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Role of Local Councils

Parish or town councils, (called “local councils”) are the first tier of local government in England. Each council is made up of unpaid councillors who are elected to serve for four years. The councils have tax-raising powers, and each is active in an area known as a civil parish.

Parish councils receive the majority of their funding by levying a parish rate from the council tax paid by the residents of each parish. This is sometimes supplemented by local fund-raising or grants from funders for specific purposes. Each year the local councils in Cumbria spend £6-7m on their communities. In the ceremonial county of Cumbria CALC has 226 local councils in membership.

The main benefits of Local Councils are:

  • Closeness to the electorate by being concerned only with parish matters and by having many councillors (there are 3,000 in Cumbria).
  • Provide a forum for discussing parish issues, and encouraging initiatives
  • They have few statutory duties (things that they must do), but a large range of discretionary powers (things which they can do). This enables them to concentrate on specific projects for their parishes, rather than providing routine services.

Because of the wide discretionary powers and the few statutory activities, Local Councils are viewed by funding authorities as being suitable for grant funding as unlike higher authorities they fund only one statutory activity, and they are formally constituted bodies.

The general power of competence

On top of these powers and duties, in 2011 local councils’ powers were increased to “do anything that individuals generally may do” as long as that is not limited by some other Act. This is known as the General Power of Competence, and is available to councils where two-thirds of its members have been elected, and its clerk has an appropriate qualification.