Creating Headington Community Council
- The Headington Neighbourhood Plan (Plan) proposed a Community Council for Headington to continue the work of the Headington Neighbourhood Forum (Forum).
- The City Council agreed to undertake a public consultation on the proposal.
- If the proposal is approved a Reorganisation Order will initiate the Community Council with temporary members selected by the City Council.
- An election would take place to elect community councillors from across Headington.
- The Community Council would be funded jointly by some of the Council Tax already allocated to Headington plus a small additional charge (called the precept).
A Community Council has elected members and is identical to a Parish Council or Town Council. Oxford already has four such councils, which are well supported by their local communities.
One of the key policies of the Forum, set out in the Plan, which was approved in July 2017, is the creation of a Community Council to oversee the implementation and monitoring of the Plan. The Forum, in association with the local development charity Headington Action, requested that Oxford City Council carry out the required work, called a Community Governance Review, to consider a number of issues, including whether to create a council, its boundary and whether to undertake a consultation of the residents.
In March 2019, the City Council agreed to hold a consultation to see whether Headington should have its own Community Council.
A Community Council would:
- run some local services;
- have a statutory right to be consulted on planning applications;
- protect and implement the Plan;
- raise funds for local projects through a small additional charge on the Council tax;
- strengthen the identity of our community;
- provide a voice for Headington;
- encourage local people to participate in decisions about our future.
If the outcome of the Consultation run by the City Council is favourable, elections would be held in May 2020.
Creating the Community Council
There will be a short period between a positive decision to create the council and the first Community Council election, probably in May 2020. The Council would actually come into being when a Reorganisation Order is made which would create the Council with all the legal powers of an elected community (or parish) council in the interim period before elections are held. The City Council would probably create temporary councillors to carry out the duties of the Community Council prior to elections so that various activities can take place. Plans to support the administrative, financial, governance, staffing, logistical and policy requirements of a new council should start as soon as the Reorganisation Order confirming its creation is made. Specific considerations include establishing the duties and roles of the City Council and Community Council in relation to each other.
Possible Asset and Staff Transfers
If it is agreed that any assets (land, buildings, vehicles, etc.) be transferred from the City Council to the pre-election Community Council then the vesting document would set out these transfers and the new council’s powers. Similarly, if any staff transfers are agreed then these must be carefully considered and documented.
The pre-election Community Council would need to investigate possible places where the Council could meet (normally in an evening), such as in community premises, a school, a church hall, university room, etc. and budgeting for the use of the space.
To fund the Council, in addition to some of the Council Tax allocated to Headington, there would be a small additional charge on the Council Tax. The exact amount will be decided by the new Community Council: the average additional annual charge for such councils is about £30 (Band D). The budget would cover running costs, improvements to local services and the funding of local projects.
The pre-election Community Council would create a budget to cover the operations of the council. The budget may also include the costs of some consultation exercises to find out what residents’ expectations of the council may be and what they want the council to do.
Establishing a website for the local council can help to establish an online source of information for residents. It would help to promote the work of residents involved in the council, provide information about the forthcoming election and may help with any consultations. Establishing a website early on would help promote the council’s ‘brand’ across the community. Oxford currently has four parish councils within its boundary and their websites offer possible examples, such as Littlemore Parish Council.
Employing a Clerk
The council will require the services of a clerk, normally part time. It would be prudent to employ a clerk during the pre-election period rather than wait until after the elections. An experienced clerk can help establish some basic protocols, providing both advice and administrative support during this period. He or she may have to act as a project manager, personnel director, public relations officer or finance administrator. A clerk also has a number of statutory responsibilities.
Legally councils can delegate decisions to clerks because they are trusted professional officers whose objectivity allows them to act for the council. The best councils will have a clerk and councillors who work as a team to provide a service for the community. A clerk can help the council achieve as much as possible at this early, preparatory stage.
Information on how to employ a clerk, is available from the NTS guide for parish and town councillors “Being a good employer”.
The date of the first election will be part of the Reorganisation Order. It is important that enthusiasm for the new council is maintained, particularly in the run up to elections. The pre-election Council should promote the election and encourage people to stand for election, highlighting the difference that they can make. This can be done with posters, leaflets, press releases, social media and meeting with local groups. The Electoral Commission sets out the rules and regulations around elections and standing as a candidate.
Although most councillors in parish and community councils are independent of party politics, there is an ongoing debate about the role of political parties in this tier of government. If you wish to be an independent candidate, you might feel you are at a disadvantage compared to those candidates who have the support of a political party. This isn’t necessarily the case. As an independent, it is likely that your knowledge of the community, and your commitment to it, is recognised by your neighbours.
If you are thinking about being a councillor you should look at the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) which has a series of useful publications such as The Good Councillor’s Guide. The NALC represents the interests of local (parish and town) councils in England. NALC lobbies government and provides support and advice to member councils in partnership with a network of County Associations of Local Councils.
Other Useful Contacts
A list of community/parish council powers and responsibilities is provided at https://www.localgov.co.uk/Parish-council-responsibilities/29135 .
For more detail, theer are UK government information websites such as https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/set-up-a-town-or-parish-council and https://www.gov.uk/understand-how-your-council-works or even the comprehensive Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_councils_in_England#Localism_Act_2011. Another useful source is a House of Commons Briefing Paper published by the National Association of Local Councils can be found at https://www.nalc.gov.uk/library/our-work/1864-parliamentary-briefing-paper-2/file.
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