LOCAL GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE comprises several independent tiers (metropolitan, unitary, county, district [borough], and parish [town] councils) each having specific duties, rights, responsibilities and powers. The title "Borough Council" confers slightly enhanced status for district councils, similarly "Town Council" may be little more than a large parish council having a "Town Mayor," indeed some parish councils are larger than some town councils.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF PARISH COUNCILS derives from The Local Government Act of 1894 in which the local church authorities were relieved of the increasingly onerous duty of dealing with civil matters. Thus, parish councils were established to administer civil affairs, leaving parochial church councils to administer solely ecclesiastical affairs.
Other tiers of local government were subjected to radical reform during the twentieth century (the abolition of "rural" district councils and "urban" district councils and the creation of some unitary authorities, for example) leaving town and parish councils virtually unchanged.
PARISH COUNCILS exist to serve the public of the community they represent. They are the least bureaucratic and the cheapest kind of local authority in existence. Every Parish Council is an independent unit of democracy whose members are elected for four years at a time, in the same way as any other council. The Powers Available to Parish Councils are laid down in law and although all Parish Councils must meet their essential obligations, the extent to which each Council uses its other rights and powers varies considerably. Over time, and in differing circumstances, each Parish Council has inevitably developed its own role in the affairs of its Parish, dictated partly by the way in which higher authorities provide their services to the local community, and partly in response to the needs and demands of residents and organisations in that civil Parish. It is a role that continually evolves, depending on local circumstances and upon the judgement of serving Councillors.
Because the work they do has some cost, they are empowered to raise the necessary funds from residents in the parish by means of an annual "precept" collected as part of Council Tax.
In most places Council Tax comprises money collected on behalf of several authorities.
WINDLESHAM PARISH COUNCIL is one of the country's largest parish councils with a population of over 17,000 residents in its three villages - Bagshot, Lightwater and Windlesham.
It covers about a fifth of the borough of Surrey Heath in term of population and land area.
Windlesham Parish Council has adopted the committee system to deal more effectively with the scope and volume of business in its charge than would be possible just at a full council meetings. Its four committees (Finance and General Purposes Committee, Civic Amenities and Recreation Committee, Planning Committee and Personnel Committee) are enabled to discuss matters in considerable detail and depth and to make recommendations as necessary to the full Council which meets once a month. Some of these committees have also been delegated limited powers of expenditure to facilitate the smooth running of the Council. Additionally, sub-committees are appointed where appropriate, usually reporting back through one of the Committees to the full Council.
As with all other Parish Councils, all the meetings of Windlesham Parish Council are open to the public although sometimes certain confidential matters occur which will require the press and public to be excluded for part of the meeting. An assembly for all the electors of the parish (called the Annual Parish Meeting) is held every year between March and May.
The accounts, of course, are strictly audited each year, firstly by an internal auditor from a local firm of chartered accountants, and secondly by chartered auditors appointed by the Audit Commission. The internal auditor also has to check the robustness of the administrative and accounting procedures adopted by the Council.
Windlesham Parish Council has two main functions : The things it does itself and the things it tries to persuade others to do or helps them to do. Both functions are equally important and sometimes overlap.
Windlesham Parish Council - as a service provider:-
Employs staff appropriate to the Council's commitments and engages contractors where necessary (usually for very specialised work, such as tree surgery, clock repairs, etc.).
It maintains buildings (Council Chamber, Clerk's Office, Bagshot Chapel, Hook Mill Lane depot and the pavilion at Lightwater Recreation Ground), a public clock in Bagshot High Street and the Jubilee Lamp in Bagshot Square.
It provides bus shelters, public bench seats, litter bins, dog bins, safety bollards and other street furniture.
It maintains the three village war memorials and memorial gardens.
As an independent Burial Authority, it owns and maintains cemeteries at Bagshot, Lightwater and Windlesham, acquiring additional land for burials where necessary, and it provides facilities for interment of caskets, coffins and cremated remains, both for deceased residents and those who lived outside the parish.
It looks after its own public amenity areas, open spaces, recreation ground, play spaces, play equipment, and manages other public land under formal agreements with higher authorities.
It has a substantial depot equipped for maintenance and housing of plant and equipment, and storage and handling of materials and municipal waste.
It provides and manages allotments.
It maintains footpaths and bridleways in the Parish, clearing obstructions and replacing stiles with kissing gates where possible for ease of access.
It considers all planning applications and planning appeals making representations to the Local Planning Authority, County Planning Authority and The Planning Inspectorate, as appropriate.
Subject to Royal Mail and Surrey Heath Borough Council approval, Windlesham Parish Council names new roads and apartment blocks as they are constructed.
It appoints school governors and representatives on outside organisations, and is represented on an increasing number of liaison groups with other authorities, including Surrey Police, Windsor Lines Passenger Association, Surrey County Association of Parish and Town Councils.
It appoints the trustees to almshouses (Windlesham United Charities and Poors' Allotments and W. C. Lee's Resthouses).
It gives regular financial support for the maintenance of sports and recreational facilities within the Parish and provides regular financial assistance to small local voluntary and charitable organisations.
It occasionally considers more substantial grant applications for capital projects put forward for improvements to village halls, community buildings and other worthwhile village projects. It is worth bearing in mind that traditionally Surrey Heath Borough Council has been the provider of recreational and other facilities in the urban (unparished) parts of the Borough, whereas voluntary organisations have historically provided such facilities in the rural villages, including those within the Parish of Windlesham. An additional sum is levied upon Council Tax payers in the urban parts of Surrey Heath to reduce the element of double rating for these services in the parishes.
By showing early commitment to local projects in the form of grant aid, the parish council can often assist voluntary organisations in their applications for further funding from other sources.
Windlesham Parish Council - working with other authorities:-
Reports defects and problems to Surrey County Council and Surrey Heath Borough Council and to other statutory authorities, and tries to persuade them to carry out necessary repairs and improvements.
It sometimes puts pressure on the Local Highway Authority to give greater priority to certain highway safety schemes by offering joint funding.
Under a three-year financial commitment, it enabled Surrey Police to establish Police Community Safety Officers for the three villages, (a recent initiative that now attracts central government funding).
It assisted Surrey Police in establishing Safer Community Teams in Bagshot and Lightwater.
As previously stated, it can influence decisions on planning applications under the established consultation procedure and it tries to influence forward planning matters (including the preparation of supporting documents that form part of the Local Development Framework).
It is consulted on a wide variety of matters by numerous statutory bodies and other organisations dealing with national, regional and local matters, on which it submits a formal response.