About Local Councils

What is a Local Council?
A Local Council is a parish, town, village, neighbourhood or community council. These councils are the first tier of Local Government and local councils were created by statute in 1894. Before then for many years, the affairs of the parishes had been administered by a vestry, or meeting of the village inhabitants. Usually the squire, the parson and the principal ratepayers dominated these meetings. Some became ‘select vestries’, and were only open to those to those people deemed ‘suitable’ to serve. In most parishes, especially the more rural ones this system worked well but in others it was virtually non-existent or very inefficient.

Due to 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.

The regulations under which the first Parish Councils operated were not very tight in the beginning and the influence of the church was not easily diminished. In fact in the early days the Chairman would usually be the Parson, in fact he would at times be Co-opted on to the Parish Council if he had not been elected in order to take up the role.

There were many anomalies and difficulties encountered in the years between 1894 and 1972, when the present basic Local Government Act came into being. Now, local councils are closely regulated.  The lines of responsibility are clearly laid down, there is generally much more openness and those people that local councils were formed to serve are fully aware of what is being done on their behalf and in fact are encouraged to participate.

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Powers and Responsibilities of Local (Parish) Councils

The Local Government Act, 1972, is the one most often referred to when describing the modern powers and responsibilities of local councils but it is by no means the only one. The Criminal Justice and Public Order, Act 1994, gives them the ability to pay for measures to combat crime and the fear of crime in the Parish.

Local Councils may only spend public money on projects or actions for which they have a Statutory Power. If this rule is not adhered to the Auditor has the right to ‘fail’ the accounts and each of the councillors could be required to repay the money illegally spent (a list of the most relevant legislation is below).

As in 1894 there is still only one power that a local council must consider using, if requested, and that is to provide allotments. All other powers are voluntary.

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Local (Parish) Council Income

Local Councils are empowered to raise money for their activities through a tax, called the "precept", on the residents of the parish. This is collected on their behalf by the district council in addition to the normal tax collected. It is then paid to the local council in two equal instalments.

It is up to the local council how much it demands by way of ‘Precept’ but when setting the annual budget the council must take into account how much it intends to spend and on what. Councils are not allowed to ‘just precept’ they must have a clearly defined budget that will withstand enquiry.

A local council can ‘borrow’ money (i.e. arrange a loan) up to a set limit, but permission must be sought first, it has to be for a defined purpose and proof has to be given that the loan can be repaid, with interest.

Grants can also be obtained from various sources, including the higher levels of local government but these are usually for specific projects and are therefore no good for general administration and maintenance purposes. 

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Some Statutory Powers of Local(Parish) Councils

Local Government Act 1972


Assume a function delegated by another authority


Ensure effective discharge of council functions


Employ someone to carry out council functions


Buy or lease land for the community


Publicise council and local authority functions


Encourage tourism


Provide entertainment


Raise money by precept (Council Tax)


Train councillors


Assume responsibility for a closed churchyard


Make representation at public enquiries


Acquire historical records


Borrow money

Sch.16 para 20

Comment upon planning applications

Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953


Provide bus shelters

Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976


Provide or support recreational facilities

Open Spaces Act 1906


Acquire and manage any open space including valuable habitats.


Administer open space held in trust
Provide lighting for any open space

Commons Act 1899


Manage common land

Public Health Act 1875

(see also LGA, 1972 sch.
14 para 27)

Acquire and manage land for a village green
Provide parks, pleasure grounds, public walks
Make bylaws to prevent dog fouling or to ban dogs

Public Health Act 1961


Provide a boating lake

Public Health Act 1936


Maintain public toilets


Use a local water course to obtain water


Maintain a local water course

The Countryside Act 1958


Erect signs for a right of way

Highways Act 1980


Create a right of way


Maintain a right of way


Plant verges with trees shrubs and bulbs (with Highways Authority consent)

Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984


Take action to relieve traffic congestion
Provide Parking facilities

Parish Councils Act 1957


Provide roadside seats (with Highways Authority consent)

s.3 (see also LGA 1972 Sch14, para 34)

Provide lighting for footways and public places

Litter Act 1983


Provide litter bins

Smallholding and allotments Act 1908


Provide allotments


Acquire land for common pasture

Local Government (Records) Act 1962


Make community records available to the public


Purchase records of local interest


Support local archives

National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949


Make agreement with English Nature to manage council-owned land as nature reserve.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981


Local authorities make management agreements with landowners

Environmental Protection Act 1990
and Litter (Animal Droppings) Order 1991

Must keep own land free of litter and dog faeces

This list is by no means exhaustive there are many other Acts and Statutes which govern the activities of Local Councils.

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Useful Publications

'Local Councils Explained' produced in 2013 by the National Association of Local Councils. This publication comprises 207 pages. Part 1 is a comprehensive reference manual addressing legislation and procedures for local councils and Part 2 is the revised Model Standing Orders (Part 2 is downloadable free of charge - please see Standing Orders above). The full publication is available through YLCA at a cost of £49.60 plus post and packing.

'The Good Councillors Guide' 2017 - a must for all councillors.  A useful 64 page booklet which contains basic information about being a councillor and what local councils can, cannot and should be doing.

'The Law of Allotments' by Paul Clayden, 5th Edition, ISBN number: 978 0 7219 0143 5

'Local Council Administration' by Charles Arnold Baker, 9th Edition, ISBN number: 978 1 4057 7405-5.

'All about Local Councils' (2011) - An update to the NALC/Electoral Commission booklet ‘All About Local Councils’published in 2007. The new booklet has a slightly more urban slant and whileaimed at a more urban audience is still relevant as a resource to all councils.There are two new case studies. The booklet gives simplified explanations aboutthe role and work of local councils and their councillors, explains the electoral process and provides a number of case studies highlighting the work of a selection of local council.

Whatever Yeah! (2009) - A booklet highlighting just some of the innovative approaches taken by local councils to better represent young people in their local area. You may find this document useful if you are looking for some inspiration locally or are just curious about the different ways that local councils represent young people.

What Next for Localism (2012) - NALC and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Local Democracy launched an inquiry into the conceptof Localism with a specific focus on the role of local councils.

Localism in Practice 3 (2011) - Booklet showcasing how some councils are embracing the concepts of Localism.

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