What are community and town councils?
There are 735 community and town councils in Wales: they are corporate bodies and local authorities. They have a powerful voice to represent local people.
What do these councils do?
Community and town councils are part of local government closest to the people. They serve the smallest area and are responsible for the most local of matters. Very importantly, these councils can “precept” – raising a sum collected the council tax each year to improve facilities and services for local people.
In Wales they are known as community councils or town councils if they cover a large urban area. In England they are called parish councils. In both England and Wales they are elected units of local government whose activities are controlled by Acts of Parliament or legislation introduced by the Welsh Government.
Community and town councils have a number of basic responsibilities in making the lives of local communities more comfortable, many of which are often taken for granted. Essentially these powers fall within three main categories: representing the whole electorate within the community; delivering services to meet local needs; and striving to improve quality of life in the community.
Individual powers include the provision and maintenance of community transport schemes, traffic calming measures, local youth projects, tourism activities, leisure activities, car parks, village greens, public lavatories, litter bins, street lighting, street cleaning, burial grounds, allotments, bus shelters, commons, open spaces, footpaths, bridleways, and crime reduction measures.
Community and town councils can also comment on planning applications – they are statutory consultees (they have to be consulted if they so wish) and can be represented at public inquiries.
The Local Government (Wales) Measure 2011 introduced the new power of ‘well being’ reflecting the Welsh Government’s initiative to revitalise local democracy enabling the sector to do more to improve the local social, economic and environmental situation of an area.
What is a Councillor?
Community and town councillors are elected to represent the people living in their local area at the closest level to the community. When decisions are being made they are there to put the views of the electors across.
What do Councillors do?
They have a duty to act properly as a councillor. In particular the have a responsibility to:
- attend community or town council meetings when summoned to do so; the notice to attend a council meeting is, in law a summons, because you have a duty to attend;
- prepare for meetings by studying the agenda and making sure you are properly informed about issues to be discussed, taking advice where appropriate;
- take part in meetings and form objective judgements based on what is best for the community – and then to abide by the majority decisions;
- ensure, with other councillors, that the council is properly managed;
- act on behalf of the whole electorate equally, and not just those who supported your election campaign; similarly take an interest in all issues equally and not just those local issues for which you campaigned; listen, and then represent the views of the community when discussing council business and working with outside bodies;
- maintain proper standards of behaviour as an elected representative of the people.
Councillors have three main components to their work:
- Decision making – Through meetings and attending committees with other elected members, councillors decide which activities to supports, where money should be spent, what services should be delivered and what policies should be implemented. In undertaking their role they are bound to observe the provisions of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct.
- Monitoring – Councillors make sure that their decisions lead to efficient and effective services by keeping an eye on how well things are working.
- Getting involved locally – As local representatives, councillors have responsibilities towards their constituents and local organisations. These responsibilities and duties often depend on what the councillor wants to achieve and how much time is available and may include: going to meetings of local organisations such as tenants’ associations; going to meetings of bodies affecting the wider community; taking up issues on behalf of members of the public; running a surgery for residents to raise issues; or meeting with individual residents in their own homes.
The Welsh Government have published a set of public sector values to guide how public services work. These are:
- working for the long term
- always growing and improving
- working together
- treating everyone with respect
- putting citizens first
How much time does it take up?
Quite often councillors say that their duties occupy them for about three to seven hours a week. Obviously there are some councillors who spend more time than this – and some less, but in the main, being a town councillor is an enjoyable way of contributing to your community, and helping to make it a better place to live and work.
Am I qualified?
Yes – most people are. However there are a few rules.
You have to be:
- a British subject, or a citizen of the Commonwealth or the European Union; and
- on the “relevant date” (i.e. the day on which you are nominated or if there is a poll the day of the election) 18 years of age or over;
- on the “relevant day” a local government elector for the council area for which you want to stand; or
- have during the whole of the 12 months preceding that day occupied as owner or tenant any land or other premises in the council area; and
- during that 12 month period resided in the council area (or within three miles of it).
You cannot stand for election if you:
- are subject of a bankruptcy restriction order or interim order.
- have, within five years before the day of election, been convicted in the United Kingdom of any offence and have had a sentence of imprisonment (whether suspended or not) for a period of over three months without the option of a fine.
- you work for the council you want to become a councillor for (but you can work for other local authorities, including the principal authorities that represent the same area).
How to become a councillor
Town Councillors are elected by the public and serve five-year terms. Following elections, town councils appoint a Mayor/Chairman.
Town Council Elections
Elections of town councillors usually take place on the first Thursday in May every four years. For most local councils in Wales the election year is 2004, 2008 etc. However, when the unitary authority election (i.e. Pembrokeshire County Council) is held in a different year, this is also the year of the town council election.
From time to time reorganisation of local government causes alteration of the election day and election year.
The election timetable is as follows:
- Publication of notice of election: Not later than the twenty-fifth day before the day of election
- Delivery of Nomination papers: Not later than noon on the nineteenth day before the day of election
- Publication of list of candidates: Not later than noon on the seventeenth day before the day of election
- Delivery of notices of withdrawals of candidature: Not later than noon on the sixteenth day before the day of election
- Notice of Poll: Not later than the sixth day before the day of election
- Polling: Between 07:00 and 22:00 on the day of the election
- In calculating the timetable, the Bank holidays and weekends are disregarded
A prospective candidate must deliver or send by post to the Returning Officer (Chief Executive, County Hall, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire SA61 1TP) a valid nomination paper. This form is obtained from the Officer. The candidate’s surname, forenames, residence and description (if required) must be entered and his or her number and prefix letter from the current register of electors. The Returning Officer has a copy of this register, and the clerk of the local council normally has one.
The nomination paper must also contain similar particulars of a proposer and a seconder. They must be electors for the area for which the candidate seeks election (i.e. the ward): they must sign it.
The returning officer appointed by a unitary authority is the person responsible for the conduct and arrangement for community and town council elections. If you are considering becoming a candidate for election it could be wise to contact the Returning Officer to obtain any more detailed information. Also, for more information about what life is like as councillor contact One Voice Wales (mailto:www.onevoicewales.org.uk), or Haverfordwest Town Council on 01437 763771.
If a seat becomes vacant mid-term (or if there are not enough candidates to fill all council seats at election time) the council will hold a by-election. This type of vacancy is displayed as a Notice of Casual Vacancy.
In certain circumstances the council may then co-opt members to the council. This type of vacancy is displayed as a Notice of Co-option.
Notices for election are displayed on our website, noticeboards and social media platforms. Each notice will include details on how to apply to be considered for the vacancy.
The above information has been adapted from a One Voice Wales publication.