The Parish Council

Elham Parish Council has the opportunity to co-opt new parish councillors. For you that means that as a resident of the Parish you might like to consider standing, upholding democracy and helping make the Parish a better place. You do not have to be a member of any political party. Indeed on the contrary good parish councils are concerned with local community matters and not politics. Parish councils are democracy on your doorstep and the following might help you to understand what being a parish councillor means on a daily basis and to encourage you to stand for election.
What is a Parish Council? There is a common misunderstanding that parish councils are something to do with church administration – they are not. Parish councils are the elected first layer of local government and, as such, are closest to the electors. The next levels are the district (Shepway District Council) and county (Kent County Council). Parish councils are funded by a precept (that is an amount levied on the council tax you pay and for this Parish is currently a total of £16248 p.a ) and take responsibility for a whole range of local matters and community needs, such as allotments, and the maintenance of local facilities under the council’s control. Beyond this, they identify, support and manage local project initiatives and can fund grants to local organisations such as youth clubs and charities. Parish councils are consulted by the district council over matters such as planning applications in the parish.
By becoming a parish councillor you become someone your community will look to for help, guidance and support. A community leader with the power to influence decisions for the benefit of the people you serve. Seeing your community change for the better, as a result of decisions you have helped make, is something that can give you a sense of achievement and pride. The role is a voluntary and unpaid one. Anyone, from any background, who is eligible can be a Parish Councillor. Groups made up of diverse individuals tend to make better informed decisions. So it is important that councils have councillors who not only reflect and represent the communities they serve, but also have a broad range of skills and life experience. You don’t have to be highly educated at all or have a trade or profession. Skills gained through raising a family, caring for a sick or disabled relative, volunteering or being active in faith or community groups can be just as valuable. How much time does it take up? Elham Parish Council meets on the first Monday of each month for its monthly full council meeting, to which members of the public are always invited. Meetings may last two hours, depending on the agenda set for the meeting to discuss. In addition you may be expected to take responsibility for dealing with specific subjects, such as finance, planning or environmental issues. In addition to these regular meetings you may be required to attend other meetings representing the council such as acting as a representative to a local organisation. All such meetings won’t happen every day, so it’s not going to take over your life but on average you may need to spend 3 or 4 hours each week and maybe a bit more. Obviously there are some councillors who spend more time than this – and some less, but in the main, being a parish councillor is an enjoyable way of contributing to your community and helping to make it a better place to live and work. Council meetings are always held in the evening – as are most meetings of the other groups which councillors attend on the Council’s behalf
Councillors have three main areas of work: 1. Decision-making: through attending meetings and with other elected members, councillors decide which activities to support, where money should be spent, what services should be delivered and what policies should be implemented; 2. Monitoring: councillors make sure that their decisions lead to efficient and effective services by keeping an eye on how well things are working; 3. Getting involved locally: as local representatives, councillors have responsibilities towards their parishioners and local organisations. This often depends on what the councillor wants to achieve and how much time is available. Training can be had and you get great support from the Parish Clerk. How long does a parish councillor serve for? Once elected, parish councillors sit on the council for a maximum of four years. If they then want to stay in the post they can stand for re-election.
To stand for election or co-option on a parish council, you must:
• be a UK or commonwealth citizen, or;
• be a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or;
• be a citizen of another Member state of the European Union;
• be a least 18 years old.
• be eligible to stand for an election for a particular parish, you must:
• be an elector of the parish, or;
• for the whole of the previous 12 months have occupied (as owner or tenant) land or other premises in the parish, or;
• during the previous 12 months have worked in the parish (as your principal or only place of work), or;
• for the whole of the previous 12 months lived in the parish or within three miles of the parish boundary.
Interested? The best way to find out what it’s like to be a Parish Councillor is to telephone or meet with me as the Parish Clerk or talk to someone who’s doing it now. Come along to a parish council meeting, speak to one of the councillors and find out what they think of the job. If you want to become a parish councillor there are two things you need to do: get yourself nominated and get voted in at the election or co-option. If you choose not to stand as councillor please urge someone else to do so and remember to vote in any case.

For further information, please contact Cathy Skinner, Clerk to Elham Parish Council, 01304 830200.