What do our local councils do?

11 Jun 2020

We are all familiar with the idea that we have an MP (Member of Parliament) who represents us in the Westminster Parliament, but many of us are confused about the other types of representation we enjoy. So here is our 'quick guide' to Parish, District and County Councils, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the National Parks Authority. These bodies are supposed to represent your, and your family's, best interests.

So, it is important to vote!



The Parish Council

In the UK the Parish Council is the smallest representative, and administrative, unit of government. The Parish Council is usually based on a small geographic unit, such as a hamlet, village or town district, which often aligns with the area covered by a local church. This is the reason they are called 'Parish' councils. Parish Councils normally represent 500 - 1000 voters, and their families.

Consisting of about half a dozen people elected by the local community (you may well know a neighbour or friend who is a Parish Councillor) Parish Councils have real power, and spending authority. Indeed, you may be surprised at the influence your local Parish Council has. For example:

  • Responsibility for local facilities, which may include:
    • Allotments
    • Village halls and buildings
    • Public playing fields and parks
    • Bus shelters
    • Off-street parking
    • Footpaths and bridleways
    • Public toilets
    • War memorials
    • Churchyards and cemeteries
    • Grass verges, ditches and drainage
  • Parish Councils are consulted by District and County Councils on matters such as:
    • Planning applications
    • Footpaths and bridleways
    • Sewerage works
    • Entertainment byelaws
  • And more generally a responsibility to foster the well being of the local community with things such as
    • Supporting local voluntary organisations
    • Promoting crafts and the arts
    • Developing a 'Neighbourhood Plan'
    • Promoting local crime prevention
    • Sponsoring and promoting public events

Perhaps a lot more than you realised! So if you want to make a difference in your local community the next time there are elections why not stand as a Parish Councillor?

For information on your local Parish Council

East Devon - https://eastdevon.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/parish-and-town-councils/find-my-town-or-parish-clerk-details/

Mid Devon - https://www.middevon.gov.uk/your-council/town-parish-councils/contact-details/

West Devon - https://www.westdevon.gov.uk/contactyourparishcouncil

Teignbridge - https://democracy.teignbridge.gov.uk/mgParishCouncilDetails.aspx?bcr=1

The next representative tier is:

The District Council (Borough Council / City Council)

In Central Devon there are four District Councils - East Devon, Mid Devon, West Devon, and Teignbridge.

District Councils (sometimes called Borough Councils or City Councils) represent a much larger geographic area than Parish Councils, but still hopefully an area that shares common interests and issues. District Councils have budgets in the 10s of £ millions and are responsible for some of our most essential services.

    • Housing
    • Waste collection and recycling
    • Street cleaning
    • Environmental health
    • Local planning applications
    • Building regulations
    • Sports centres and parks
    • Licensing of pubs and clubs
    • Aspects of economic development
    • Markets and fairs
    • Running cemeteries and crematoria

    These are services most of us encounter on a daily or weekly basis and have a real impact on the lives of us, and our families.

  • For information on your District Council

    East Devon District Council - https://eastdevon.gov.uk

    Mid Devon District Council - https://www.middevon.gov.uk

    West Devon Borough Council - https://www.westdevon.gov.uk

    Teignbridge District Council - https://www.teignbridge.gov.uk

    The final tier of local representation is:

    The County Council

    In Central Devon, Devon County Council is our County Council.

    County Councils have budgets in the 100s of £ millions and control very important aspects of local services and community support.

    • Childrens' services and education
    • Social care
    • Public health
    • Planning (including emergency planning)
    • Highways and roads
    • Transport
    • Policing
    • Fire service
    • Trading standards and consumer protection
    • Births, deaths and marriages

    These are very important services, often costing many millions of £s to support, and where decisions on focus and priorities can be very difficult to take. Your Councillors have a very real impact on the daily lives of you and your family.

    Police and Crime Commissioner

    At a local level as well as our Parish, District and County Councils we also are represented by a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who has a key role in shaping law enforcement and policing in our communities.

    This person is responsible for how the police carry out their duties in protecting us the public. This is critical at a time when police budgets, and numbers, have been cut by central Government.

    We all get the chance to vote for the Police and Crime Commissioner (there will be an election in 2021) and they can make a very real difference to the way our communities are kept safe.

    Currently the Commissioner is the Conservative Alison Hernandez.

    You can contact the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner by email on - opcc@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk

    Or by telephone on - 01392 225555

    For general information on the role of the Commissioner go to:


  • Something Special in Devon - National Park Authorities

    Finally in Devon we have a further tier of government and representation that many other counties do not enjoy. The Dartmoor National Park and Exmoor National Park Authorities have important responsibilities for these unique and beautiful areas.

    They have a general remit to:

    • conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park
    • promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the Park's special qualities by the public
    • seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Park

    The Authorities have responsibility for:

    • Planning
    • Development and management of the 'Local Plan'
    • Maintaining rights of way
    • Hedge laying and fencing
    • Invasive weed control and habitat management
    • The monitoring of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

    The Authorities do not have direct elections as such (and are sometimes criticised for this) but are governed by a panel of appointees made by Devon County Council, local District and Parish Councils and the national Government.

    For more information on the National Park Authorities

    Dartmoor National Park Authority ~ https://www.dartmoor.gov.uk

    Exmoor National Park Authority ~ https://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk

  • The BIG Picture

    Of course, none of these Councils, Authorities and the Police Commissioner, work in isolation from Central Government in Westminster. Central Government often sets the direction and policies for Councils (and the police), and of course the framework for their budgets.

    That often means that the Government sets the services Councils must provide without giving them the financial means. Indeed, the last decade of Conservative austerity has seen very substantial reductions in the expenditure by local Councils, at a time when Central Government has imposed significantly more responsibilities on them. It has also seen reductions in police numbers and budgets.

    When your local Council is not collecting your waste bins as regularly as you would like, or you no longer see 'Bobbies on the beat', this may be because the Government have not provided enough budget.

    So, who you vote for to represent you at Westminster also has a big impact on your local services.

    At the moment Devon is represented by Conservative MPs, all of whom have supported the Conservative's austerity policies.

    Tiverton & Honiton - Neil Parish neil.parish.mp@parliament.uk

    East Devon - Simon Jupp simon.jupp.mp@parliament.uk

    Central Devon - Mel Stride mel.stride.mp@parliament.uk

    Torridge and West Devon - Geoffrey Cox coxg@parliament.uk

    All MPs should hold regular Constituency Surgeries where people can raise their problems. We'd urge you to make sure that your MP is aware of local issues as she or he can have a direct influence on Government policy.

    You can find out who your MP is here - https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP

    Register to Vote

    If you've not registered to vote we'd urge you strongly to do so, it's one of the best ways to get your voice heard.


  • This article was compiled by Mark Wooding. Mark has lived in the Taw Ward, Mid Devon, for nearly 20 years. He grew up in Plymouth. He's a biochemist by training, but has very extensive business experience both in the UK and overseas. He walks regularly on Dartmoor and loves curries, movies and quiz shows. You can contact him at mark4taw@gmail.com