< Governance Toolkit

  1. Introduction
  2. List of Parish Council Powers
  3. A rough guide to who does what

1    Introduction

There are some 8,500 councils at parish level in England. As a tier of local government they are elected bodies, with discretionary powers and rights laid down by Parliament to represent their communities and provide services for them. Policy has centred on the fact that they act as a focus for local opinion, and provide a way to get things done in a way that is best suited to their local community.

Parish councils in their current form were created by the Local Government Act 1894. Their governance, shape and form was consolidated in the Local Government Act 1972 (the Act). Under the Act, by passing a resolution, a parish council may be renamed a “town council”. This is particularly important since old urban district councils were incorporated into parish form. As a result of changes to the Act, brought about by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, a parish council may be known alternatively as a “community”, “village” or “neighbourhood” council. This latest development is a reflection of the change in the nature of parishes, especially the needs of urban and suburban areas where there has been little tradition or expectation of a parish tier of local government.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) quite sensibly use the generic expression of “local councils” to describe all councils which fall into this class of authority. For ease of use, and to ensure we don’t clash with any publication of NALC or SLCC, we have used the legal term of “parish council” throughout this publication to mean all councils at the parish level of local government.

All councils are constituted in the same way; councillors are elected by the local government electorate and each council has a Chair, who must be one of the elected councillors. Councils vary in size and capacity; many are small, representing a few hundred people, others represent communities of over 30,000 people with budgets of over £1m and expenditure and staffing levels per head of population similar to a small district council.

A council is a corporate body with perpetual succession and a name. Local councillors are often referred to as “Members” – for example in the Code of Conduct. The number of councillors is fixed by the district (or unitary) council. A parish council’s lawful acts, assets and liabilities are its own and not those of its councillors or any other council.

A council must act within the law. It can only spend, raise or use money if it has a statutory power to do so, otherwise it acts ultra vires (beyond its powers). Parish councils have a wide range of powers under different acts of Parliament. Most of these powers are discretionary, i.e. a council may do something, rather than it must do something.

A parish council has the unfettered right to raise money by precept (a mandatory demand) on the district council. The precept required by a parish council is then collected by the principal council as part of the council tax levied on tax payers in that parish.

Parish councils act as sounding boards for local opinion, though the range of services and amenities provided varies enormously. They often work with local voluntary organisations and other tiers of local government and have an important role in providing and improving very local services and amenities. Councils are represented nationally by NALC, referred to above, which works with independent county associations to provide routine support for councils and their clerks. County training partnerships provide training to the members and employees of parish councils.

There are certain obligations which by law a parish council must fulfil. For example:

  • It must hold an annual meeting;
  • It must hold at least three other meetings a year;
  • It must appoint such officers as it believes necessary for the proper discharge of its functions. This must include an officer responsible for the proper administration of financial affairs;
  • It must make Standing Orders for the supply of goods and services to the council.

The arrangements for meetings and proceedings of local councils are set out in Part II of Schedule 12 to the Local Government Act 1972, as supplemented by any standing orders adopted by a council.

Parish councils should not see themselves as operating in isolation. They will achieve far more by being prepared to work constructively with other public bodies and organisations around them.

Parish councils will wish to:

  • Be consulted on planning applications and will need a close relationship and understanding with the planning office of their district/unitary council. Parish councils are encouraged to prepare parish plans in consultation with the planning office with a view to the plan being taken into account by the district council in considering planning applications and preparing the local development framework.
  • Have points of contact with principal council services, such as highways, cleansing, parks, elections etc. and to contribute to the way such services are provided.
  • Work closely with the standards committee and monitoring officer of the principal council on ethical framework matters and the members’ code of conduct.
  • Be represented, collectively with other parish councils, on the Local Strategic Partnership.
  • Liaise with other stakeholders operating services within the parish council boundaries.
  • Contribute to proposals which may be made to the Secretary of State under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007

As the lowest tier of democratically elected representatives in the country, parish councils have the mandate to speak on behalf of the people they represent. It is important that parish councils learn how to do this with authority and integrity in order to have the optimum effect.


2    List of Parish Council Powers

This is not an exhaustive list. The list below is set as follows.

Duty to provide allotments.
Power to improve and adapt land for allotments, and to let grazing rights
Small Holding & Allotments Act 1908, ss. 23, 26, and 42

Baths and washhouses
Power to provide public baths and washhouses
Public Health Act 1936, ss. 221, 222, 223 and 227

Burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoria
Power to acquire and maintain Power to provide
Power to agree to maintain monuments and memorials Power to contribute towards expenses of cemeteries
Open Spaces Act 1906, Ss 9 and 10; Local Government Act 1972, s. 214; Parish Councils and Burial Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970, s. 1 Local Government Act 1972, s. 214(6)

Bus shelters
Power to provide and maintain shelters
Local Government (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1953, s. 4

Power to make bye-laws in regard to pleasure grounds
Cycle parks
Baths and washhouses
Open spaces and burial grounds Mortuaries and post-mortem rooms; Public Health Act 1875, s. 164 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, s.57(7); Public Health Act 1936, s.223 Open Spaces Act 1906, s.15 Public Health Act 1936, s.198

Power to provide public clocks
Parish Councils Act 1957, s.2

Closed churchyards
Powers as to maintenance
Local Government Act 1972, s.215

Common pastures
Powers in relation to providingv common pasture
Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908, s.34

Conference facilities
Power to provide and encourage the use of facilities
Local Government Act 1972, s.144

Community centres
Power to provide and equip buildings for use of clubs having athletic, social or recreational objectives
Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 s.19

Crime prevention
Powers to install and maintain equipment and establish and maintain a scheme for detection or prevention of crime
Power to contribute to police services e.g. PCSOs
Duty on Parish Councils to consider crime reduction in every policy and action
Local Government and Rating Act 1997, s.31 / Police Act 1996, s.92 / s17 Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (as amended)

Power to deal with ponds and ditches
Public Health Act 1936, s.260

Power to make a Dog Control Order
Power to take enforcement action against those who commit an offence against a Dog Control Order
Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Entertainment and the arts
Provision of entertainment and support of the arts
Local Government Act 1972, s.145

Flyposting and Graffiti
Power to take enforcement action against those that flypost or graffiti
Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Power to accept
Local Government Act 1972, s.139

Power to maintain footpaths and bridle-ways
Power to light roads and public places
Provision of litter bins
Powers to provide parking places for bicycles and motor-cycles, and other vehicles
Power to enter into agreement as to dedication and widening
Power to provide roadside seats and shelters
Consent of parish council required for ending maintenance of highway at public expense, or for stopping up or diversion of highway
Power to complain to highway authority as to unlawful stopping up or obstruction of highway or unlawful encroachment on roadside wastes
Power to provide traffic signs and other objects or devices warning of danger
Power to plant trees and lay out grass verges etc. and to maintain them
Highways Act 1980, ss.43,50 Parish Councils Act 1957, s.3; Highways Act 1980, s.301 / Litter Act 1983, ss.5,6 / Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, ss.57,63 / Highways Act 1980, ss.30,72 Parish Councils Act 1957, s.1 Highways Act 1980, ss.47,116 Highways Act 1980, s.130 / Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, s.72 Highways Act 1980, s.96

Power to participate in schemes of collective investment
Trustee Investments Act 1961, s.11

Power to acquire by agreement, to appropriate, to dispose of
Power to accept gifts of land
Local Government Act 1972, ss.124, 126, 127 / Local Government Act 1972, s.139

Provision of receptacles
Power to take enforcement action against those that litter
Litter Act 1983, ss.5,6 Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

Powers to promote
Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976, s.7

Mortuaries and post mortem rooms
Powers to provide mortuaries and post mortem rooms
Public Health Act 1936, s.198

Open spaces
Power to acquire land and maintain
Public Health Act 1875, s.164 Open / Spaces Act 1906, ss.9 and 10

Parish documents
Powers to direct as to their custody
Local Government Act 1972, s.226

Telecommunications facilities
Power to pay public telecommunications operators any loss sustained providing telecommunication facilities
Telecommunications Act 1984, s.97

Public buildings and village hall
Power to provide buildings for public meetings and assemblies
Local Government Act 1972, s.133

Public conveniences
Power to provide
Public Health Act 1936, s.87

Sustainable communities
Able to be represented on a panel of representatives to be consulted on proposals that would contribute to sustainable communities
Sustainable Communities Act 2007

Town and country planning
Right to be notified of planning applications
Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Sched.1, para. 8

Power to encourage visitors and provide conference and other facilities
Local Government Act 1972, s.144

Power to encourage visitors and provide conference and other facilities
Local Government Act 1972, s.144

Traffic calming
Powers to contribute financially to traffic calming schemes
Highways Act 1980, s.274A

Powers in relation to car-sharing schemes, taxi fare concessions and information about transport
Powers to make grants for bus services
Local Government and Rating Act 1997, s.26, 28 and 29 / Transport Act 1985, s.106A

War memorials
Power to maintain, repair, protect and alter war memorials
War Memorials (Local Authorities’ Powers) Act 1923, s.1; as extended by Local Government Act 1948, s.133 Public Health Act 1936, s.125

Power to well-being of the area (for eligible councils)
s2 and 4 of the Local Government Act 2000 (as amended by Part 4 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007)


3    A very rough guide to who does what

NOTE: Both the county and district functions are discharged by single authorities in the case of metropolitan district councils and unitary councils.

County Councils

Monitoring Officer for County Members only

Most schools Special education / Nursery, adult, community

Personal Social Services
Securing provision for the elderly, children and those with disabilities (including social care and health and residential care) Inspection Services

Strategic planning/structure plans Minerals and waste planning Historic buildings

Public transport Highways and parking Traffic management Footpaths and bridleways Transport planning / Street lighting

Emergency Planning

Parks and open spaces Support for the arts Archives and Record Office Museums/Art Galleries

Economic Development

Tourism Development

Environmental Services
Refuse disposal Recycling / Gypsy sites

Trading Standards

Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths

Library & Information Service

Grants to voluntary bodies

Community Planning

District Councils

Monitoring Officer / Ethics & Probity for District & Parish Members

Management and maintenance of council houses / Working with Housing Associations (known as Registered Social Landlords) Housing advice / Renovation grants Homelessness Unfit housing Residential care

Cemeteries and Burials, Crematoria

Local Development Framework Development control (Planning applications and enforcement) Advertising consent / Historic buildings Conservation areas Tree preservation

Unclassified roads Off-street car parking Traffic management / Footpaths and bridleways Road safety / Local transport plans Street lighting / Street naming

Emergency Planning

Parks, open spaces and halls Swimming pools and leisure centres / Support for the arts Museums and art galleries

Economic Development

Tourism Development

Environmental Services
Refuse collection/street cleansing / Recycling / Management of travellers/gypsy sites / Food safety / Public conveniences Markets / Dog and pest control Noise abatement Health & Safety




Electoral / Registration/Elections

Council Tax and Business / Rate collection

Grants to voluntary bodies

Community Planning Community Safety (anti-social behaviour, alcohol byelaws)

Parish Councils


Closed Churchyards Burials/Cemeteries

Planning – as consultees

Bus shelters

War and other memorials

Street lighting

Public Open Spaces Village Halls Playing fields
Museums and the Arts

Tourism Development

Litter bins and litter clearance

Local charities


Public seating / Licensing – as consultees


Grants to voluntary bodies


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