Annual meeting and annual parish meeting – what’s the difference?

There’s sometimes a bit of confusion between an annual meeting of the council and the annual parish meeting.

They are not the same thing, but there are two different meetings which are generally held about this time of year.

An annual meeting is held to do those things that only need doing once a year, such as electing a chairman, vice-chairman, committees, etc.

This meeting can sometimes be called the annual general meeting, but this can cause confusion with the second meeting.

The annual parish meeting (or annual town meeting) is, in legal terms, a quite separate body from the council, but it is invariably the council which arranges it.

The Lincolnshire Association of Local Councils (LALC) explains that the annual parish meeting is a legacy from the Middle Ages, when local councils did not exist, and all local decision making was carried out by meetings of the whole community.

The annual parish meeting is open to all electors of a town or parish, who have the right not only to attend but also to speak on any matter of local interest.

This meeting has its own minutes, which should be kept separately from the council minutes, and these minutes can only be approved by the next annual parish meeting which will, of course, not be held until the following year.

LALC recommends it is good practice to bring the draft minutes of the annual parish meeting to the next convenient meeting of the council, since otherwise matters are unlikely to get progressed.

As this year is an election year, the “old council” retires on the Monday following the day of elections, when the new council comes into being. The new council must hold its annual (and first) meeting within a fortnight from that Monday.

In any other year, the council must hold its annual meeting on any day in May.

The annual parish meeting must be held each year between March 1 and June 1. Because this is a meeting of a body separate from the council the date is not affected by the election cycle.

What makes a good annual parish meeting?  

LALC recommends:

  • Do an invitation, distributed door-to-door, to each household in the parish;
  • Invite representatives of every organisation or group in the parish to give a short report about their work;
  • Include a period for informal socialising, and serve simple refreshments;
  • Invite a speaker to give talk on a topic of local or topical interest;
  • Ensure that the meeting and agenda are well-publicised in the local newsletter, the shop, post office, church;
  • Send invitations to all local organisations and groups to come along;
  • Make people feel welcome from the moment they come through the door – if they feel they have gate-crashed some sort of private gathering, they won’t come again.

It is an ideal opportunity to publicise some of the work that the council has done during the year, to talk about the money that the council has spent on behalf of the community, and (usually) the extremely modest cost and good value of the council’s services.

Some councils hold both on the same night, and whilst not best practice, so long as there is a clear distinction between the two, and each meeting is formally opened and closed so that everyone present knows which meeting is taking place at any given time, this is acceptable.

LALC says if you are going to do this it may be better to hold the annual parish meeting first, so the electors present who are not councillors can, if they wish, leave when it is finished.

And make it very clear to any non-councillors that they can take part in the annual parish meeting but not (unless your council has a public session) in the annual meeting of the council.