Fairlight Parish Council consists of nine volunteer Councillors elected by the public every four years, working as a corporate body, making decisions for the benefit of the community.
These Councillors have statutory responsibilities for certain aspects of the village. They are the first tier of governance for residents and the first point of contact for anyone concerned with a community issue.
Councillors aim to ensure that the views of the community are taken into consideration by other agencies, authorities and organisations responsible for taking decisions which affect Fairlight and its inhabitants.
Fairlight Parish Council works at the centre of the community that it exists to serve. Councillors have no party-political affiliations, are independent as they are free from party political control and able therefore to think, agree and work together for the benefit of the Parish and wellbeing of its residents.
Parish Councillors act together in the local interest to improve the local environment, initiate and lead projects and get things done about the matters that people really need, notice and care about. These local environmental matters include public open spaces, footpaths, litter, shelters, seats, signs and public events.
Some of the Council’s functions are highly visible and have a direct impact on the appearance of the village and residents’ quality of life, but other aspects of the Council’s work are much less obvious. All Council and committee meetings are open to the public. Parish residents, the public and press have a standing invitation to attend these meetings and are welcome to speak during the public open session.
The Parish Council provides residents with a range of facilities and services from the Parish precept such as grass cutttng in the village, managing Wood Field Recreation Ground and Knowle Wood, providing public facilities and amenities including bus shelters, seats, defibrillators, Parish notice boards, litter bins, dog waste bins and making regular safety checks on the children’s play equipment.
REPRESENTING LOCAL INTERESTS
Councillors are also elected to represent local views and apply local knowledge to influence decisions made by Rother District Council, East Sussex County Council and other bodies. For example, decisions about planning, policing, speed and community resilience.
Our Five-Year Plan
Our vision is for Fairlight Parish Council and the local Community to work together to protect and improve the social, recreational and environmental well-being of Fairlight and the lives of all who live, visit and work here.
This Five-Year Plan has been produced as a statement of Fairlight Parish Council’s vision, values, objectives and key priorities for Fairlight. This Plan will be a live, ongoing and updated document that sets out what the Parish Council believes they can achieve by directly involving the residents. The aim is to provide Fairlight residents with clear insight of what the Parish Council is trying to achieve and how it expects to deliver these aims. The Plan will identify what the Parish Council plans to focus on for the next five years and will be used as a guide each year to set the budget for the next financial year.
How the Parish Council functions
The Parish Council is a corporate body, established by Statute in 1894. The Council is constituted to have eleven Councillors, who meet to make collective decisions and a Clerk who acts on its behalf as the Council’s officer. Parish Councillors serve a four year term, but receive no payment whatsoever for their time. Presently, all seven of the Councillors are elected. There are four vacant seats open for co-option.
Fairlight’s Parish Councillors:
• Listen to and represent the views and concerns of Parish residents;
• Meet to make decisions and act in the best interests of the community;
• Deal with Rother District Council, East Sussex County Council and other bodies;
• Engage with residents and keep them informed about Parish issues;
• Are accountable to the Parish electorate for their actions.
• (Adapted from the Governance Toolkit for Parish and Town Councils (2009))
Councillors decide matters collectively and prioritise the nature of the work that the Council will undertake and set the annual budget and precept. Councillors have collective responsibility to ensure that public money is used wisely and that the Council’s financial management systems are sound. The Council must also maintain adequate reserves throughout the year and be able to deliver the facilities and services that it has agreed to provide.
As soon as possible after they are elected each Parish Councillor must sign a Declaration of Acceptance and give a written undertaking to observe the Council’s Code of Conduct, before they take their seat. Parish Councillors also have a duty to prepare for, attend and participate in Council meetings.
To be effective, each individual Councillor must understand and be able to balance the different needs of groups in the community (such as young and elderly people). Occasionally situations arise when there is a conflict of interests which requires sensitive judgement; for example, dog owners and the parents of young children might disagree about use of, say, Wood Field, which is owned and managed by the Parish Council. Balancing views and reaching difficult decisions in public meetings, in a fair, open and reasoned way, is a key part of the Council’s purpose.
• Abide by the Rother Code of Conduct, and national rules about Councillors’ interests, (set down in the Localism Act 2011 and The Relevant Authorities (Disclosable Pecuniary Interests) Regulations 2012).
• Attend meetings when summoned to do so by the Proper Officer (the Parish Clerk)
• Consider, in advance of the meeting, the agenda and any related documents
• Take part in meetings and consider all the relevant facts and issues on matters which require a decision, including the views of others expressed at the meeting
• Take part in voting and respect majority decisions
• Represent the interests of the whole electorate of the Parish.
The Parish Council’s meeting agendas include a public open session. This item enables members of the public to speak on any matters on the agenda, before Councillors discuss them. Members of the public may also raise other issues with the Chairman’s permission, but by law the Council may not discuss issues if they do not relate directly to an item on the published agenda. This law ensures that Councillors and members of the public have at least three clear working days’ notice of all the matters on each agenda item and time to prepare and be ready to make decisions. For safety reasons, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parish Council is meeting virtually via Zoom video and audio conferencing software. Please follow the link on the Agena to view virtual meetings and for information about how to make a representation.
How the Parish Council is structured
The Parish Office is located at ‘Kerri’, 35 Waites Lane Fairlight Hastings East Sussex TN35 4AX All Council and Committee meetings where decisions are made are held in public. Only sensitive matters e.g. personnel, commercial contracts and legal advice are considered in closed session. Parish Council meetings are normally held at 1900 hours on the 4th Tuesday of each month. The agenda for these meetings are advertised at least three days in advance on the public notice boards and online.
When matters arise that require an urgent decision the Clerk may call an extraordinary meeting between the regular meeting dates. These extraordinary meetings are held in public and are advertised and managed in the same way as regular meetings.
How we are accountable
When Parish Councillors take office they must sign the Code of Conduct and undertake to disclose any pecuniary interests that either they or their spouses have that could affect their role as a Councillor.
In summary, the Localism Act 2011 requires Councillors to disclose details of any employment, property ownership, contract or tenancies with the council, sponsorship, or shareholding. Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPI’s) must be disclosed and registered within 28 days of election. If not already disclosed, a member must disclose a DPI at any meeting at which an item affecting a DPI is being considered. Any new DPI’s must be disclosed to the Monitoring Officer within 28 days.
Councillors must not participate or vote in any discussion on any matter in which they have declared a DPI, unless prior dispensation permitting this has been provided. They will need to leave the meeting for the whole of the discussion on that item. If, without reasonable excuse a Councillor fails to comply with these rules, they may be found guilty of a criminal offence, be liable to a maximum fine of £5,000 and be disqualified from office for up to five years.
A Councillor may also declare an Other Significant Interest (OSI) if they have an interest that is significant, but not pecuniary. In this case they will be permitted to speak on the item, but will be required to leave the meeting for the vote. The Register of Members’ Interests is available online or in hard copy from the Clerk and the Monitoring Officer at Rother District Council. Financial and procedural matters are subject to an annual audit.
The General Power of Competence
1.1 Parish and Town councils are corporate bodies that have accumulated powers through legislation since 1894. Their powers were constrained to specific and appropriate legislation. This means that before undertaking anything, members must be satisfied that the parish council has the power (under a specified statute) to undertake that activity.
1.2 Parish councils have many specific powers (e.g. the provision of open spaces and recreational facilities) in addition to section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972, permitting the expenditure up to certain limits for “purposes not otherwise authorised”. Typically, the expenditure on grants and sponsorship is covered by section 137 of the Local Government Act, 1972.
1.3 Despite the wide range of powers, parish councils are always at risk of being challenged, especially if they undertake an unusual activity. For example, a recent court ruling pronounced that pre meeting prayers by a council was unlawful.
1.4 In consequence, the Government included a “general power of competence” in the Localism Act 2011 (Part 1, Chapter 1, ss 1-8). It was brought into force by SI 965 The Parish Councils (General Power of Competence) (Prescribed Conditions) Order 2012 in April 2012.
2. LEGISLATIVE BACKGROUND:
2.1 The intention of the legislation is that eligible local authorities will no longer have to identify specific powers to undertake an activity. As a result, the risk of legal challenge will be reduced. It is stated in the above Statutory Instrument that
“The Government’s intention in providing eligible parish councils with the general power of competency is to better enable them to take on their enhanced role and allow them to do things they have previously been unable to do under existing powers”.
2.2 Under the new legislation, eligible councils have “the power to do anything that individuals generally may do” as long as they do not break other laws. It is intended to be the power of first, not last, resort. The eligible council has to ask itself if an individual is allowed to do it. If the answer is “yes”, then a council is normally permitted to act in the same way.
3. TYPES OF ACTIVITIES:
3.1 Although the Government has given limited guidance on operation of the new power, some new activities covered by the legislation include:
– Running a community shop or post office
– Lend or invest money
– Establish a company or co-operative society to trade and engage in commercial activity
– Establishing a company to provide services such as local transport
– Providing grants to individuals.
3.2 The power is not restricted to use within the parish – an eligible parish council can use it anywhere.
4. RESTRICTIONS AND RISKS:
4.1 The only real limitation is that the general power of competence cannot be used to circumvent an existing restriction in an existing specific power. The general power of competence is a power; it cannot be used to raise the precept.
4.2 Existing duties remain in place, such as having regard to the likely effect on crime/disorder and biodiversity. There are also many existing procedural and financial duties that remain in place for the regulation of governance (e.g. no delegation to a single councillor). Furthermore, councils must comply with relevant existing legislation (e.g. employment law, health and safety, equality legislation and duties relating to data protection and freedom of information).
4.3 If another council has a statutory duty to provide a service (e.g. education, social service, highways, footpaths, rights of way), it remains their duty to provide it. Nonetheless, eligible councils may assist. The eligible council would need to ask itself whether an individual, private company or community trust could help. If the answer is “yes”, the town council can assist.
4.4 Whist councils are encouraged to be innovative; they should be aware of the risks of:
– Being challenged
– Their trading activities damaging other local enterprises
– Damage to the council’s reputation and public money if a project or investment goes wrong.
5. LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT 1972 (s137):
5.1 Expenditure under the Local Government Act (s137) is limited and has to be budgeted for separately. Expenditure is restricted in that it cannot be used to give money to individuals and the amounts must be commensurate with the benefit. Section 137 is a power of last resort.
5.2 A council that is eligible to use the general power of competence can no longer use Section 137 as a power for taking action for the benefit of the area. However, Section 137 (3) which permits the council to contribute to UK charities, public sector funds and public appeals remains in place.
6.1 The three conditions for eligibility are set out in the Statutory Instrument (paragraph 1.4 above) as follows:
1. Resolution: the council must resolve at a meeting that it meets the criteria for eligibility relating to the electoral mandate and relevant training of the clerk.
2. Electoral mandate: at the time the resolution is passed, at least two thirds of the council must hold office as a result of being declared elected (i.e. not co-opted).
3. Qualified clerk: At the time that the resolution is passed, the clerk must hold a recognised professional qualification (e.g. Certificate in Local Council Administration, Certificate of Higher Education in Local Policy) AND pass the 2012 CiLCA module relating to the general power of competence.
6.2 Having decided at a full meeting of the council that it meets the criteria for eligibility at that particular time, a resolution to this effect must be clearly written in the minutes. The council is then required to revisit that decision and make a new resolution at every ‘relevant’ annual meeting of the council to confirm that it still meets the criteria (if it does). A ‘relevant’ annual meeting is the annual meeting of the council after the next ordinary election has taken place
6.3 In consequence, eligibility remains in place until the ‘relevant’ annual meeting even if the conditions of the eligibility criteria have changed. If the council loses its qualified clerk or has insufficient elected councillors it must also record its ineligibility at the next ‘relevant’ meeting.
6.4 There is no requirement for members to be trained in the general power of competence.
6.5 Fairlight Parish Council satisfies all the conditions as:
1. It has 6 out of 9 councillors elected
2. The Clerk of the Council has passed the CiLCA.
At the Full Parish Council meeting held on Tuesday 22nd September 2020 members considered the proposal to adopt the General Power of Competence, voted on this proposal and passed the following resolution:
“The Parish Council resolves from 22 September 2020, until the next relevant Annual Meeting of the Council, that having met the conditions of eligibility as defined in the Localism Act 2011 and SI 965 The Parish Councils (General Power of Competence) (Prescribed Conditions) Order 2012, to adopt the General Power of Competence”.
Could you become a Parish Councillor?
Have you ever considered becoming a Parish Councillor? Now is always a good time to give the question some thought.
The Parish Council’s term of office lasts four years. The most recent Local Government Elections were held Thursday 2nd May 2019. The next election for all parish and borough seats will be held in May 2023.
It makes sense for everyone therefore to do their bit and contribute; if everyone sat back and let ‘other people’ do it, we’d soon have no community organisations of any kind – voluntary, cultural, sporting, youth or local government.
Fairlight Village Hall serves as the polling station for all elections.
For further information please contact the Parish Clerk.