No, nothing to do with the church…
…well, not these days but, historically, yes. Referring to the ‘parish’ element of the ‘parish council’, as that seems the logical place to start trying to explain what the parish council is and simply describes a geographic area or territory, generally associated with a particular village or community. The boundaries for this may or may not coincide with local ecclesiastic boundaries for church purposes and this will largely depend what has happened in an area since the late 19th Century when ‘modern’ local government was born. Prior to that the system had largely been that evolved from feudal roots in the 8th Century, with local administration being led, or at least heavily administered, by the church. This linkage was severed by act of parliament in 1894 such that a church parish and a civil parish are quite distinct creatures albeit with common ancestry.
Currently then, outside major towns and cities where different models of local government can apply, the civil parish is the smallest building block from which ‘districts’ are made, and districts are then assembled into ‘counties’. So, three distinct tiers or levels exist, each with their own governance arrangements and each with their own functions.
Not all parishes have councils (some operate with just an occasional ‘parish meeting’) but all must have some means of affording their local government electors a voice. Where a parish council exists (which may also be called a town or community council), councillors, who must generally be over 18 and registered to vote, will serve four-year terms after democratic appointment (that can be by election or co-option depending on the level of interest in serving). Parish councillors are not paid but may employ a professional clerk to assist them; Broughton does this. Council meetings are generally held in public and, in Broughton, attendees are allowed to address councillors under a ‘right to speak’ procedure.
Functions of a parish council are varied and may include matters such as the provision of local facilities (allotments, recreation grounds, street lighting etc), and, increasingly, acting as a focus for capturing local opinion on policies or decisions made by the other tiers of local government, or nationally. A key example here is for planning applications, where the parish council will be consulted by the Planning Authority upon every development proposal in its area and resulting comments given due weight in deciding whether or not to grant planning permission. Additionally, parish councils can act as a facilitator or catalyst to enable voluntary groups to meet local needs directly (perhaps by providing a grant, or by accessing relevant specialist advice or assistance).
Parish councils may own property and may decide to spend money on their lawful functions. Income may be raised by various means, including by precept (that results in a small amount per household being collected as part of the council tax). Council income and expenditure accounts are open for public inspection, as are the minutes of council meetings.
Necessarily, this is a very brief summary of the history and purpose of the organisation that has produced the content you are reading but, hopefully, has sparked an interest that will prompt you to come along to a meeting, or even stand for election as a councillor in the future!