Roles within a Council


Town and Parish Councillors are the essence of local democracy and have a vital role in speaking and acting on behalf of the communities they represent.

Councillors are from the local community and represent the views and concerns of those who elect them. They understand local concerns, debate issues within council meetings and use their best judgement to make decisions. They are generally unpaid but some councils approve the payment of expenses incurred whilst on official business.

The role of a Councillor is not just confined to meetings – many are active in other community areas and bring that expertise and knowledge to the council meeting to benefit all.

Councillors are known locally and are often asked for advice or help; it is their responsibility to seek an answer or solution through the council.

Town or Parish Councils must meet at least four times annually (including the annual meeting); many meet more often than this. Some councils have committees or working groups that you can join and contribute to. Being a good and effective Councillor comes with time – you will become familiar with local government procedures and rapidly gain confidence as you take part in meetings.

Town and Parish elections are held every four years – your Council Clerk will advise you on how to submit your nomination papers to enable you to stand as a candidate.

Sometimes casual vacancies occur during the four year cycle and these can be filled, either by election or by co-option. (Co-option is used when an election is not called – you submit your name with other applicants to the Parish Council; they vote for their choice to fill the vacancy.)

No formal qualifications are required to be a Councillor but there are rules to satisfy if you are to submit your name. There is no deposit to pay to stand for election.
All Councillors must agree to abide by a Code of Conduct and to declare any interests which may conflict with their duties as Parish Council members.

Qualifications to be a councillor

In order to be eligible for co-option as a Councillor you must be a British subject, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union; and on the ‘relevant date’ (i.e. the day on which you are nominated or if there is a poll the day of the election) 18 years of age or over; and additionally able to meet one of the following qualifications set out below.

  1. I am registered as a local government elector for the parish; or b) I have, during the whole of the twelve months preceding the date of my co- option, occupied as owner or tenant, land or other premises in the parish; or
  2. My principal or only place of work during those twelve months has been in the parish;
  3. I have during the whole of twelve months resided in the parish or within 3 miles of it.

Please note that under Section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 a person is disqualified from being elected as a Local Councillor or being a member of a Local Council if he/she:

  1. Holds any paid office or employment of the local council (other than the office of Chairman) or of a joint committee on which the Council is represented; or
  2. Is a person who has been adjudged bankrupt or has made a composition or arrangement with his/her creditors (but see below); or
  3. Has within five years before the day of election, or since his/her election, been convicted in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man of any offence and has been sentenced to imprisonment (whether suspended or not) for not less than three months without the option of a fine; or
  4. Is otherwise disqualified under Part III of the representation of the People Act 1983 for corrupt or illegal practices.

This disqualification for bankruptcy ceases in the following circumstances:

  1. If the bankruptcy is annulled on the grounds that either the person ought not to have been adjudged bankrupt or that his/her debts have been fully discharged;
  2. If the person is discharged with a certificate that the bankruptcy was caused by misfortune without misconduct on his/her part;
  3. If the person is discharged without such a certificate.

In i and ii above, the disqualification ceases on the date of the annulment and discharge respectively. In III., it ceases on the expiry of five years from the date of discharge Declaration I (insert name) hereby confirm that I am eligible to apply for the vacancy on the Councillor, and the information given on this form is a true and accurate record.

The Clerk

The role of Clerk is to ensure that the Council as a whole conducts its business properly and to provide independent, objective and professional advice and support.

Parish Councils are part of local government in Cumbria together with Cumberland Council & Westmorland council.

The Unitary Councils are responsible for strategic services such as highways, education, libraries social services, strategic planning and refuse disposal.
District councils are responsible for local services including housing, local planning and refuse collection.

The Parish and Town councils in the county are often viewed as the part of government closest to the people. They are the only local government tier that represents residents at parish level.

Importantly Parish Councils can “precept” – raising a council tax each year to improve facilities and services for local people.

Their powers and duties cover many things that we take for granted in making for comfort and well being where we live. These include the provision and maintenance of allotments, burial grounds and public monuments, public clocks, halls, some street lighting, litter bins, car parks, public lavatories, rights of way, roadside verges, bus shelters, swimming pools and village greens.

Parish Councils also comment on planning applications and can be represented at public inquiries.

Similarly they advise the Unitary authorities on the views of residents, and especially priorities for local investment.

All Council meetings are open to the public. They are led by the Council’s Chairman and advised by a Clerk who is there to see that business is conducted within the law.

A job description will always list the duties in detail but here’s a useful summary:

  • ensures that the council conducts its business lawfully
  • administers all the council’s paperwork
  • ensures that meeting papers are properly prepared and the public is aware of meeting times
  • implements the council’s decisions
  • oversees the implementation of projects
  • supervises staff (if any)
  • keeps property registers and other legal documents
  • keeps up to date by training /qualification

Sounds pretty daunting doesn’t it! – but like everything else in life once you know how then its all fairly straight forward and a very rewarding role.

It is important to understand however that being a Clerk to a Parish or Town Council is a job not a spare time activity – even if it takes only a few hours each week to do.

The job is no different from large to small councils. What is different however is the amount of time needed to deal with the volume of business. For small parishes this need be only a few hours each week while for the larger councils it could be a full time commitment.

Most council meetings are held ‘out of hours’ so being a part time clerk is not just a daytime activity.

What about training?

Soon after taking up post you will be expected to attend an Induction Course where you can meet other new clerks and start to get answers to the many questions you will have. We hope you will then go on to complete the nationally recognised Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA). Further opportunities include structured training and study, leading, if you choose, to degree level qualification.

Pay and Conditions

Most councils operate nationally recognised rates. You should expect:

  • A clear job description
  • A contract of employment
  • Pay in accordance with national rates for the size of council

Skills and attributes needed

Clerks usually pride themselves in having a good deal of common sense, confidence to handle the administrative work, being a good organiser, IT literate and able to get on with most people. Underwriting these qualities is a sense of public duty – of wanting to help others in the community.