All About Local Councils

This booklet has a slightly more urban slant and while aimed at a more urban audience is still relevant as a resource to all local councils. There are two brand new case studies and the booklet gives simplified explanations about the role and work of local councils and their councillors, explains the electoral process and provides a number of case studies highlighting the work of a selection of local councils.

Roles and Responsibilities

The best councils have a clerk and councillors who work as a team, respecting each others roles and responsibilities, working together to serve their community.


Roles and Responsibilities

Everyone in the council has their own roles and responsibilities; councillors and officers have different but complementary roles on the council. Councillors are democratically elected representatives of their communities who set the direction of the council and ensure that the community’s priorities are identified and delivered. Officers have a responsibility to advise the council on whether decisions are lawful and recommend ways in which decisions may be implemented; they are not answerable to individual councillors.

More information

Civility and Respect Roles and Responsibilities Guidance

The Good Councillor’s Guide

Model Councillor Officer Protocol

The Council

Although councillors act as individuals, the Council is a corporate body with a legal existence of its own.  Its decisions are the responsibility of the whole body and not the individual councillors.

Councils have been granted powers by Parliament including the power to raise money through taxation (the precept) and a range of powers to spend public money.  The activities your council chooses to undertake will be based upon the needs and aspirations of your community.

Parish and town councils have only a few statutory duties compared to principle authorities, and enjoy a greater freedom to choose which action they take using a broad range of powers.

A good council does the following:

  • plays a vital part in representing the interests of the community it serves
  • improves the quality of life of local people and the local environment
  • influences other decision-makers, for example, in planning matters
  • delivers services to meet local needs
  • works with other groups in the community to develop the community and provide better services to the electors

The Council as an Employer

The law requires that at all times the council must act as a responsible employer.  Rules protect your employees and your council.

Council employees, the clerk and other roles, enjoy the full security of the law whether they are full-time or part-time workers, or an employee on a fixed term contract. Employment law protects them in terms of pay, pension rights, annual leave and training. It also protects them from bullying or harassment and discrimination.

For further information, please see our Employment page.

Councillors bring many skills and experiences to the table, and every councillor can make a contribution.  The following list gives a taster of the things a councillor should do:

  • effectively represents the interests of their ward or parish
  • actively and constructively contributes to good governance
  • actively encourages community participation and citizen involvement in the work of the council
  • knows and has contact with key local stakeholders
  • represents the council to the community
  • is a channel of communication for the ward/parish and ensures constituents are informed of services and decisions that affect them and the reasons for these decisions
  • develops and maintains a working knowledge of organisations operating within the area
  • deals with constituents’ enquiries and representations fairly and without prejudice
  • contributes to the formation of the council’s policies and plans by active involvement in council meetings
  • undertakes appropriate training and development to help fulfil the requirements of the councillors role
  • acts as the councils representative on outside bodies and reports back

Conduct and Interests

There are seven Nolan Principles which define the standards of public life.  They are:

  • Selflessness – you should act in the public interest
  • Integrity – you should not put yourself under any obligations to others, allow them improperly to influence you or seek benefit for yourself, family, friends or close associates
  • Objectivity – you should act impartially, fairly, and on merit
  • Accountability – you should be prepared to submit to public scrutiny necessary to ensure accountability
  • Openness – you should be open and transparent in your actions and decisions unless there are clear and lawful reasons for non-disclosure
  • Honesty – you should always be truthful
  • Leadership – as a councillor, you should promote, support and exhibit high standards of conduct and be willing to challenge poor behaviour.

Each local council adopts a Code of Conduct that is in line with the Nolan Principles and deals with councillors’ obligations to register and disclose their interests.  Any complaints about a councillors’ conduct must be dealt with by the principal authority’s monitoring officer.

Councillors must declare their business and financial interests called ‘Disclosable Pecuniary Interests’. These include: employment, land and business interests. It is a potential criminal offence to fail to register or declare a DPI, discuss and/or voting on a matter where there is a DPI.

The chairman is elected at the annual parish council meeting in May each year (not to be confused with the annual parish/town meeting). This office is created by legislation and commands respect. They are accountable to the council for ensuring the business at council meetings is conducted appropriately.

Chairman have a duty to ensure meetings run smoothly and all business is properly considered.  Their power to regulate council meetings is derived for councils standing orders. They have few other powers.  For instance, it is unlawful for a council to delegate decision making to any individual councillor, and the chairman in no different. But a chairman can use a second, or casting vote in the event a vote is tied.

The chairman often enjoys a special relationship with the public, especially in towns where the chairman is also the mayor.  This role may include welcoming official visitors, opening events. public speaking.  This is one of the reasons the Chairman can claim an allowance.

The chairman will also work closely with the Clerk to plan meetings and ensure everyone is adequately briefing and prepared for the meeting..

The clerk is the proper officer of the council in law and is an employee of the council (they cannot be self-employed).  They are a vital team member providing independent, impartial legal and financial advice and information to support the council’s decisions. The clerk has a number of responsibilities:

  • prepare the agenda and summon the councillors to meetings
  • to write up the minutes as a legal record of the decisions made at the meeting.
  • provide advice and administrative support and implement the council’s decisions.
  • the clerk may have to act as a project manager, personnel director, public relations officer, finance administrator or a number of other roles.
  • the clerk is often (but not always) the Responsible Financial Officer
  • the clerk works for the council and is not at the beck and call of individual councillors (including the chairman)
  • the clerk can be delegated decision-making powers in order to act on behalf of the council

A crucial part of the clerk’s role is offering advice and guidance to the council, even when that guidance may not be what individual councillors want to hear.