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.
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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.
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    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.
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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.
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     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.
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     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
                                                                                   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.
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     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
     • 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
     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.
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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
                                                                                    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
     The crucial question is – does the council have a legal
     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.
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     • 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
                                                                                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
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     • 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
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     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
                                                                                  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
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     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.
                                                                                  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
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

     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


                                                        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 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)
     Community safety, housing, street                       Openness_Guide.pdf
     lighting, allotments, cemeteries, playing          6.
     fields, community centres, litter, war             7.
     memorials, seats and shelters, rights of                PUBLICATION_Final_LGTC_2015.pdf
     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
                                                                                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.
     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.
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     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.
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     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.
     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.

     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
                                                                                    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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