are, in my opinion, three kinds of local council, the Proactive, the Reactive and the Inactive. Sadly, there is still two much of the second and third and not enough of the first. Over to you, guys and gals!

  • @Andrew McCaig, Michael 1,
    As you say, it only takes 10 local voters to demand an election, but the devil, as always, is in the small print. When a casual vacancy arises, the parish council must publish a “notice of vacancy”. The public have then got 14 days to get the 10 signatures required for an election. The first problem is that their is no legal stipulation as to how this publication is to take place. Most parish councils will put a notice on their website and something on the parish notice board. As you can imagine, the average resident can easily go 14 days in their busy lives without consulting either. If you are fortunate enough to spot that a vacancy exists within the 14 days, you then have probably next to no time left in which to get your 10 signatures together.
    That is why I go through all the local parish websites once a week looking to see if there have been any resignations and I also make a point of driving past all the parish notice boards for good measure. Only way to make sure the Tories aren’t allowed to fill the PC up with their mates from the golf club !
    In my humble opinion, our party should make it our policy that parish councillors are elected on the same basis as borough or County councillors, with no co-option.

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