Worlingworth Parish Council: Some of its features
Parish Councils were established by the Local Government Act of 1894. They are corporate bodies with unpaid councillors elected every four years. A parish council such as Worlingworth is the first level of local government. It gives the village a democratic voice and a structure for taking community action to improve the quality of village life. It provides the "grass roots" tier of local government in our rural area. It is the first point of contact for anyone concerned with a community issue. Its purpose may be summed up in its slogan “To Serve and Protect”.
What are its powers?
The Council decides on issues that affect the well being andmaintenance of the village.
- The most common topics we are involved with are Planning’ Roads and Highways but only as statutory consultees. The Parish Council can neither give consent, nor prevent applications. It is asked to make a comment or raise concerns and has the ability to influence those organisations that make the final decisions such as the District or County Council, Health Authorities, Police etc. It also may make No Comment if it wishes.
- Councillors also have the power to decide the level of tax residents need to pay to support their operations and to carry out local projects. This is done by levying a "precept", collected from within the council tax paid by the residents of Worlingworth. Although there is no limit to the amount of money that can be raised, the money can only be raised for a limited number of purposes. These can include providing and maintaining a variety of local services. As examples:
- we have had yellow safety lines painted outside the school
- had our amendments to planning applications accepted
- introduced traffic calming measures
- installed a defibrillator
- supported in a significantly financial way the refurbishment of the Community Centre
- undertaken the maintenance of the footpaths including the installation of kissing gates to make access easier
- enrolled in national schemes to help protect the green spaces in our village
- undertaken litter picking and grass cutting projects
- increased the number of dog waste bins
- initiated a tree planting scheme
- refurbished the WW2 P.C. Whiting Memorial
- supported several school projects as well as Police Crime and Safety measures.
- We have also made donations in recognition of the work undertaken within our parish by the Sufolk Air Ambulance Service, the Citizen's Advice Bureau and various village organisations.
How is the Council organised?
A Parish Council consists of the chairman and not fewer than five elected councillors. A quorum of the council is at least one-third of its members, or three members, whichever is the greater. The term of office of a Parish Councillor is four years, and council seats are elected en bloc through a first past the post system by secret ballot. If a vacancy occurs during the term of a parish council the vacancy may be filled by co-option.
The Council must hold an annual meeting and at least three other meetings in a year. Worlingworth in common with many other councils holds monthly meetings. There is a forum before the start of each meeting at which members of the public can raise concerns and ask questions.
An extraordinary meeting may be called at any time by the chairman or members, but due notice must be given. The Council can form committees with delegated powers for specific purposes; however these must adhere to the protocols for public attendance, minute-taking and notice of meetings that apply to the main Council. A Council may form sub-committees. The Council can also appoint advisory groups which are exempt from these constraints to give flexibility, but these have no delegated powers and cannot make financial decisions. Such groups may contain members who are not Councillors.
How is it administered?
The administration of the Council is managed by the Parish Clerk, who is a paid employee acting in a combined statutory role as secretary and treasurer to the council and in a part-time capacity. The necessary financial monitoring and reporting are the clerk’s responsibility, and in this role the Clerk is known as the “Responsible Financial Officer” (RFO) of the Council. The Clerk is also the "Proper Officer" of the Council. They "enact" (cause to happen) the decisions of the Council, and they receive official correspondence and issue correspondence on the instructions of the Council. The Clerk also prepares agendas for meetings of the Council and its committees, gives notice of these to the Council members and the public, and records and publishes the minutes of these meetings. The Clerk is the formal point of contact with the public, and is a source of information for the public about the Council’s activities. The Clerk also provides procedural guidance for the Council itself, and ensures that statutory and other provisions governing or affecting the running of the Council are observed. The Clerk is not be a member of the Parish Council and therefore cannot vote.
How do you become a Councillor?
To qualify to be a Parish Councillor you must be a British citizen, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union, at least 18 years of age on the day that you are nominated as a candidate, registered as a local government elector within the parish and either a parish resident for at least one year or reside within three miles of the parish for a least one year, or have been working full time in the parish for at least a year prior to the nomination or election day.
What is the role of a councillor?
The job of a Councillor is to be a local person to whom residents can look to for help, guidance and support. The Councillor should be committed to influencing decisions for the benefit of the people he or she represents and be willing to mediate in conflicts over local issues.
How much time does it take up?
Regular council meetings may last two hours, depending on what's on the agenda to discuss. In addition to the regular meetings, Councillors are required to give time for ‘ad hoc’ meetings for example, with architects or agents to discuss planning applications upon which the council must give its opinion. Additionally, addressing parishioner concerns on local issues outside of regular council meetings is important.
Local government faces a challenging time. As the District and County Councils are forced cut back on services so Parish Councils such as ours are put under ever increasing pressure to take up more and more responsibility. This in turn creates demands on Councillors not only to give more of their experience, but also more time to undertake a variety of training courses and diverse local duties. However, this we believe, along with the immediacy demanded by social media makes our commitment to “To Serve and Protect” our village ever more important and worthwhile.