Berwick Parish Council, formed on 4th December 1894, is the level of local government which is closest to the community it represents.
It is an elected body that consists of seven Councillors. If a vacancy occurs between elections it may hold an election, providing this is the wish of the electorate, or it can co-opt a member of the community. Elections are held every four years, the next Parish Council election will be held in May 2015.
What is a Parish Council?
It is the first tier of Local Government and was created by statute in 1894.
Before 1894, for many years, the affairs of the parishes had been administered by a vestry, or meeting of the village inhabitants. Inevitably these meetings were dominated by the squire, the parson and the principal ratepayers and some became ‘select vestries’, only open to those people deemed ‘suitable’ to serve. In many parishes, particularly rural ones, the system worked perfectly well, in others it was virtually non-existent or very inefficient.
For a variety of reasons, including a general movement towards greater ‘democracy’; and a desire to break the power of the Church of England over the lives of nonconformists and non-believers, a Bill was promoted to create Parish Councils. After a difficult passage through parliament and many amendments, this Bill became an Act in 1894. Its effect was to transfer all non ecclesiastical functions from the church to the elected Parish Councils. Some other functions were added, such as those relating to the burial of the dead, which had, many years before, been vested in Burial Boards, an early form of QUANGO.
The regulations under which the first Parish Councils operated were not very tight at that stage and the influence of the church was not so easily to be diminished.
There were many anomalies and difficulties encountered in the years between 1894 and 1972, when the present basic Local Government Act came into being.
Much has changed since 1894. Parish Councils are closely regulated and the amount of Local Government ‘Regulations’, including the Code of Conduct has increased exponentially in the past few years, with an accompanying rise in costs of audit and insurance.
Powers and Responsibilities of Parish Councils:
The Local Government Act, 1972, is the one most often referred to when describing the modern powers and responsibilities of Parish Councils but it is augmented by many earlier and later Acts.
There is still, as there was in 1894, only one power which the Parish Council must consider using and that is to provide allotments for the labouring poor, if asked for them. All other powers are voluntary – the Parish Council is not obliged to exercise them and indeed the majority would find it difficult to raise enough money to exercise them all on a permanent basis.
Parish Councils are empowered to raise money for their activities through a tax (the “precept”) on the village residents (Council Taxpayers) which is collected on their behalf by the District Council, as an addition to the District and County Council Tax. This is then paid to the Parish Council in two equal instalments.
Two neighbouring Parish Councils might require the same amount of money to function but the fewer houses there are in a village, the more each household is obliged to pay towards raising this sum. Thus, the actual tax paid by similar houses in neighbouring villages could differ widely. Though not actually ‘capped’ in their expenditure, as are the Principal Councils, the activities of many smaller Parish Councils are effectively limited by this difficulty. To combat this, smaller councils are being encouraged to combine for some large projects and share the expense across a wider base.
Borrowing is allowed, up to a prescribed limit and with permission, but this is of limited help to a small parish because, of course, the loan (plus interest) has to be repaid from slim resources.
Grants may be obtained for specific purposes from various sources, not least the District Council. Very few, if any of these, can be used for maintenance or general administration purposes.
Services Provided by Town/Parish Councils (Local Councils):
A local council might provide, maintain or contribute to the following range of services for their community:
Local youth projects
Community safety schemes
Illuminations (e.g. Christmas lights)
Parks and open spaces
Community transport schemes
Crime reduction measures
Festivals and celebrations
Traffic calming measures
There are many other Acts and Statutes which govern the activities of Town and Parish Councils and these are being added to every few months. It is quite a job to keep up with them and that is why this Council subscribes to membership of National Association of Local Councils (NALC), through the Sussex Association of Local Councils (SALC) and why the Clerk is a member of The Society of Local Council Clerks. Training, Seminars, and conferences are now an essential for both Elected Members (Parish Councillors) and the Clerk.