How We Do It—Inner Workings of Parish Councils

Operating Under Legislation

We operate within a series of  Law and Government Regulations that give us powers to do certain things and also restrict us from others a good list of powers and acts can be downloaded from here  .

Parish Councils are the first tier of local government and are mainly used for maintenance and service functions at a very local level. There are a variety of sizes of Parish Councils and at Burton Joyce we are a “medium to large sized ” one. Nevertheless we still have to comply with many Local Authority regulations such as Freedom of Information Acts. We  have one Internal and External audit a year and have our Annual Accounts published by an Independent Accountant every year.

Annually Burton Joyce Parish Council pass both Audits with flying colours (no qualifications) and our Accounts signed off as accurate. We also have a quarterly check, by designated councillors, of the systems and cashbook to ensure all items are accounted for. Our Accounts, Budgets and Capital Aid requests are all vetted by Gedling Borough Council. Recently the use of SAGE accountancy software has enabled us to better track our costs/income in each departments and make improvements if necessary.

In general we operate on a daily basis using our Parish Council Standing Orders as a frame work.   This gives us a set of guidelines to operate under in most conditions we find  and procedures to follow in a particular set of circumstances. This ensures we delivery a consistent service that is transparent and reliable. Occasionally these rules, as technology or circumstances change may need to be updated and this can be done only in a formal Full Parish Council Meeting. (for instance making our documents available publicly and electronically).

During the course of the working year our Council also may ask for free advice form NALC ( National Association of local Councils) or from various departments of our sister Gedling Borough Council. e.g. on a VAT query, point of law or similar that we may not have had experience of before to ensure we operate within the rule of law.

In general our various Committees (Poplars Sports Ground, Finance and General Purpose, Amenities and Planning) do the leg work during the month and the put recommendations/proposals  for approval to the Full Parish Council of all 11 councillors once a month for Formal Legal Approval. Copies of minutes and decisions can be found  for transparency on this page

Councillors Conduct

Individual Councillors are also governed by a code of conduct which they have to sign up to  prevents them, for example negotiating contracts individually or bullying council staff etc. Internal systems exist for regulating Councillors activities and declaring personal interests . Councillors can be censured by their own council or in extreme cases be reported to the Standards Board of England and Wales who have the power to bar or punish offenders.

Why Have Parish Councils?

The simple answer is low cost, speed and quality. Occasionally we hear of an age old argument” if we didn’t have a Parish Council we would t pay a precept and the money would be divided into more people across the Borough”. This doesn’t cover the true facts. Borough Councils are able to keep their council tax down because we are far more cost effective at the service we provide than they could be, due to the small scale. If Borough or District Councils were to take on these additional items it would be far more costly to them so couldn’t maintain the services levels for the same fee and your council tax would rise.

Compare the quality of the facilities at our Poplars Sports Grounds , Cemetery or Parks compared to most Municipal sites and see how better kept they are and usually for a fraction of the budget.

A well run Parish Council has many advantages compared to a large Borough or District Councils.

1/ Low Cost

2/ Good local level representation by resident Councillors

3/ Speed and frequency of delivery

4/ Quality of work /service as done by local people with pride in their own environment

In brief it is also about economies of scale: small is good for Parish Councils, large is good for Borough or District. Burton Joyce Parish Council for instance has a very low cost base (just look at our Portacabin Parish Office!) and is able to convert much more of its income to front line services than normal councils. We have seen estimates of between 2 and 5 times the cost of for the larger councils to do what we do. These extra cost would be reflected in increased council tax and almost certainly a reduction in the frequency of that service. Our Councillors are unpaid volunteers. Our Parish Clerk is part time  and our only full time members of staff is our Grounds and Amenities Manager. His day is spent maintaining our Cemetery, two Parks, Sports Grounds, Allotments and Memorials to a high standard. We therefore have far less administration burden than larger councils with receptionists, accounts depts. vehicles etc. Each pound spent has a more visible presence to the local community delivering tidier parks , high quality playing fields and cemetery grounds.

However  larger projects are done more efficiently by larger councils e.g. road laying, trunk road hedge cutting by use of expensive efficient equipment not only that we couldn’t afford– but would not be fully utilised.

Equally for these larger councils to organise staff to come and cut a small hedge in a Burton Joyce Cemetery is extremely expensive for such a small job. Another current example of this is litter picking in Burton Joyce centre where we are in negotiation with GBC to contract litter picking from them because we believe that for the money given we could have a person operating for much longer & much more frequently picking up litter and making our environment better for the same amount of money.

In the December 09  we have been pleased to receive visits by senior ranking Councillors at Gedling Borough  who have been looking at the work Burton Joyce Parish Council and does and how we do it  and we understand have been very impressed with our level of efficiency cost control and how much we do with very little money. We have also been looking at using their larger buying power to help us with stationary, grass seed, diesel etc by buying off them cost effectively.

Much of the green public space in  Burton Joyce is owned by the Parish Council or in Trust to us. We are under no pressure to sell our park space or playing fields at all to make ends meet ensuring a long term future for these spaces . Can many larger councils say that.