What is a Parish Council?
Wiltshire County Council is responsible for strategic services such as highways, education, libraries social services, strategic planning and refuse disposal. As Wiltshire is a unitary council they also provide the services that the Salisbury district council was responsible for including housing, local planning and refuse collection.
The Parish council in the county is often viewed as the part of government closest to the people. It is the first tier of governance, is democratically elected representing residents at parish level, that makes decisions on behalf of the people in the parish and is the first point of contact for anyone concerned with a community issue. For this reason they are a vital part of any community.
The Downton Parish is part of Downton and Ebble Valley which has its own Unitary Councillor – Richard Clewer [for details see the end of the Officers and County Councillor page]. Downton along with the parishes of Alderbury, Britford, Clarendon Park, Coombe Bissett, Firsdown, Grimstead, Landford, Laverstock, Ford and Old Sarum, Odstock, Pitton and Farley, Redlynch, West Dean, Whiteparish and Winterslow are all part of the Southern Wiltshire Area Board.
What decisions do Parish Councils make?
Parish councils make all kinds of decisions on issues that affect the local community. Probably the most common topics that parish councils get involved with are planning matters (they are statutory consultees), crime prevention, managing open spaces and campaigning for and delivering better services and facilities.
It’s true to say that on their own, parish councils have limited powers to make decisions. Their functions are laid out in many Acts of Parliament plus any supporting secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments). But they do have the ability to negotiate with, and the power to influence, those other organisations that do make the final decisions (such as the County Council, health authorities, police etc).
In this respect parish councils are extremely powerful. The organisations that make the final decisions know that a parish council gives the best reflection of how a community feels about something, and its views will be taken seriously.
What powers do parish councils have?
They have a wide range of powers which essentially related to local matters, such as looking after community buildings, open space, allotments, play areas, street lighting, bus shelters, car parks and much more. The full list of powers and functions is available from the Wiltshire Association of Local councils. In addition to these legislated powers and duties eligible Parish Councils can also have a General Power of Competence. The General Power of Competence (GPC) was introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and took effect in February 2012. In simple terms, it gives councils the power to do anything an individual can do provided it is not prohibited by other legislation. It applies to all principal councils (district, county and unitary councils etc). It also applies to eligible parish and town councils. An eligible council is one which has resolved to adopt the GPC, with at least two thirds of its members being declared elected and the Clerk must hold an appropriate qualification (Parish Councils (General Power of Competence) (Prescribed Conditions) Order 2012).
The council also has the power to raise money through taxation, the precept. The precept is the parish council’s share of the council tax used to improve facilities and provide services for local people. The precept demand goes to the billing authority, the county council, which collects the tax for the parish council.
Don’t take our word for it!
The best way to find out what it’s like to be a parish councillor is to talk to someone who’s doing it now. Come along to a parish council meeting, or speak to one of our councillors and find out what they think of the job.
Who is on the Parish Council?
The Parish Council has seats for 15 councillors, 14 Councillors for the Downton Ward and 1 Councillor for the Charlton All Saints Ward. Councillors are elected about every 4 years, usually at a time coinciding with local government elections. The next election will take place in May 2025. In between elections, new councillors are often co-opted. Councillors have a legally defined role with responsibilities and are entirely unpaid with only minimal expenses are paid. Please see the Councillors page for more details on what the role entails. Their is an overall Chair of the council and each committee / sub-committee has its own Chair – there’s a web page with an overview of what the role of chair involves.
As of February 2023 the council has several vacancies and so if you wish to become a Councillor, have a look at our Facebook recruitment presentation and then if you would like to explore this further please contact us via the Contact Form.
When does it meet?
The Parish Council meets on the 2nd Monday of every month and, when needed, on the 4th Monday of any month. The Parish Council is supported by specific Committees – see the Committees and Working Groups page for details.
Meetings are usually held in the Bonvalot Room of the Downton Memorial Centre, The Borough, SP5 3NB at 7.00 pm and generally last about two to three hours. The agenda and meeting notices are posted on the Parish Council Noticeboard at the Memorial Hall, the web site and typically on the social media groups.
All meetings are open to the public – everyone is very welcome to attend and raise questions at the Public Question/Statement Time at the start of the meeting. However, if you have any problems which you think the Parish Council can help with, don’t wait for a meeting – please talk to one of the councillors or contact the Clerk. Please do have a read of the Report It page to see what aspects of village life the Parish Council can directly address.
Annual Parish Council Meeting
Like any other organisation or company, the Parish Council needs to hold an annual meeting to carry out those things that only need doing once a year. These include:
- Electing a Chairman
- Electing a Vice-Chairman
- Appointing committees
- Appointing representatives to other bodies (e.g. the Memorial Hall Committee, etc)
- Agreeing to subscribe to such bodies as the Wiltshire Association of Local Councils etc
- Reviewing policy documents such as risk assessment, Standing Orders, Financial Regulations, etc.
In an election year, the “old Parish Council” retires on the Monday following the day of elections, when the new Parish Council comes into being. The new Parish Council must hold its Annual (and first) Meeting within a fortnight from that Monday. In any other year, the Parish Council must hold its Annual Meeting on any day in May.
Every year there is also the annual parish meeting which is for the electors of the parish – for more details see the Annual Meeting page.
Agendas and Minutes
The Agendas and Minutes for Parish Council meetings may be found in the Main Council Agendas & Minutes page.