Parish Councils - Frequently Asked Questions

Can I attend meetings of the council?
Yes. All Parish Council and Committee and Sub-Committee meetings are open to the public. However a council can resolve to exclude the public and press from all or part of their meeting on the grounds that it may be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted, or for other special reasons stated in the resolution and arising from the nature of the business of the proceedings (Public Bodies (Admission to meetings) Act 1960 s1). However these are usually the exception and only happen rarely. To give electors the opportunity to attend meetings, notices advising of the date time and location of meetings and the Agenda must be advertised throughout the parish with at least three clear days notice of the meeting. (Note that ‘clear days’ excludes Sundays and Bank holidays). Some councils, including Wolston Parish Council, also use a Parish Council or community website to inform residents of meetings and the Agenda.

Can I see the minutes of council meetings and other papers?
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 you may see and have a copy of the 'recorded' information held by the council (unless it is classed as exempt information in the Act). This includes reports, minutes, correspondence and emails. The information has to be provided within 20 working days. There may be a photocopying charge. Minutes of Parish Council meetings are available through the Parish Council's ‘Publications Scheme’, which will determine how you can access the minutes and other documents (email, hard copy, inspection on website) and if there will be a charge for producing hard copies. If you wish to see or receive a copy of any ‘recorded’ information held by Wolston PC please contact the Clerk on 024 7654 5515, or email to
clerk.wolstonpc@wolston.me.uk.

Am I allowed to speak at the Parish Council meetings?
Members of the public are not permitted to speak while the normal business of the meeting is being conducted, although in exceptional circumstances it is permitted for Councillors to agree Standing Orders to be temporarily suspended. However, in accordance with good practice, Wolston Parish Council has a session for the public to raise matters of interest which starts at 7.15pm, prior to the normal Parish Council meeting which starts at 7.45pm. Please note that Councillors are not permitted to make decisions on anything which is not included on the agenda, so if a member of the public wishes to raise an item which will require a decision please advise the Clerk at least 7 days prior to the date of the meeting. Details of how to contact the Clerk are here.

Who is on the council?
A Parish Council must have a minimum of five members – in Wolston there are 10. Councillors are elected by electors within their parish and normally hold office for four years following elections. Each year the Councillors elect one of their fellow Councillors to be the Chairman of the council.

How do I find out who the councillors are?
From the Clerk, or on the Parish Council section of the Wolston Village website here.

Do councillors have to declare any financial or other personal interests they have in a matter under discussion by the council?
Yes. All councillors have to abide by a Code of Conduct which sets out which interests have to be declared. They also have to enter relevant financial and other interests in a special register that is open to inspection by members of the public. The Clerk to the Council has a copy of the Code of Conduct and the register of interests may be inspected at the Borough Council's offices and is also available online here.

How do people get elected to the council?
Elections are held every four years. The next scheduled elections in Wolston are May 2018. When elections are held you need to be nominated to stand for election and follow the election processes in operation at the time. The Borough Council's Electoral Services Officer can provide you with further advice on this - telephone 01788 533533.

Sometimes the number of people who put their names forward for election equals or is less than the number of seats on the council. In these circumstances there is not a poll on election day and the people nominated are deemed elected. If the number deemed elected is less than the number of seats on the council, then the council is required to co-opt people onto the council to fill the vacancies.

If a seat on the council becomes vacant between normal elections then a special procedure has to be followed which can lead to an election or, more usually, the co-option of a new councillor. It is good practice for a council to advertise widely in the parish when a vacancy occurs to see if there is a demand for an election and if no election is called by electors also to advertise when it seeks to co-opt a member onto their council.

To whom are the councillors accountable?
The electors of the parish. Elections to Parish Councils are held every four years. The council's accounts are subject to scrutiny by both the Internal and External auditor who may both investigate alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct and other governance documents by individual councillors. Penalties for breaches of the relevant codes by either Councillors or the Clerk may be severe.

What governance rules does the Parish Council have to follow ?
All Parish Councils are required to follow ‘proper practices’. These are defined in Governance and Accountability for Smaller Authorities in England.  In particular, in the 'Annual Governance and Accountability Return', Councillors are required to make an assertion that seven principal governance requirements have been followed. These are:

  • Financial management and preparation of accounting statements: We have put in place arrangements for effective financial management during the year, and for the preparation of the accounting statements;
  • Internal Control: We maintained an adequate system of internal control, including measures designed to prevent and detect fraud and corruption and reviewed its effectiveness;
  • Compliance with laws, regulations and proper practices: We took all reasonable steps to assure ourselves that there are no matters of actual or potential non-compliance with laws, regulations and proper practices that could have a significant financial effect on the ability of this smaller authority to conduct its business or on its finances;
  • Exercise of public rights: We provided proper opportunity during the year for the exercise of electors rights in accordance with the requirements of the Accounts and Audit Regulations;
  • Risk Management: We carried out an assessment of the risks facing this smaller authority and took appropriate steps to manage those risks, including the introduction of internal controls and/or external insurance cover where required;
  • Internal Audit: We maintained throughout the year an adequate and effective system of internal audit of the accounting records and control systems;
  • Reports from Auditors: We took appropriate action on all matters raised in reports from internal and external audit.

What do I do if I have a complaint against the council?
First of all speak informally to the Clerk or Chairman to see if there is an easy way of resolving the matter. If this fails you will need to write formally to the Clerk to the Council asking for a copy of the council's complaints procedure. You should return this to the council who should consider your complaint at its next meeting. Hopefully, this will lead to a resolution. If it does not, then the next steps will depend on the nature of the complaint. If you believe there has been some other kind of financial or other impropriety you should initially discuss it with the Rugby Borough Council's ‘Monitoring Officer’ who will advise. Please note that the Local Government Ombudsman (who investigates maladministration) does not have any jurisdiction with respect to town and Parish Councils.

What do I need to do if I have a complaint about a councillors Conduct?
If you believe there has been a breach of the Code of Conduct you need to write to the Rugby Borough Council Monitoring Officer, Town Hall, Evreux Way, Rugby CV21 2RR. Further advice will be provided by the Monitoring Officer.

What powers do Parish Councils have with respect to planning applications?
Parish councils are a Statutory Consultee and are consulted by the relevant Planning Authority (Rugby Borough Council) on all planning applications. Any views expressed by the Parish Council will be taken into account by the Planning Authority before a decision is made, providing the points made are relevant to the determination of a planning application. The final decision on all planning applications is made by the Planning Authority, not the Parish Council.

What powers do Parish Councils have ?
Parish Councils have a wide range of ‘powers’ but very few duties. Powers give councils the opportunity to be able to provide certain services whereas a duty must be undertaken by law. For example the Local Government and Rating Act 1997, S.30 allows a Parish Council to contribute financially to traffic calming schemes. This means they can provide that service but do not have to. Powers essentially relate to local matters, such as looking after community buildings, open space, allotments, play areas, street lighting, bus shelters, car parks and much more. A ’duty’ means that a Parish Council must do what the law says - for example a Parish Council must appoint a Chairman responsible for the smooth running of meetings and for ensuring that all Council decisions are lawful. A council must also appoint a Clerk and Responsible Finance Officer as the council’s advisor and administrator. In a smaller Parish Council like Wolston this is usually the same person. See also Governance Toolkit for Town and Parish Councils and Overview of powers available to a Parish Council.

Wolston Parish Council holds the lease for the Wolston Leisure and Community Centre site (formerly Wolston High School) from Warwickshire County Council and is 'Custodial Trustee' of the Leisure Centre and the Village Hall; owns the playing field and sports pavilion in Dyers Lane; has provided the play and exercise equipment on both the Dyers Lane and William Cree Close play areas. Wolston Parish Council is the principal tenant of the allotments site and is responsible for the skateboard park, litter and dog waste bins, and footpath lighting.

Wolston Parish Council also employs a ‘Lengthsman’ who undertakes a schedule of maintenance work, including some grass cutting and strimming in support of the grass cutting contractors employed by the Parish Council. Note that some grassed areas are privately owned and maintenance of those areas is not the responsibility of the Parish Council. In particular the public open space and play areas on Bluemels Drive, Ardene de Gray Road and Abbots Walk are outside the control of the Parish Council as these are maintained by private management companies.