Parish Councils are the first tier of local government and are usually the first point of contact for anyone wanting to discuss community ideas or issues. They play a vital part in representing the interests of the communities they serve and improving the quality of life and the local environment. Furthermore they influence other decision makers, including district and county councils, the police and other statutory service providers and can, in many cases, deliver services to meet local needs.
There are around 10,000 parish and town councils in England comprising almost 80,000 unpaid councillors who are elected to serve for four years, unless a casual vacancy arises which may be filled by a by-election or by co-option. Their activities fall into three main categories: representing the local community, delivering services to meet local needs, and improving quality of life and community well being.
Parish Councils have a wide range of powers granted by Parliament, including the important authority to raise money through taxation (the precept) and a range of powers to spend public money. Through an extensive range of discretionary powers, parish councils provide and maintain a variety of important and visible local services including allotments, bridleways, burial grounds, bus shelters, car parks, commons and open spaces, community transport schemes, community safety and crime reduction measures, events and festivals, footpaths, leisure and sports facilities, litter bins, public toilets, planning, street cleaning and lighting, tourism activities, traffic calming measures, village greens and youth projects.
The administration of the Council is managed by the Parish Clerk, who is a paid employee acting in a combined statutory role as secretary and treasurer of the council. They may be full-time or part-time, depending on the amount of council business. The clerk also provides procedural guidance for the Council itself and ensures that statutory and other provisions governing or affecting the running of the Council are observed. The necessary financial monitoring and reporting are the clerk’s responsibility, and in this role, the clerk is known as the “Responsible Financial Officer” (RFO) of the Council. The clerk is also the "Proper Officer" of the Council. They enact the decisions of the Council, and they receive and issue official correspondence on behalf of the Council. The clerk also prepares agendas for meetings of the Council and its committees, gives notice of these to the Council members and the public, and records and publishes the minutes of these meetings. They are the formal point of contact with the public, and are a source of information for the public about the Council’s activities.
In Christchurch, the Parish Council owns the Community Centre, although an independent charity is responsible for the day-to-day running of it. It also owns the Recreation Ground and the children's play equipment and an adjoining field. The Parish Council owns all of the street lights within the village, as well as other items, including the war memorial, the bus shelter, the village sign, the defibrillator, dog bins etc. In addition to the annual precept, members bid for funding each year from the County Council for highway improvements and are always seeking other opportunities to raise funding for local projects.