What’s the council actually for?
Local council elections are coming up on 6 May.
If someone says “local council” to you, you probably get a particular image in mind. Maybe someone in a hi-vis collecting your bin, or someone keeping the parks tidy. Maybe you think of potholes, or housing developments.
If you’re aged over 18 and own or rent a home, then it’s likely you pay council tax. But do you know what it’s being spent on?
Let’s break it down.
In Chelmsford, we have three ‘tiers’ of local council: Essex County Council, Chelmsford City Council and then lots of parish councils. All three councils look after different services on behalf of the residents in the area. They all receive a different percentage of your council tax. It can sometimes be confusing to know who does what, because services can overlap geographically.
There are local elections coming up on Thursday 6 May 2021. Knowing what happens at the different councils might help with understanding what you’re being asked to vote for – as positions are available at the City Council, County Council, some parish councils and the Police, Fire and Crime Commission. All of the elected councillor positions will involve different responsibilities.
Essex County Council
Starting with the top level of local government. Essex County Council looks after many services for the whole of the county.
This includes looking after older and other vulnerable people, improving roads, looking after schools in Essex, arranging fostering and adoption and social care services and much more. The county council receives the largest amount of council tax to run all of these services – 72% of the total amount you pay.
Chelmsford City Council
On to the City Council.
Chelmsford City Council collects all of the council tax but doesn’t keep all the money for itself. It only keeps around 11% of the council tax, which alongside income from other sources such as car parks, theatres and leisure centres, is used to look after lots of services for the city. This includes: green spaces, dealing with waste and recycling, providing business support, arranging social housing, controlling planning permission, running the city’s museum, festivals and events, dealing with noise nuisance complaints and much more.
Parish councils are the lowest level of local government. Local people with an interest in improving their neighbourhood may want to sign up for their parish council. They can be a strong voice in their community. Parish councils receive a smaller percentage of council tax and use it for things such as keeping nearby parks tidy, and looking after war memorials and allotments.
Most people will be a lot more familiar with what the government does, as we see and hear from figureheads such as the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Members in the media. The government looks after things on a national level that impact the whole country, such as the NHS, tax, defence, energy and power supply, railways and much more.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner
Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners (PFCCs) are not another ‘level’ or ‘tier’ of local government, but it is something that people are being asked to vote for on 6 May. They are elected across the country every four years and also receive a small percentage of council tax. Their job is to make sure the local police and the fire and rescue service are meeting the needs of the community. This vote has been postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic which is why it is taking place now.