What we are and what we do
Parish councils are the first tier of local government. They are elected local authorities, just like district, unitary and county councils. Warton Parish Council has been in existence since 1894.
Many parish councils choose to call themselves town councils, partly to emphasise that parish councils are not now connected with church parishes (which, in the Church of England, are run by bodies called Parochial Church Councils). Warton sticks to "parish" even though Warton itself is an historic township dating back to the 11th century. We thought that it reflected the present reality of Warton parish comprising the villages of Warton and Millhead. As parish councils are led by a chairman and town councils can call that office "Mayor", we also thought it might give us airs and graces to be a town council.
The council has eight members, six elected from the Warton ward and two from the Millhead ward. However anyone resident in (or up to three miles outside of) or owning land anywhere in the parish, is eligible to stand for election in either ward. Elections are held every four years. When elected, members must sign a declaration of acceptance of office and subscribe to the Council's Code of Conduct.
The Council meets monthly, except for August, generally on the first Tuesday of the month, except in December when, traditionally, the Chairman takes the members for a Christmas drink, so we tend to meet on a Tuesday between the 10th and 20th when we feel Christmas more upon us. All meetings are open to the public and there is an opportunity for parishioners to raise any topic in an "Open Forum" before the meeting proper. For more details see the "Agendas and Minutes" section.
What local authorities can do is prescribed by Parliament. These fall into two categories: duties, things a council must make sure is done, and powers, things it is allowed to do or spend money on getting done. Parish councils actually have very few duties, most of which are related to making sure they are run properly. Otherwise they must consider providing allotments if at least six electors want them; must adopt a closed churchyard, if the parochial Church Council asks them, and must consider the impact of all their decisions on reducing crime and disorder in the parish and on "community cohesion" and have to have "due regard" to their impact on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They also have a duty to promote "well-being" and biodiversity.
However, things that they can do - their powers - are much more numerous (follow this link for a list of these.) In addition a parish council has the power to spend a limited amount on anything it considers is of benefit to the community or part of it. This is called its "section 137 power" after the section of the Local Government Act (1972) which gives it. At present this is up to £5 per elector, so in Warton's case is over £9,000.
The dry list of powers and duties does not really reflect the work of a parish council which is much better summarised as:
- to be the mouth piece for the community, which includes giving views, on behalf of the community, on planning applications and other proposals that affect the parish and helping the other tiers of local government keep in touch with our local community.
- to be a forum for discussion on any matter of interest to the people in the parish and so to alert relevant authorities to problems that arise or work that needs to be undertaken.
- undertake projects and schemes that benefit local residents.
- work in partnership with other bodies to achieve benefits for the parish.
To do all this a parish council has to raise the money. Parishes are adept at getting other people to foot the bill for their communities, but they do need to raise money themselves, from their electors, through the Council Tax. Actually we tell the Lancaster City Council to give us a certain sum, called the "precept" and it charges the Council Tax payers of Warton an amount to pay for that. This year we have "precepted" for £13,000, which costs a Band D taxpayer in Warton £15.68 (compared with £52 for the Fire Service, £107 for the Police, £146 for the City Council and £950 for the County Council).
Only about a third of the Lancaster City Council area actually has parish councils and the City Council itself carries out parish council functions in the more urban areas of Lancaster and Morecambe. In recognition of that they charge a "special expense" of £15 per Band D on every property in the non-parished areas so rural tax-payers do not end up paying twice, for their own and for the urban areas as well. This good practice is not common in England and we are very grateful to Lancaster City for being so fair. For details of our financial controls and what your money gets spent on, see the "Accounts" section.