THE GOOD COUNCILLOR'S GUIDE
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2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 3 This guide introduces the work of local councils and the part you play as a councillor in the tier of local government closest to the people. You will also find it a useful reference. It is divided into five parts to help you find your way as a new, or even as an experienced, councillor.
4 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 5 WELCOME Sue Baxter IT GIVES ME GREAT PLEASURE to introduce the If you are not yet a councillor, but are thinking of putting Chairman of the National Improvement Strategy publication The Good yourself forward, I encourage you to read this guide National Association Councillor’s guide – This revised edition is a welcome and to contact your local council to find out how you of Local Councils and much needed resource and essential guidance might get involved. Whilst ordinary elections take place primarily for new councillors but also for those every four years there are still frequent opportunities to thinking about becoming a local councillor. become a local councillor when vacancies arise so I urge you to keep abreast of these windows of opportunity. If you are reading this guide as a new councillor I congratulate you on joining the council and thank you Engaging in learning, training and development will be for taking up a civic office that can make a real difference essential in gaining experience; reading this guide is the to the community that your council represents. Now first step in this process. You should also contact your that the excitement of being elected or co-opted county association of local councils to find out more has subsided you may well be wondering what you about what is available to you in terms of developing have done and perhaps feel a little daunted by the your skills and knowledge. responsibility you have taken on. You are now part of the Being elected as a councillor does not mean you are democratic framework of the country representing the expected to have all the solutions for your community interests of your community within a broad landscape of but through experience and expanding your grasp of national governance.This guide will help you understand your role you will be better placed to deal with the range more about your role and the difference you can make. of issues that arise. The Localism Act 2011 is an important part of The time ahead will be challenging, exciting and at times Government’s ambitions to devolve power to the frustrating. As you benefit from training, gain experience local level. It provides some helpful tools for local and build your confidence, you will have the personal communities and councils to act on communities’ needs satisfaction of knowing you and your council have and aspirations. For these reasons it is more important made a difference. I hope you enjoy working with your than ever to engage with your community in a positive community by serving your local council. and proactive way. This is no time to sit on the fence or offer views from the side lines. Local councils need I wish you every success and I am confident that active, interested and committed people to serve and this guide will help you to develop your role as a get involved in their work. The new section on the good councillor. ‘community rights’ introduced by the Localism Act outlines ways in which your council might do this.
6 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 7 OVERVIEW ONE – WHERE ARE YOU HEADING? 10 FOUR – DELIVERING THE GOODS 40 Part One introduces what you can do as a councillor and This is about action for local people. We consider the delivery what your local council can achieve. It points you in the right of services and community rights, review your council’s role direction so that you can serve your community. in the planning system including neighbourhood plans and introduce parish plans and the Local Council Award Scheme. T WO – DUE CARE AND AT TENTION 16 Here we set out the rules of what you must, or must not do, FIVE – THE TOOLBOX 54 as a council, councillor, employer and financial manager. Finally we provide useful ideas for your councillor’s toolbox If you and your council understand the law, then you can including danger areas, useful publications, links, documents act with confidence. and contacts for advice. THREE – GET TING UNDER WAY 32 THE INDEX 70 We examine what happens at council meetings. Decisions The index provides a quick reference when you need to taken at meetings drive the actions of the council and the best know something in a hurry. meetings are productive, professional – and never too long! Although the first tier of local government includes town and parish councils and now some city, community, village and neighbourhood councils, the term ‘local council’ is used throughout. Chairman is the term used in legislation and applies to holders of this post irrespective of gender. Occasionally we explain phrases in a jargon buster box at the end of a section. These words are also highlighted in the text.
8 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 9 WHERE ARE YOU HEADING? Your council is an elected body in the first tier of local government. Other tiers, known as principal councils or authorities, have many legal duties to deliver services such as education, housing, town and country planning, transport, environmental health and social services. Local councils have the legal power to take action, but they have very few duties and greater freedom to choose what action to take. They can play a vital part COUNCILLORS in representing the interests of the communities they serve and improving the quality of life and the local If you are a councillor, you are over 18 and a qualifying environment. Furthermore they influence other decision citizen of the Commonwealth, the European makers and can, in many cases, deliver services to meet Community or the Republic of Ireland. local needs. In other words, you and your council can You are one of over 80,000 local councillors in England. make a difference. You will be held accountable by local people for things that happen locally. So why get involved? You almost certainly want to do something positive and, like most WHAT DOES YOUR COUNCIL DO? councillors, you hope to make a difference by influencing Community safety, housing, street lighting, allotments, decisions that affect your community. cemeteries, playing fields, community centres, litter, war memorials, seats and shelters, rights of way and some Did you stand for election? Was there a vote, or were aspects of planning and highways – these are some of you returned unopposed? Perhaps you were co-opted. the issues that concern parish government. Some councillors represent a political party and others are independent of party affiliations. Whichever route you take to becoming a councillor, once you formally accept the office, it usually makes no difference; you are councillors working together in the council to serve your community. Your task is to bring local issues to the attention of the council, and help it make decisions on CO-OPTION behalf of the local community. The council chooses someone to fill a vacancy if insufficient candidates are proposed for seats at an election. An ordinary THE COUNCIL election occurs every four years but there may be an election when a seat falls vacant at other times. In addition, Your council is a corporate body, a legal entity if a vacancy occurs between elections (for example, by separate from that of its members. Its decisions are the the resignation of a councillor), the council must generally responsibility of the whole body. The council has been publicly notify the vacancy and if no poll is claimed co-opt. granted powers by Parliament including the important It is better for democracy if councillors are elected rather authority to raise money through taxation (the precept) than relying on co-option, so they can be confident that the and a range of powers to spend public money (more later). council is the community’s choice of representatives.
10 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 11 Central Government is encouraging local councils to A typical local council represents around 2,700 people deliver more services and play a greater part in their but some have much larger populations. Shrewsbury communities. Town Council, created in 2009, serves over 72,000 people, which is more than some small counties. These For example your council could provide or give financial considerable differences are reflected in annual spending support for: which might range from under £1000 to £4 million. It is • an evening bus taking people to the nearest town important that you know how much your council spends each year. In 2014/15 local councils raised £445 million in • affordable housing to rent council tax and spent over £500 million. • pond clearing The diversity of local councils is their strength. Each • redecorating the community centre can make a unique response to the needs of their community with a sensitivity that is more difficult for • a teenagers’ drop-in club principal authorities to achieve. • a summer festival • equipment for a children’s activity group PULLING TOGETHER • transport to hospital. Diversity often arises because councillors have different backgrounds, enthusiasms and interests. We should Projects like these may be a challenge and need hard celebrate this. Councillors have different skills and work and commitment – but they are achievable. Of attitudes; for example, some work with ideas while course, your council could always decide to do very little; others are very practical; some like accounts while others but local residents might then wonder why the local prefer reports. The local council needs a range of skills council exists at all. to work as a team. Your chairman has the role of team leader for council DIVERSITY IS A STRENGTH meetings (see Part Three) while your clerk is also a There are around 9,000 local councils in England and they vital team member. The clerk provides advice and are growing in number, especially as councils in urban administrative support, and takes action to implement areas are established. Most local councils were set up council decisions. The clerk may have to act as a project in 1894 by an Act of Parliament. This created the civil manager, personnel director, public relations officer or parish, separating it from the church after its long history finance administrator. The clerk is not a secretary and of delivering local services such as care for the poor, is not at the beck and call of the chairman or other maintenance of roads and collecting taxes. In 2007, the councillors; the clerk is answerable only to the council Government brought in legislation to allow local councils as a whole. The clerk is the proper officer of the council in London, not permitted since the 1960s. The first local in law. Legally councils can delegate decisions to clerks council in London, Queen’s Park, was approved in 2012 because they are trusted professional officers whose and came into being in 2014. In the first decade of the objectivity allows them to act for the council. 21st century around 200 new councils were created. The best councils will have a clerk and councillors who work as a team to provide a service for the community.
12 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 13 A corporate body has a legal existence separate from As a councillor, you have a responsibility to be well- that of its members. It can own land, enter into contracts informed, especially about diverse local views. You and be subject to court proceedings. It is responsible for cannot assume that you represent the interests of all its actions as a body. your electors without consulting them. Delegation is the act of authorising an officer, a The tried and tested tools noted below are just some committee, a sub-committee or another council to make ways in which people can express their hopes and wishes a decision on the council’s behalf. Delegation must be for the community. They provide valuable opportunities formally agreed by the full council. for local people to identify features of the parish that need improving or are worth protecting. They stimulate Duties are legal obligations – actions that a council must discussion; they inform the decision makers and usually take by law. Powers are contained in legislation and lead to action. permit actions to be taken at the council’s discretion. Surveys and questionnaires give residents, including The precept is the local council’s share of the council tax. children, an opportunity to express their views about The precept demand goes to the billing authority (the where they live. The response rate from households district council or equivalent) which collects the tax for can be impressive – usually over 50% – and in smaller the local council communities, with personal delivery and collection, it Principal councils or authorities are other local can reach 90%. government bodies, including county councils, district, Design Statements involve communities in a review boroughorcitycouncils,metropolitanandunitarycouncils. of the built and natural environment of their area. The Proper officer is a term used in legislation to mean the published results can be used by your principal authority officer assigned to a particular task. In local councils this to help make planning decisions (see Part Four). officer is normally the clerk. A Parish Map can be a creative exercise; for example, it might be a painting, tapestry or model of the parish. YOUR COMMUNITY People identify local features that matter as they work on the map. The job of your council is to represent the interests of the whole community. Community conferences or workshops provide more opportunities for bringing people together to talk about Understanding the needs of different groups in the the future of the parish. community (such as young and elderly people) is an important part of your role as councillor. Community (Parish or Town) Plans might be led by the local council, drawing in community groups, residents Occasionally there will be a conflict of interest requiring and others, to produce an action plan for improving the sensitive judgement; for example, dog owners, parents local quality of life and the environment. These plans of young children and walkers might disagree about use can be based on the findings of a variety of consultation of the village green. Making difficult decisions, in an open exercises and can form the basis of neighbourhood plans and reasoned way, is something that local councils need (see Part Four). to do well.
14 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 15 In addition to helping your council identify real NOTES improvements, the process of using tools like these can strengthen people’s sense of purpose and belonging.The process is as important as the product or the end result. You should, of course, use the knowledge you have already as a basis for decisions on behalf of your community, but these tools help you to become even better informed and give a stronger mandate for action. The results of community consultation help you to: • speak on behalf of your community with greater confidence especially in discussions with principal authorities • provide services and facilities, especially where there is no other provider or the local council can secure better value for money • support community action and services provided by others; the council can offer buildings, staff expertise and funding to get local projects off the ground • work in partnership with community groups, voluntary organisations and other local authorities, including neighbouring local councils, to benefit the community. For many people, it is the satisfaction of acting on behalf of their local community that encourages them to become councillors. The next challenge is to make sure that the council acts properly in achieving what it sets out to do. It must proceed with due care and attention to the law. Part Two introduces the rules that guide your council – not as glamorous as action, but vital to its success.
16 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 17 DUE CARE AND AT TENTION Councils who are not eligible to use the general power of competence can undertake an activity only when specific legislation allows it. There is a useful list of activities and specific legal powers in Part Five of this guide. Acting without the legal power is an unnecessary risk which could lead to financial and legal difficulties. The good news is that there are lots of sources of advice. Start by asking your clerk whose job includes giving THE RULES advice to the local council. Your clerk will have access to What can you do? What must you do? What must you a county association (Association of Parish and Town, or not do? The rules may not be exciting, but without Local, Councils) for advice on legal and financial matters. understanding them your council could run into trouble. If your clerk is a member of the Society of Local Council Clerks, they will have access to additional guidance. • A council must do what the law requires it to do. If you identify barriers in legislation, national policy or • A council may do only what the law says it may do. the workings of government, you can let the Ministry • A council cannot do anything unless permitted for Housing, Communities and Local Government by legislation. (MHCLG) know via the GOV.UK website at gov.uk/ government/publications/sustainable-communities- The crucial question is – does the council have a legal act-and-barrier-busting power to act? A council must always ask this question when making a decision, especially if it involves public money. SO WHAT MUST YOU DO AS A COUNCIL? In April 2012, the Government introduced the general The law gives local councils choice in activities to power of competence for eligible local councils. The undertake; but surprisingly there are very few duties, or general power of competence is designed to make it activities that they must carry out in delivering services easier for eligible councils1 to act. It is intended to permit to local people. Exceptions are that a council must: eligible local councils to do anything that an individual • comply with its obligations under the Freedom of might do, as long as other legislation does not forbid it. Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 This could include, for example, the development of land and the Equality Act 2010 for residential or commercial purposes. • publish certain information such as annual accounts, The general power of competence enables local councils notice of meetings, agendas and meeting notes to respond more effectively to their communities’ needs, encouraging innovation and assisting in shared service • comply with the relevant Local Government delivery. However, you must check with your clerk to Transparency Code (see further details on page 26) make sure you are acting appropriately. If the council comply with employment law does something which is not permitted by legislation • consider the impact of their decisions on reducing (even if it would be popular with the community), then crime and disorder in their area the council could face a legal challenge that it acted beyond its powers.
18 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 19 • have regard to the protection of biodiversity in and report the proceedings of public meetings. Equality carrying out their functions consider the provision legislation reminds the council that it must make its of allotments if there is demand for them from meetings accessible to anyone who wishes to attend. local residents and it is reasonable to do so decide Similarly the Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires whether to adopt a churchyard when it is closed, if the council to have a publication scheme explaining how asked to do so by the Parochial Church Council. certain types of council information are made available. Your local council also has a duty to ensure that all the If you are beginning to think there are too many rules, rules for the administration of the council are followed. remember that they protect people’s rights (including The council must: yours) and give confidence that the council is properly run. • appoint a chairman of the council • appoint officers as appropriate for carrying out its RULES FOR COUNCILLORS functions You cannot act as a councillor until you have signed • appoint a responsible financial officer (RFO) to a formal declaration of acceptance of your office. manage the council’s financial affairs; the RFO is often You must sign it at or before the first council meeting the clerk, especially in smaller councils following your election or co-option in the presence • appoint an independent and competent internal of another councillor or the clerk. Failure to sign means auditor — see below you cannot continue as a councillor, unless you were given permission to sign later. • adopt a Code of Conduct — see below As a councillor you have a responsibility to: • hold a minimum number of four meetings per year, one of which must be the Annual Meeting of the • attend meetings when summoned to do so; the Council — see below. notice to attend a council meeting is, in law, a summons, because you have a duty to attend These rules are set out in law to guide the procedures of the council and your council can add its own regulations. • consider, in advance of the meeting, the agenda and Together these rules make up standing orders as formally any related agreed by your council (see Part Three). If you discover • documents which were sent to you with the that your council does not have its own (non-financial) summons standing orders don’t panic; this is unwise, but duties set out in statute, such as appointing a chairman and • take part in meetings and consider all the relevant a proper officer, still apply. The National Association facts and issues on matters which require a decision of Local Councils (see Part Five) provides model including the views of others expressed at the standing orders. meeting Council, committee and sub-committee meetings must • take part in voting and respect decisions made by generally be open to the public and the Openness of the majority of those present and voting Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 mean that • ensure, with other councillors, that the council is councils must allow members of the public to record properly managed
20 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 21 • represent the whole electorate, and not just those Alternative models are also available from your who voted for you. principal authority or from the MHCLG website. You should ask to see your council’s code of conduct COUNCILLORS’ CONDUCT AND INTERESTS to ensure that you are aware of your responsibilities and There seven Nolan principles apply to the conduct of any personal disclosure requirements. people in public life. They are: Selflessness – you should act in the public interest COUNCILLORS’ INTERESTS As a councillor, you must abide by rules that apply to Integrity – you should not put yourself under any the disclosure of some business or financial interests. obligations to others, allow them improperly to influence These are called “disclosable pecuniary interests” or you or seek benefit for yourself, family, friends or “DPIs”. DPIs include your employment, ownership of land, close associates and business interests in your parish. Other interests Objectivity – you should act impartially, fairly and are usually non-pecuniary or personal interests. Your on merit council’s code will establish what actions you must take for personal interests. Accountability – you should be prepared to submit to public scrutiny necessary to ensure accountability You must disclose to your principal authority’s monitoring officer any DPIs and any other disclosable Openness – you should be open and transparent in your interests that are referred to in your council’s code of actions and decisions unless there are clear and lawful conduct within 28 days of becoming a member of the reasons for non-disclosure council. The monitoring officer will make a register of Honesty – you should always be truthful your interests available to the public – usually on the principal authority’s website. This rule on disclosure also Leadership – as a councillor, you should promote, applies to your spouse, civil partner or cohabitee, as support and exhibit high standards of conduct and be if their interests were yours. You should be aware that willing to challenge poor behaviour. the register of interests does not distinguish between a councillor’s interests and those that are held by CODE OF CONDUCT your partner. Each local council must adopt and publicise a code If the monitoring officer decides that, by making a of conduct that is in line with the Nolan principles. disclosable interest public, you might be subject to a The code should deal with councillors’ obligations about threat of violence or intimidation the fact that you have their conduct including the registration and disclosure the interest can be registered without details of the of their interests (see below). Complaints about council- interest. This is known as a sensitive interest. lors’ conduct are dealt with by the principal authority. You should give a copy of your register of interests The National Association of Local Councils has to your clerk for your council’s website. developed a template code of conduct2 specifically for parish councils, which covers these issues. Your council If an agenda item relates to one of your DPIs – such as is not obliged to use this template. the expansion of a supermarket chain in which you own
22 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 23 shares – you must not participate in the discussion or employer. It is most important for the council to ensure vote. You must withdraw if your council’s standing orders that all staff have a written contract of employment. say so. Also, if the interest has not been registered with Employees should be paid (as a minimum) the minimum the monitoring officer, you must disclose the interest at wage, or the national living wage for workers aged the meeting (or, for sensitive interests, disclose the issue 25 and over. You should note, however, that when but not the detail). You must then notify the monitoring councillors occasionally act as clerk, they cannot be officer within 28 days of the meeting. paid. In fact, councillors cannot be appointed to any paid employment in the council whilst they remain a The declaration of interests at meetings is intended to serving councillor or within 12 months of leaving office. give the public confidence in your council’s decision making. It helps if the agenda gives councillors an Council employees enjoy the full security of the law opportunity to declare an interest early in a meeting. whether they are full-time or part-time workers. Employment law protects them in terms of pay, annual leave, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave and DISPENSATIONS pay. It protects them from bullying or harassment and A council can decide that a councillor with a DPI can discrimination. An agreed grievance procedure ensures participate and vote on a council motion. This is called that concerns raised by an employee are handled granting a dispensation. If you have a DPI but think you properly if they occur. Health and Safety law also should be able to participate in the discussion and vote protects employees (and councillors and members on the matter, you put your request in writing to the of the public); your clerk should be able to advise council. Your clerk will advise. As a councillor, you can on such matters. vote on your own request for a dispensation. Remember, the clerk is employed by the council and answers to the council as a whole. Other staff, although CRIMINAL OFFENCES employed by the council, are usually managed by the There are a number of potential criminal offences clerk. No one councillor can act as the line manager associated with: of either the clerk or other employees. These rules and principles should build on mutual respect and • the failure to register or disclose a DPI consideration between employee and employer. • discussion and/or voting on a DPI. For more information on your role and responsibilities Successful prosecutions can result in a fine of £5000 and as an employer see the guide Being a good employer; disqualification for five years from your local council and details are in Part Five. from other local authorities. RULES FOR DEALING WITH PUBLIC MONEY RULES FOR EMPLOYERS Being financially responsible for a public body can be Rules also protect your employees and your council as daunting. The rules set by Government are designed to an employer. Misunderstandings can sometimes arise make sure that the council takes no unacceptable risks between a council and its employees. The law requires with public money. that at all times the council must act as a responsible
24 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 25 The words risk management should be engraved upon Authorities in England — A Practitioners’ Guide to every councillor’s mind. The good news is that the rules Proper Practices4 to be applied in the preparation of protect you and your council from possible disaster. statutory annual accounts and governance statements Your council should establish a risk management scheme – published jointly by NALC and the SLCC. As part of which highlights every known significant risk in terms its system of internal control, the council arranges for of the council’s activities and makes clear how such an Internal Audit where someone, (other than the RFO risks will be managed. This includes ensuring that it has and acting independently of the council), scrutinises the proper insurance to protect employees, buildings, cash council’s financial systems. and members of the public. For example, playgrounds The findings of internal controls are reported to the and sports facilities must be subject to regular checks council, so, together with regular feedback from the RFO that are properly recorded. It’s not just about protecting on the accounts, all councillors should be aware of the assets; it’s about taking care of people. council’s financial position. This ensures everything is As a councillor, you share collective responsibility open and above board and you have what you need as a for financial management of the council. The council councillor accountable for the council’s finances. will have made arrangements for its finances to be The budget is an essential tool for controlling the administered by an officer known, in law, as the council’s finances. It demonstrates that your council will responsible financial officer (RFO). Your role is to ensure have sufficient income to carry out its activities and that the RFO acts properly so that the council avoids policies. By checking spending against budget plans on a the risk of loss, fraud or bad debt, whether through regular basis at council meetings, the council controls its deliberate or careless actions. Robust financial checks finances during the year so that it can confidently make and oversight are of great importance. Your council may progress towards what it wants to achieve. make electronic payments or pay by cheque, whatever arrangement is in place you should ensure that there is a Transparency and openness should be the fundamental system to reduce the risks of error or fraud, for example principle behind everything your parish council does. never sign a blank cheque.3 Greater openness and transparency is part of a wider transformation process across local government and As an aid, your council should have its own financial provides local people with the information they need to regulations (as part of standing orders) giving details of hold your council to account. how the council must manage its finances. As part of this, a new plain English guide to openness and The National Association of Local Councils publishes accountability 5 issued in 2014 sets out clear guidelines on model financial regulations available from your what should be available to the public in relation to your county association. If your council has not adopted council, including attending and reporting on meetings financial regulations then you leave yourselves open to and accessing information. considerable risk and your council must take action to correct this as a matter of urgency. In addition, a new Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities 6 came into effect from 1 April 2015. It requires The council must operate an overall system of internal the online publication of key financial, governance and control appropriate to your council’s expenditure and meeting information from 1 July 2015. It applies to parish activity. There is extensive guidance on risk and internal councils and certain other small bodies with an annual control in Governance and Accountability for Smaller
26 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 27 turnover not exceeding £25,000, and from 1 April 2017 INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL AUDITS replaces the need for external annual audit in most cases. The internal auditor is an independent and competent person appointed by the council to carry out checks on Whilst this Code only applies to parish councils with its system of internal control. The independent internal an annual turnover of £25k or less, it is considered best auditor cannot be involved in any business of the council practice for all parish councils, whatever their turnover, and cannot, therefore, be a serving member of the to be meeting the transparency requirements set out in council. Another clerk or an accountant could be suitable the code and this best practice is reinforced by National (but reciprocal arrangements between councils are not Association of Local Councils’ Award Scheme. permitted). The internal auditor carries out tests focusing Parish councils with annual turnover exceeding on areas of risk and after reporting to the council, signs £200,000 are expected to follow the Local Government a report on the annual return (required by law for most Transparency Code for larger authorities.7 councils) to confirm that the council’s system of controls is in place and operating. The Smaller Authorities Code requires Parish Councils to publish the following information: The law requires another audit to be carried out so that local taxpayers can be assured that the risks to public • all items of expenditure above £100 money have been managed. Following the closure of • end of year accounts the Audit Commission in March 2015, Public Sector Audit Appointments Ltd has been responsible for appointing • annual governance statement external auditors to parish councils. From April 2017, • internal audit report Smaller Authorities’ Audit Appointments Ltd (SAAA) will have the responsibility for doing so in regards to • list of councillor or member responsibilities, parish councils. Unless your council has decided to opt • the details of public land and building assets, out and appoint its own external auditor, SAAA will appoint an external auditor to your parish council until • minutes, agendas and meeting papers of formal 31 March 2022. meetings These auditors review the council’s annual return. The Separately, from 2015/16 all parish councils are required to annual return is the principal means by which the council publish their annual end of year accounts online. is accountable to its electorate. Councils must complete To help the smallest parish councils meet these new an annual return to confirm that everything is in order. transparency requirements, MHCLG is supporting Your council may be able to declare itself as an exempt NALC and its county associations to deliver funding authority in regards to an external audit if it has an annual of £4.7million over three years to enable those bodies turnover of £25,000 or under. Your clerk should be able without the capacity or resources currently to enable to provide further information on how to do this. them to get online and comply with the code as soon as practicable. Details of how to apply for funding and Signed statements confirm responsibility for governance what is covered is available on the NALC website.8 arrangements during the year. In particular they show that: • the accounts have been properly prepared and approved
28 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 29 • a system of internal control is in place – this includes The aim is to get more council activity for the least the appointment of a competent and independent possible expense without compromising quality. internal auditor – and the effectiveness of both the It helps the council to assess ‘value for money’ if it system and the appointment has been reviewed regularly asks whether it is really necessary to spend the • the council has taken reasonable steps to comply with money or whether it can find a way of doing it better. the law Perhaps another supplier can do the job with greater efficiency and effectiveness. It is good practice to • the accounts have been publicised for general consult other councils and to engage with service users inspection so that electors’ rights can be exercised and the wider community to find out what they think. • the council has assessed all possible risks to It might even be possible to join with other councils to public money deliver a more economic service to the community. • there are no potentially damaging or hidden issues The financial rules and the variety of statutes and such as an impending claim against the council procedures protect the council. Most importantly the rules give your council the tools it needs to achieve its • significant differences in the figures from the previous goals, protect community assets and make best use of year have been explained public money. • the council has properly managed any trust funds. Rules also guide a local council as it makes decisions in As a member of the council, you have responsibility for the proper manner. Part Three looks at how you make making sure that the annual return accurately presents decisions on behalf of local people – at meetings. the financial management by the council. Your clerk will advise. If you and your fellow councillors have acted properly leading up to the external audit then you will receive the external auditor’s certificate and an unqualified opinion on the annual return known as limited assurance. This means that nothing has come to the external auditor’s attention that gives cause for concern. The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities and the Local Government Transparency Code 2015 also requires certain councils to publish a range of financial information online.9 VALUE FOR MONEY It is essential that the council is seen to provide value for money. This means ensuring that public money is spent efficiently to provide an effective service.
30 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 31 NOTES 1. Councils are eligible if they have a qualified clerk and two thirds of councillors have stood for election. The criteria are set out in the Parish Councils (General Power of Competence) (Prescribed Conditions) Order 2012. 2. You can find the template at www.nalc.gov.uk under Legal Briefing L09-12. This area of the website is only accessible to NALC members. 3. Further advice on safeguarding public money was issued by the Joint Practitioners Advisory Group as part of the Practitioners Guide in 2016 (see next footnote for link) 4. nalc.gov.uk/library/publications/1964-governance-and-accountability-for-small- er-authorities-in-england-2016-sections-1-4/file 5. gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/343182/140812_ Community safety, housing, street Openness_Guide.pdf lighting, allotments, cemeteries, playing 6. gov.uk/government/publications/transparency-code-for-smaller-authorities fields, community centres, litter, war 7. gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408386/150227_ memorials, seats and shelters, rights of PUBLICATION_Final_LGTC_2015.pdf 8. nalc.gov.uk/our-work/the-transparency-fund way and some aspects of planning and 9. The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities means that from 2017, councils with highways – these are some of the issues an annual turnover of less than £25,000 will not be required to submit their annual re- that concern parish government. turn for audit; however these councils must still publish financial information online.
32 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 33 GET TING UNDER WAY applications as required without convening a full council meeting. Some committees are advisory; they make recommendations to the full council, which then makes the decisions. There are also executive committees where the full council delegates responsibility for certain decisions to the committee. The committee then reports its decisions to the full council. This helps the Planning MEETINGS Committee to make decisions without referring to the Council meetings are important; this is where you full council. play your part as a decision maker. The chairman is Sub-committees are appointed by a committee to in charge of the meeting, and the clerk (or perhaps a focus discussion on a specific topic among an even deputy) supports the council as it discusses business. smaller group of councillors. Otherwise, they operate The meeting is the council team in action. like committees. Council meetings and committee meetings are formal Working parties or ‘task-and-finish’ groups are events, not social occasions. They have a clear purpose occasionally set up for a short-term purpose. They – to make decisions – and are not just talking shops. are not subject to the strict rules that apply to formal Furthermore, they are public events; the meetings council meetings and do not need to be held in public. must be advertised and the press and public have a A working party cannot make a decision on behalf of the right to observe, record and report on how the council council, but they can explore options and present these operates. The same approach should be adopted for to the council for a decision. sub-committees. Exceptions are when sensitive issues are discussed (such as legal, contractual or staffing matters) There are rules about who is permitted to join a and then the council can agree to exclude the press and committee or subcommittee. Sometimes non-councillors public for just that item of business. can be included (although with a few exceptions, they cannot vote). This is an excellent means of involving The council should decide on a schedule of meetings others, particularly young people, in council work. for the year. Council meetings are meetings of the full council. All councillors are expected to attend. T WO ANNUAL MEETINGS If you are elected in May your first meeting will be the Committee meetings bring together a smaller number Annual Meeting of the Council. This is where you elect of councillors to concentrate on a specific function of a chairman and probably a vice-chairman, and appoint the council and share the workload. committee members and representatives to other Some committees are permanent or standing bodies. Remember that this is a meeting of the council. committees, but others are set up for a short-term The Annual Parish or Town Meeting is not a council project. Many councils have a permanent Planning meeting. It is a meeting of the parish or town electors Committee allowing them to comment on planning taking place between 1 March and 1 June. Electors can
34 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 35 contribute to the agenda and in practice these meetings that all business is properly considered and all councillors often celebrate local activities and debate current issues who wish to speak can do so. It is good practice for the in the community. The chairman of the council, any chairman to refer to the clerk for advice. two councillors or any six electors can call the Annual The chairman has few special powers. For instance, it is Parish or Town Meeting. The Chairman, if present, will unlawful for a council to delegate decision making to any chair the meeting. It is best practice to hold the Annual individual councillor and the chairman is no different. Meeting of the Council and the Annual Parish Meeting However, when a vote is tied, the chairman may use a on different occasions to avoid confusion. second, or casting vote. The chairman often enjoys a special relationship with STANDING ORDERS the public, especially in a town where the chairman is The rules for the Annual Meeting of the Council also the mayor. It is the chairman who leads the Annual will be contained in the council’s standing orders. Town or Parish Meeting (remember, this is not a council Remember, these include rules of procedure laid down meeting) and opens the fête, or welcomes official visitors in legislation and additional regulations chosen by your from abroad. This is one reason why the chairman can council. Standing orders help the council to operate receive an allowance to support this important public smoothly. For example, a third of the councillors (or role. If a local council resolves to do so, councillors three, whichever is the greater) must be present for the can also claim an allowance, taking into consideration meeting to go ahead; this is known as the quorum. The the level recommended by the principal council’s council can set a higher quorum for committees through independent remuneration panel. standing orders if it wishes. Other standing orders will determine, for example: Where councillors, clerk and chairman work together as a team they combine knowledge and skills to deliver real • the order of business benefits to the community they serve. • the length of meetings and the duration Good working relationships, mutual respect and an of speaking time understanding of their different roles are vital. Conflict • the schedule of meetings for the year between these key players, especially during meetings in front of the press or public can damage the council. • delegation to committees and officers • voting requirements BEING PREPARED • procedures for public participation. Your first meeting as a councillor can be daunting as you wonder what will happen and where to sit. Hopefully other councillors will be welcoming. RESPECTING THE CHAIRMAN The chairman is in charge during council meetings; this At, or before, your first meeting you must sign the is an office created by legislation commanding respect. declaration of acceptance of office. In law, you are not Remember, the chairman is elected at the Annual a councillor until you sign. At the same time, if your Meeting of the Council for one year. Chairmen have a council has agreed, you should undertake to observe the duty to ensure that council meetings run smoothly, Code of Conduct, which you must read.
36 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 37 At least three clear days before each council, committee Putting the agenda together is the clerk’s responsibility. or sub-committee meeting, you should be sent a The clerk must sign the agenda and can decide how summons and agenda. The three clear days is established it will be set out. This process is often undertaken in in law because it is important to be notified of issues consultation with the chairman. You may ask the clerk to be discussed. Topics requiring a decision cannot be to add items to the agenda if you feel a relevant subject added to the agenda after the deadline has passed; they should be discussed. must wait for another meeting. Each agenda item should make it very clear what you as AT THE MEETING a councillor are expected to do and be precise about the subject under discussion. For example, an agenda item What if you cannot attend? Remember, you have a saying “footpaths” gives you no idea what to expect. It is duty to attend but sometimes things crop up and you more helpful to know that your task at the meeting is are unable to make it. You must contact the clerk with an apology and explanation. A darts match is not an To receive a report from Cllr Gorie on the condition of adequate excuse whereas illness or work commitments footpaths in the parish and to agree action in response are acceptable reasons. If you fail to attend any to proposals for repairs (copy of report attached). meetings for six months, you will automatically cease to It is actually unlawful to make a decision, especially a be a councillor unless the council approved your reason decision to spend money, without sufficient (three clear for absence before the end of the six month period. days) warning. Vague agenda items that don’t specify It is, of course, the chairman’s job to manage the meeting exact business (such as Matters Arising, and Any Other by introducing agenda items, inviting members to speak, Business) are dangerous and should be avoided, because focusing discussion and clarifying matters for decision. the council cannot make unexpected decisions. Councillors, having engaged in discussion, vote for or against the proposal by a show of hands. Matters to be decided are called proposals or motions. Decisions, called resolutions, are recorded in the minutes as, for example, “It was resolved that the council will contribute £2000 to the community bus scheme.” If you have no view on a proposal, or cannot decide, you can abstain, but you shouldn’t do this too frequently. Normally voters’ names The five Ws help councillors prepare for a meeting. are not minuted but if necessary, you can ask for names • What is the meeting for? to be recorded. Remember that council decisions are corporate decisions. • What part should I play? • What papers must I read? You should keep contributions short and to the point; you probably don’t enjoy listening to others who speak • Which people do I need to consult? for too long. Always work through the chairman and try • What did I promise to do before this meeting? not to score points off fellow councillors. Never engage in personal attacks on others – however tempting.
38 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 39 If you can add a dash of humour and common sense to Standing orders may require decisions to be taken the proceedings then you will be a pleasure to work with. after consultation with two councillors (including the chairman) but the decision remains with the officer. The council must advertise the meetings by putting up public notices; electors have a right to attend, record and Most importantly, the council must not allow delegation report on public meetings. You may be wondering when to a single councillor – not even to the chairman. they have their say. Many councils encourage members So councils exist to make and implement decisions. of the public to speak and ask questions in a short, Part Four looks at how councils can be active on behalf defined period, early in the meeting. of local people. The meeting must remain quorate at all times, so if you need to leave during a council meeting always warn your clerk and chairman beforehand. NOTES As a rule, meetings should not last more than two hours otherwise concentration begins to lapse. A well-crafted agenda with precise topics for discussion is a valuable tool to help the chairman bring the meeting to a close on time. AFTER THE MEETING Decisions have been taken and these need to be implemented. The clerk or the minute secretary writes the minutes as a legal record of what was decided at the meeting. It is important that the minutes are accurate and therefore the minutes of the last meeting are confirmed and signed at the start of the next meeting. It is a good idea if the minutes record clearly the actions to be taken following the meeting. What happens if a decision needs to be taken between meetings? Where the matter needs full discussion, the chairman might call an extraordinary meeting, but delegation is a useful tool. Section 101 (of the Local Government Act 1972) allows a council to delegate the power to make decisions to an officer, a committee, a sub-committee or another council. It is good practice to specify in standing orders the kind of decisions that the clerk can make such as routine decisions, dealing with emergencies or spending small sums of money.
40 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 41 DELIVERING THE GOODS councils can offer funding, equipment and premises, to help others provide services. They can give small grants to organisations that run child care, services for the elderly, arts activities, pond clearance or sport which can improve the quality of parish life. Local communities see the benefits of living in a parish and the role the council can play in supporting local residents and delivering valued services. There are many SERVICES AND COMMUNITY RIGHTS opportunities for councils to tap into this enthusiasm for The best local councils want to foster vibrant and a more grass-roots and‘localist’approach in the provision flourishing communities to improve the quality of life of goods. for people living in their local area. Government is How does your council know which services to deliver committed to encouraging local councils to achieve this or what activities to support? It consults, listens and and to empower them to become more effective at identifies what is missing; it then agrees priorities for designing and delivering services. action and its policies begin to take shape. This section shows how your council can be dynamic and The Localism Act 2011 introduced a number of new ways professional in delivering the goods which can enhance in which councils can act on behalf of their communities, the life experiences and well-being of local people. Local which are collectively known as community rights. These councils can best realise their full potential in service rights have been taken up by local councils to help delivery by devising clear strategic plans – this may improve their local areas. include business, corporate or action plans that set out both the vision and the practical steps for delivering The community right to bid gives communities the local services. opportunity to nominate buildings and land as assets of community value (ACV). If an ACV is put up for sale, the Local councils can provide many services using their community group can trigger a moratorium of up to six legal powers. A council that chooses to utilise these months to enable them to put together a bid to buy the powers will increase their capacity for delivering asset. The owner is free to turn down the community bid innovative services – funding transport provision for and after the moratorium has elapsed, they are free to certain vulnerable groups, delivering services for young sell their asset to whomever and at whatever price people, maintaining leisure and green spaces e.g. parks, they choose. allotments and community centres and organising community festivals. Nominations can be made by the parish council for the area in which the land is situated and by voluntary In a landscape where district and counties are devolving and community bodies with a local connection that more local services, parish councils have more potential do not distribute profits to their members. In addition, to work imaginatively in partnership with other bodies an unincorporated local organisation may nominate e.g. local businesses, the community and voluntary provided that it has at least 21 individual members sector and local residents. A council might manage who are on the local electoral register or that of a library services for the principal authority or assist a local neighbouring authority. charity to help young people find employment. Local
42 The Good Councillor’s guide 2018 2018 The Good Councillor’s guide 43 Voluntary and community bodies are only eligible to b. Any information the nominator has about the nominate land as an ACV if their activities are concerned freeholders, leaseholders and current occupants of with the local authority’s area or that of a neighbouring the site. authority’s area. c. The reasons for nominating the asset, explaining why An asset may also be nominated by another parish the nominator believes the building or other land council if it has a local connection: should be classed as an ACV. Where the asset is in a parish, the council of a parish d. The nominator’s eligibility to make the nomination. which shares a border with that parish; and The local authority has eight weeks from the date of the Where the asset is not in a parish, the council of a nomination to make a judgement about whether to list parish within the local authority area in which the land is the land as an ACV. situated or that borders that local authority’s area. A building or other land will be classed as land of Nominated assets may be owned by anybody, including community value if it is not excluded from listing e.g. it is the local authority and the Crown. However, there are a residence and in the opinion of the authority: some categories of assets that are excluded from listing: a. it has an actual current use that furthers the social a. Residential property including gardens, outbuildings wellbeing or social interests of the local community and other associated land owned by the same (“a socially beneficial use”) and it is realistic to think owner and connected with the residence – including that it can continue in socially beneficial use; or land that it is reasonable to consider as part of the b. in the recent past it has had a socially beneficial use associated land where it is separated from it only by a and it is realistic to consider could do so again during road, railway line, river or canal; the next five years. b. Land licensed for use as a residential caravan site and To be considered for listing, the past or current and some types of residential caravan site which do not future socially beneficial use must not be an ancillary need a licence; and use. This means that the use of the building in question c. Operational land of statutory undertakers as defined must be significant (i.e., non-ancillary) even if it does in section 263 of the Town and Country Planning Act not constitute the main use of the building. To meet 1990 (for instance, power stations). the future use condition the future socially beneficial use need not be the same as the current or past Nominating assets of community value is easy and free socially beneficial use. Social interests include cultural, of charge and must include the following information for recreational and sporting interests. the local authority to consider: A wide range of assets have been nominated from com- a. A description of the nominated land including its munity centres, to pubs and Hastings Pier. The first asset proposed boundaries. These boundaries do not purchased using the Community Right to Bid was the Ivy have to be the same as ownership boundaries, for House pub in Peckham in March 2013. You could do some instance as shown on the Land Registry plan if the research to find out what support funding is available to land is registered; nor is it necessary for all parts of the communities considering taking over local assets. nominated site to be in the same ownership.
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