Who is a parish council responsible to?

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asked by (120 points)

3 Answers

0 votes
Your question is unclear...  a parish council is responsible to its electorate primarily.
answered by (4.6k points)
0 votes
I think it is a tad unfair to suggest the question is unclear - It is a question that members of the public might reasonably ask - in the expectation of there being some higher body that has jurisdiction or some form of regulatory capacity over them.
Perhaps another way of phrasing the question is "Who is a Town or Parish Council accountable to?"

If the Parish or Town Council has entered into any legal agreements, in theory they could are accountable to the other parties in the agreement.  But if the TC/PC is in breach of any aspect of the agreement it would be down to another party to seek redress, possibly through the civil court.  If the TC/PC commits an act of fraud or other criminal offence they could be accountable to the Crown Prosecution service and the judgement passed by the appropriate court.  IF the TC/PC fails to act on a decision notice, for example by the Information  Commissioner, they are effectively deemed to be in contempt of court.

However, if the PC/TC fails to comply with other Acts it is normally subject to such as the Local Govt Act 1972, or the  Openness and Transparency in Loc Gov 2014 regulations, they are often effectively accountable to nobody.  The Government has resisted calls to make them accountable to the Local Govt Ombudsman, unlike District, County Unitary & Metropolitan Councils.

It is easy to say they are accountable to the electorate. In practice, this isn't the case where the public don't  take any interest in the activities of their Parish Council and don't stand for election to challenge the previous councillor cohort.
answered by (3.1k points)
This is a difficult one. I am a person who takes a great deal of interest in what my PC does  but when push comes to shove residents have absolutely no influence over elected Councillors. This is particularly annoying when it comes to budget/precept setting.  It is what I call the "Councillors are always right" syndrome. You can challenge points through the auditors but generally speaking you will have to prove an unlawful action.  The converse side is that PC Councillors are volunteers and you would probably get fewer if they were subject to greater challenge.  My personal preference would be something along the lines of Community Councils where I believe speaking the budget is agreed with residents and Councillors manage the year round operation. Meanwhile my PC has introduced a "high correspondence" policy just for me. Happy days
Perhaps we should consider the definitions of responsibility  i.e. having a duty to deal with something or being accountable or to blame for something.  In those instances , a Parish Council is morally responsible to it's electorate but the electorate cannot hold them to account. In fact nobody really can apart from the CPA - if anybody reports a PC/TC for an alleged breach of criminal law and charges are brought.
+1 vote
It's a good question, but I have to side with Mrs Abster in citing the electorate as the main practical answer. Questions about the "policing" of parish councils crop up regularly, and there are certainly abuses. But as there are a great many parish councils (including town councils) the feasibility of a supervisory regime is questionable. Even when the English Standards Board was operational, its proceedings were slow, its sanctions were often mild, and it struggled to cope with numerous minor complaints.

Ultimately, it is indeed up to the electorate to take an interest in their councils and to put up and elect new candidates where there is a need for improvement. In between elections, councillors can sometimes be influenced by adverse publicity. Where a council is operating improperly, it may be possible to involve the auditor. References to the Monitoring Officer (usually senior legal officer of the district council) can be made, but there are no teeth to any decision. In extreme cases, the criminal law comes into play, but that is very unusual.

You could argue that it is difficult to get electors to engage. That is true, and my personal opinion is that all our democratic institutions need to be refreshed. There is a need for less centralisation and for more engagement with electors at all levels of government. While district and county councils are hamstrung by central government, it is difficult to generate much interest in their proceedings. It also seems true that they are happy to evade scrutiny by electors whenever possible. It won't be easy to change this situation.

So it seems that there are inherent limitations in the supervision that could be applied to parish councils. Nonetheless, it does seem that the vast majority of parish (and town) councils operate conscientiously in the interests of their citizens. They provide a valuable channel for local action and for representations to the larger authorities. The benefits seem to greatly outweigh the drawbacks.
answered by (26.1k points)
I would disagree that they are accountable to the Electorate as there is no mechanism for the Electorate to remove a councillor outside election periods or in uncontested elections.
Isn't that precisely the point here?  In order to avoid an uncontested election, you need just one percent of the electorate to care enough about the actions of their council to want to do something about it.  Maybe, just maybe, Parish Councils don't matter.  I'm paying my Parish Council £55.56 this year.  Let's call it a quid a week.  Not really worth getting too hot under the collar about, is it?
Well the original question was who is a Parish ( Town) council accountable to? I am not getting hot under the collar but offering what I regard as a pragmatic appraisal. Once again I would suggest that it is unwise to trivialise a quid a week because not everyone is in your position. If it is spent wastefully or irresponsibly it is reasonable for partitioners to make an issue and  remember there are some TC 's that bill paritionrr several hundred pounds a year for questionable admin costs and services.
It's really the same situation as the government. Who is the government responsible to? The answer might be Parliament, although that isn't obviously true in current circumstances. Ultimately, it has to be the electorate. The government can be challenged through judicial review, but with costs typically starting at £10,000 that doesn't happen too often. The same applies to a parish council, its decisions can be challenged in the High Court, but in all but a very few cases that isn't practical. You might be surprised how much effect a vigorous public campaign can have. Some councillors will resign when faced with a significant level of dissatisfaction from their neighbours. And then an election can be forced. But in the end, it's up to citizens to stand as candidates and to vote. If you have a serious issue, give it a try!

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