All about Parish Councils

What is a Parish Council

Parish councils were formed in England under the Local Government Act 1894 to take over local oversight of civic duties in rural towns and villages. They are the smallest areas of civil administration in England providing the statutory tier of local government closest to the people.

They are corporate bodies and local authorities recognised in law and must meet at a minimum of four meetings a year. One of these meetings must be the Annual Meeting of the council which must be held in May of each year. The chairman or mayor is always chosen at this meeting. In North Tawton, the Town Council meets on the first Tuesday of each month, except for January when the meeting is on the second Tuesday due to the Christmas and New Year break.

Roles and Responsibilities

Parish councils are the tier of local government closest to their electorate and best placed to serve local communities. They are local authorities created by statute and can only act where there is an express power or duty. Local councils remain outside the jurisdiction of the Local Government Ombudsman.

In law a local council is a single corporate body and decisions taken are the responsibility of the council as a whole. A council is responsible for the services it provides, it establishes policies and decides how money will be raised and spent for the whole community. As a corporate body, the council can work in partnership with other organisations in its area.

A council can comprise of individual councillors representing smaller communities (wards or different villages) all of which may have different interests and its duty is to serve them all. A council will always attempt to make balanced, informed decisions, where it has statutory powers and duties to act, based on the differing needs of the whole community.

When certain criteria are met parish councils are eligible to use the General Power of Competence. This power gives them the opportunity to do anything that individuals generally may do’ (Localism Act 2011 sections 1 -8, specifically s1(1))

Local councils have the power to raise money through the local council tax (parish precept).  This gives them a degree of autonomy and continuity which may not be available to other community organisations.

Town and Parish Councils are an essential part of the structure of local democracy and have a vital role in acting on behalf of the communities they represent.


  • Give views, on behalf of the community, on planning applications and other proposals that affect the parish.
  • Alert relevant authorities to problems that arise or work that needs to be undertaken.
  • Help the other tiers of local government keep in touch with their local communities.