Roles and Responsibilities of Parish Councillors

Roles and Responsibilities of Parish Councillors


Parish Councillors are elected by the residents of the parish, under section 16 (2) of the Local Government Act 1972, every four years. A councillor may also be returned by bye-election, co-option, appointment by the district council or by return after a successful election petition. All councillors are required to complete a declaration of Acceptance of Office and to provide a written undertaking that they accept the Council’s Code of Conduct.

The Local Government Act of 1894 created civil parish councils effectively excluding the church from local government. Local government was further reformed in 1974 following the Local Government Act of 1972 with the result that parish councils had more freedom to operate without consents from central government. A parish council is a body corporate under section 14 (3) of the Local Government Act 1972, which means that it is an ‘it’ in law and that the decisions it takes are the responsibility of the council as a whole.

The council represents and serves the whole community. The council is responsible for the services it provides. It establishes policies for action and decides how money will be raised and spent on behalf of the community. It is responsible for spending public money lawfully and achieving the best value for money. Except in certain circumstances (Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960) council meetings are open to the public. The council as a body decides whether to work in partnership with other organisations and it often serves (through representatives) on other bodies. An individual councillor (including the Chairman) cannot make a decision on behalf of the council so when working in partnership, councillors must always remember that they represent the council as a corporate body.

A councillor’s primary role is to represent their local area (or ward where the council is warded) and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for local residents and signposting them to the right people either at the local council or the principal
authority, they should ensure that the community is informed about the issues that affect them.

In order to understand and represent local views and priorities, councillors aim to build strong relationships and encourage local people to make their views known and engage with the council. Good communication and engagement are central to being an effective councillor.


  • Respond to residents’ queries and investigate their concerns
  • Communicate council decisions that affect the community
  • Know their area and be aware of any problems
  • Know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses
  • represent their community’s views at council meetings

Local councillors also collectively set the strategic direction for their council. All local councils need clear strategies and policies to enable them to achieve their vision for the area, make the best use of resources and deliver services that meet the needs of local communities. Individual councillors will contribute to the development of these policies and strategies, bringing their experience and the views and priorities of their area to the debate.

Individual councillors work together to serve the community and to help the council to make decisions on behalf of the local community. Councillors contribute to the work of the council by suggesting ideas, engaging in constructive debate and by responding to the needs and views of the community.

Councillors comment on proposals to ensure the best outcome and vote to enable the council to make decisions. Councillors must accept the decisions of the council
as a whole.  Councillors are required to behave in an ethical way and to declare an interest when necessary.

The formal part of the role is carried out by attending meetings and working with and listening to advice from the council officers. The parish council has three committees, Planning, Leisure and Cultural and Finance and Personnel.  How far individual councillors contribute in particular policy areas will depend on which committees they have been appointed to, however ‘full council’ remains the sovereign body for setting the council’s overarching strategy and budget so, even where the council has committees which work in greater detail on particular areas, all councillors should contribute to the council’s strategic framework.

Individual councillors do not have, and cannot be given, powers to make decisions on behalf of the local council. This applies to the chair as much as to the other
councillors, although the chair does have personal responsibilities in connection with the running of formal meetings – see below. That said, local councillors can act as ‘champions’ on particular issues and it is perfectly acceptable, if a councillor happens to have experience in a particular field, that they take a lead on it, provided that has been agreed by the Full Council.

The less formal part of these roles of listening and talking to people, including the local elected members of the district, county or unitary council, will almost certainly take up more of the councillor’s time. However, it is important to remember that “rules of behaviour” apply whenever activities of being a local councillor are being undertaken.



The Chairman is elected by the members of the Council at the Annual Council meeting and serves for twelve months under Section 15 (1) of the Local Government Act 1972. The Chairman’s main role is to run council meetings.

The Chairman is responsible for ensuring that effective and lawful decisions are taken at meetings of the council and, assisted by the clerk, guides activities by managing the meetings of the council. The Chairman is responsible for involving all councillors in discussion and ensuring that councillors keep to the point. The Chairman summarises the debate and facilitates the making of clear resolutions and is responsible for keeping discussions moving so that the meeting is not too long. The Chairman has a casting vote. His/her first vote is a personal vote as a member of the council. If there is a tied vote, the Chairman can have a second, casting vote.

The Chairman will often be the public face of the council and will represent the council at official events. He/she may be asked to speak on behalf of the council and in such circumstances should only expresses the agreed views of the council and not his/her personal views. The Chairman cannot legally make a decision on behalf of the council.


  • Holds a statutory post defined in law
  • Is a member of the Council and is elected annually
  • Has the authority at meetings and must be obeyed when issuing lawful direction or direction in line with Standing Orders.
  • Is the interface between the public and Council
  • The one to welcome speakers and make them ‘feel at home’
  • Is to make sure the decision is clear for the clerk to act upon


  • Know that the agenda was put up in time and be familiar with business to be covered
  • Arrive in good time, adequately briefed and with all the necessary papers in correct order
  • Ensure the meeting is quorate
  • Start the meeting on time by declaring it open, and end it by clearly stating it closed and the time it ended
  • Know that he/she has no more statutory power than any other Councillor except that of the casting vote
  • Ensure that all points of view have a clear hearing
  • Keep the discussion to the point, and that it is relevant and ensure the Council deals with clear issues
  • Ensure the Council/committee acts only within its terms of reference and/or legal powers and functions
  • Ensure compliance with standing orders, financial regulations, Council policies, etc.
  • To ensure that where and when appropriate and allowable the Council takes a vote to exclude the public and press from Council meetings.
  • Understand the principles of debate and voting (see Standing Orders and Good Councillor Guide)
  • Remain impartial and not ‘guide’ Councillors to his/her desired decision
  • Ideally not allow the meeting to continue for more than 2 hours without a break (depending on Standing Orders)
  • Create an atmosphere which encourages participation
  • Be in control of the meeting
  • Know that he/she cannot be a committee of one (Hillingdon Case Law)
  • Respect and understand the role of the clerk/RFO and other officers, and ensure that employment issues (e.g. performance, disciplinary matters) are only raised in Council meetings when appropriate and in line with Council policy and employment law
  • Co-operate with officers and Councillors
  • Act as a representative of the Council at civic or local events

The Chairman on their own has no power to make decisions without the Resolution of the Council.

The Chairman cannot decide which items should appear on the agenda for meetings. The Clerk is responsible for the agenda, apart from Extraordinary Meetings. Normal practice would be for the Clerk to consult with the Chairman when drawing up the agenda to ensure that appropriate and necessary items are added.

The Chairman should not involve themself in the day to day administration of the Council, but can be a point of reference for officers if agreed by Council.



No –one is entitled to interrupt or obstruct the proceedings of the Council or its committees. The Chairman should never argue or allow argument with an interrupter. If the public becomes disorderly it may eventually be necessary to close the meeting or to adjourn to a more private place. It is, however illegal to decide to exclude the public from any future meeting. The press is in a privileged position inasmuch as its representatives must so far as possible be given facilities for taking their reports.


To be held at any time between March and May each year to report to the parish electorate on the activities and performance of the Council over the previous year. The current accounts of the Parish must be available at this meeting. The chairman or vice chair should if present preside at this meeting.

Only persons recorded on the electoral register for the Parish are allowed to vote at this meeting. The Parish Council pays for the meeting. If a poll is called for then it must be paid for by the Parish Council.


The retiring chairman or, in his or her absence, the vice chair must preside at the meeting for the first item on the agenda (after apologies and checking previous minutes) ‘ To Elect Chairman’. If it is a meeting after an election then the retiring chair or vice chair presides, even if they are no longer Councillors. If both are absent then the Council may appoint another councillor to preside. It is illegal for a clerk to take the chair at a meeting.


If the presiding chair is no longer to be a member of the Council then they only have a casting vote. If they are still going to be a member then they have a vote and a casting vote (they can vote for themself if they want) The chairman of the Council should give a report to the annual parish meeting on the activity of the Council (in this meeting, if they are not an elector in the parish, they only have a casting vote). Once voted in, the new chair signs their declaration of acceptance as the officer of Chairman and takes over the meeting immediately.