In County Durham there are 105 parish and town councils (local councils) serving their communities. The only difference between a parish and town council is that a town council can appoint a mayor if it wishes whereas a parish council conducts its business through a chairman. Functionality wise there is no difference between a parish and town council.
Most parish councillors are volunteers and not paid however some of the larger councils do pay their members a participation allowance.
Some areas of the county remain un-parished. However, both Durham County Council and the County Durham Association of Local Councils are supportive of the full county being covered by a parish council where residents approve their creation. The current unparished areas are:
- Parts of Durham City including Newton Hall
In County Durham we have a two tier system with the principal authority being Durham County Council. Parish and town councils and parish meetings provide the first tier or the “grass roots” of local democracy throughout the county.
Within County Durham there is a huge diversity of local councils with councils ranging from electorates of less than 100 to over 25,000. Similarly budgets range from a few hundred pounds to over two million pounds.
We have fourteen councils who meet the National Associations of Local Councils larger local councils’ criteria of having a budget of over £250,000 and or an electorate of over 6,000. These councils tend to generate sizeable precepts and are very proactive.
Local councils in County Durham wish to support and promote their local communities to be sustainable in economic, environmental and social terms.
Local councils have a wide range of powers available to exert influence over their communities. They can be used to benefit their community and include, for example, promoting tourism, providing community halls, managing town and village centres and representing the views of residents.
These powers need to be used in a proactive and as imaginable way as possible without breaking the law.
Additionally the Government has provided eligible parish councils with the general power of competence to better enable them to take on their enhanced role and allow them to do the things they have previously been unable to do under their existing powers”.
The Government hopes that this new power will give local councils greater confidence to act for their communities. The aim is for councils to use this power to work with others to provide cost-effective services and facilities in new ways to meet the needs of local communities.
For example, using this new power a council could:
- Lend or invest money
- Set up a company or co-operative society to trade and engage in commercial activity
- Run a community shop or post office
The power is not restricted to use within the parish; it can be used anywhere.
To become eligible to use this power a council must have the support of the local community, have at least two thirds of their council “elected” and employ a qualified clerk.
Increasing parish precepts is one way of providing new or devolved services to local communities. Total parish precepts in County Durham are currently around £12 million.
Further information on parish councils can be found by opening the document shown below:
There are 24 parish meetings in County Durham. Parish meetings differ from parish councils in that, as the community does not elect councillors, they are not corporate bodies as a parish council is.
A parish meeting should meet to select a Chair every year and it is the Chair and the Proper Officer of Durham County Council who become the corporate body and are known as “the Parish Trustees” (s.13(3)) Local Government Act 1972. The proper officer of the unitary council may be the Monitoring Officer, but this is not always the case.
A parish meeting consists of the local government electors for the parish. Their purpose is to discuss parish affairs and exercise any statutory functions conferred on them. The parish meeting must assemble annually between 1 March and 1 June and on at least one other occasion during the year on a date to be fixed by the chairman of the meeting.
Where there is no parish council a parish meeting has statutory powers to provide and maintain:
- Burial grounds
- Closed churchyards and
- Footway lighting