Parish & Town Councils
Town and parish councils play an important part in supporting communities across our county. This page gives an explanation of their role and how they are funded and organised.
What is a parish council?
There are two sorts of parishes in an area. There are civil parishes - the first tier of local government - and ecclesiastical parishes that are centred around an Anglican church (and have a parochial church council). The boundaries for these two are not always aligned.
A civil parish is an independent local authority for villages, smaller towns, and suburbs of urban areas. Each parish has a parish (or town) meeting and where the electorate exceeds 200, has a parish council. In a more urban area, a parish council may choose to be known as a town council. They are generically known as local councils.
Local councils are statutory bodies funded principally by an annual precept. The precept is collected through council tax by the county council and is paid to the councils in two six-monthly instalments. Parish and town councils can apply for other funding such as grant and funding awards, but they do not receive funds direct from central government.
There are 104 local councils in County Durham. There are 13 town councils and 91 parish councils. In addition there are 22 parish meetings where no formal local council exists. Please see the County Durham Association of Local Councils website for a list of parishes.
Many parish and town councils have their own websites. Have a look at the list of parish and town council websites to find out more.
What do town and parish councils do?
The local councils bring many benefits to an area, particularly in relation to their ability to represent the community at grass roots level. This is because they're composed of representatives elected by the people of the parish to make decisions and speak on their behalf.
Local councils also have a higher level of responsiveness to community needs and interests. They can represent local interests to external bodies and have a responsibility for a single area or neighbourhood. Many councils work to enhance or improve local services, often in partnership with the county council and other partners.
Local councils are subject to a similar range of statutory requirements as principal authorities. While most councils deliver a range of services to their communities, some choose not to do so. Local councils also organise community events and fetes etc.
Since 2007, local councils also have a statutory power known as the 'power of well-being'. This means that they have the power to do anything which it considers likely to achieve the promotion or improvement of the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area. There are particular criteria that they must follow to do this but it means that they can, for example, use part of their precept to support an affordable housing scheme in order to make homes more affordable for local people.
Local councils are encouraged to achieve Quality Councils status. The aim of this scheme is to provide benchmark minimum standards for parish and town councils. The scheme also aims to provide an enhanced relationship between local councils, principal authorities and community and voluntary sector organisations. The county council provides funding through a bursary scheme to help smaller local councils to achieve Quality Parish Status and there are currently 14 Quality Councils within the county.
Who runs the local council?
Many people are involved in the work of a parish council:
- Councillors who make decisions at meetings on its activities and what areas it should spend its money on. Members are elected for a term of four years and, in between these terms, by-elections are held to fill any vacancies that may occur. Under the Localism Act, parish and town councillors are required by law to register their disclosable pecuniary interests. These are recorded in a Town and parish councils register of interests and published on our website. They should also be published online by parish and town councils who have an established website.
- The Chairman of the Council who is nominated and elected at a council's AGM in May of every year to preside over meetings.
- The Clerk who is a paid member of council staff and advises councillors on legal and procedural matters as well as acting as a point of contact for residents. Some parish councils do not have a dedicated clerk and share one with other parish councils in their area.