COMMUNITY GOVERNANCE REVIEW - STANWIX
From the outset, let there be no doubt whatsoever, Stanwix Rural Parish Council (SRPC) is and always has been fully supportive of the principle of creating parish councils in the urban areas of Carlisle.
However, SRPC is greatly concerned that statements advocating a Stanwix Village Council, both in the press and on social media - such as the one below - and which are linked directly to party political campaigning, are over simplified and misleading.
“The Stanwix Village Council will cost peanuts to run. To be a little more accurate, about the cost of a bag of chips every month for the average resident. The Village Councillors will not receive any allowances, only a part-time 'Village Clerk' will need to be paid to run the bank account, minute the meetings, do the accounts and so on.” [B Wernham, Nextdoor web post 3 February 2022]
SRPC believes that in order to enable properly informed decision making the people of Stanwix should be in full possession of the facts with regard to key considerations.
It is important to note that as most parish councils are small, compared to other tiers of local government, they can only function effectively by avoiding party politics. Even in those which may include members who also serve on district or county councils, party political rivalry is customarily set aside at the door to the meeting.
The Parish Council: Parish councils are a tier of local government. By law, they must have at least 5 councillors, other than this there is no statutory number. In law, they exist as an entity in their own right and are totally distinct from their members. A parish council is bound by statutory regulations and is not a free agent, that may act as it wishes. A parish council does not have the authority to undertake activities involving third party property, such as cleaning graffiti from bus stops. This is the job of the property owner, and using parish council resources for such projects would be a misuse of public finance and may also expose the council to sanctions or legal action. Although parish councils have specific powers these are limited, and in addressing issues such as highway maintenance, policing, public transport, street lighting etc. – it can only lobby the relevant authority, or organisation, on behalf of its community. If it can justify, and afford, the expense a Parish Council may employ a ‘Lenghthsman’. This is an old term still used to describe a person employed to carry out a limited range of small scale maintenance work involving parish council assets, and sometimes, with the agreement of the highway authority, work on minor roads to a standard set by the highway authority.
Parish Clerk: The correct title for this position is Parish Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer. The Clerk to the Council is the Proper Officer of the Council, a position equating to the Chief Executive in a larger authority. The Clerk is far from being simply a ‘book-keeper’ or ‘Village Clerk’ – disrespectful, disparaging and belittling descriptions that show little understanding of the role. Of all the people involved in a parish council the Parish Clerk is by far the most important. The clerk must have a significant depth of knowledge in areas of local government administration, some areas of law, taxation, accountancy, IT, and many other disciplines. The position is one of considerable responsibility and trust. A good clerk will ensure that what needs to be done is done properly and lawfully, and that everything runs smoothly for the overall benefit of the community. A Clerk is expected to possess, or to work toward, a Certificate in Local Council Administration and in order to qualify must attain a full 100% score. A good clerk is therefore not a cheap option. Pay scales are set by the National Association of Local Councils and are currently set between £17,842 - £77,783, with a mid-scale rate of £34,728 – all pro-rata.
Parish Councillors: These are not simply ‘volunteers’ but are elected members of a local authority defined in law. They are governed by a code of conduct, and must declare their relevant financial and other interests in the public Register of Members Interests. Individual councillors cannot make decisions on behalf of the council, these are the responsibility of the council as a whole. Parish councils are allowed to implement a scheme of members allowances and this option is entirely at the discretion of the parish council. Whether or not a new Stanwix Council would pay allowances, and the level at which they might be set, is therefore entirely uncertain.
Precept: The likely level of precept is impossible to quantify at this time, and in reality may not be ‘as cheap as chips’. The precept would be set by the new parish council and must be soundly based on its projected budgetary requirements for the forthcoming financial year. This sum would then be converted by the collecting authority, currently the City Council, into an amount per Council Tax Band and added onto the Council Tax bill. The precept cannot simply be estimated and ways then found to spend it. The Band D precept is the standard yardstick value, that for SRPC is currently £32.96 based on a total annual precept of £46,500. It is important for householders in Tarraby View and Millcroft, who currently pay the Stanwix Rural Parish Precept, to be aware that change to the parish boundary, transferring them to a new parish council area, may mean paying a higher precept set by the new council. If the new council precept were to be significantly higher then, of course, individual household precept contributions would also be significantly higher. While some of Carlisle’s parish councils precept under £1000, Wetheral precepts £150,000 and Brampton £171,231.
Parish Area: The boundary of any new parish council will ultimately be determined by the Boundary Commission, as will any need for dividing the parish into a number of electoral wards. The Boundary Commission warns that Community Governance Reviews should carefully consider any changes proposed to existing parish boundaries, as these can have ‘Consequential Effects’ on the boundaries for other tiers of local government.
Planning: Parish councils have absolutely no power in deciding planning applications. They are statutory consultees and can only comment or object - but that is all. The Local Planning Authority (LPA) makes the decision and frequently disregards a parish council’s recommendation. A parish council has no statutory responsibility to produce a five-year plan. It may voluntarily produce a Neighbourhood Plan which, if approved by an examiner and ratified by the community through a referendum can be adopted by the LPA as supplementary planning guidance.