Parish Councils are statutory corporations and derive powers from the 1894 Local Government Act and later Acts especially 1972. Under the 1894 Act most of the civil functions of the Church of England and other bodies were transferred to them in rural areas. They are the smallest unit of government and also the one closest to their electorate. Their powers are either given expressly by Acts of Parliament or implied by or reasonably incidental to these powers. These powers are all discretionary except two obligatory cases (provision of allotments if sufficient demand and maintenance of a closed churchyard if transferred to the council).
Parish (and this includes town) councils, then, don't have to do much at all, but the discretionary powers are surprisingly wide. A parish council can for example fix an unlimited parish rate (though it may find millions hard to collect!) and can provide most types of community services, though it may not duplicate functions of the District or County Councils. So, a council can run a village hall, playing fields, or council offices, can own property, manage burial grounds, make bylaws, maintain public clocks, footpaths, lighting, open spaces, public conveniences, war memorials. Also there is a so called 'free resource' (technically S137 of the 1972 Act) of up to �5 per elector each year available for funding items that are not covered by statute, mostly used for making donations.
Councils are also often consulted by higher authorities, for example we receive notice of roadworks and are asked to comment on planning applications. This can lead to some popular confusion: we are not the planning authority and our comments have no special force over and above anyone else's, they just ensure that at least some local opinion is heard. We also get invited to attend all sorts of meetings and panels that do tend to proliferate these days.
The Council itself is elected every four years (next election is 2011). Members then elect a Chairman for the term. The Chairman has no executive power, which belongs to the whole council. The Chairman is however the official head of the parish and when appearing at parish functions specifically as Chairman takes precedence over anyone except the Queen or person (e.g. Lord Lieutenant) representing her. For example the Chairman may open a fete or lay the Remembrance Day wreath.
The business of the council as determined by members at meetings (which we hold monthly without exception, although August's agenda is traditionally brief) is conducted by the Clerk. The Clerk (a salaried post) is also the primary adviser to the council and is expected to take a certain amount of initiative in bringing matters to the attention of the council and keeping up with what is happening both in the parish and at the district and county levels. The Clerk is often also RFO (responsible financial officer) especially for smaller councils, for example Crich. In this case the Clerk will maintain the account books, organize contracts or maintenance work etc. subject to the council's decisions, prepare the annual budget estimates for the setting of the Precept, and make sure the Council keeps solvent. As we run a burial ground in Crich the Clerk is also Burial Clerk and has to keep the burial records and ensure the proper running of the ground.
Crich Parish Council also has the paid services of a caretaker to the burial ground and the children's playground on the Recreation Ground, which all belongs to the Council. We also own the Parish Quarry behind Sandy Lane, Crich Cross and the stone flower trough opposite, and hold a one-ninth share in the Glebe Field Centre.