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Parish council's Correspondence Policy?

0 votes

Our Clerk doesn't automatically copy councillors in with all emails sent out on behalf of the council, let alone forward to councillors all correspondence sent to the council through the Clerk. This results in councillors left out of the loop on council business and finding themselves not fully informed to take decisions in meetings about agenda items that have no supporting documents or emails or papertrails.

I complained about this at a recent council meeting and was told that the Clerk would devise a policy on correspondence to be decided at a meeting tomorrow night (15 July). The Clerk sent out this policy document-

 

Draft Correspondence Policy

Date adopted: 

All correspondence should be addressed to the Clerk. By email or by post to The Clerk at the relevant addresses.

Correspondence will be acknowledged or responded to within 3 working days.  The personal information you provide, such as name, address, email address, phone number will be processed and stored so that it is possible to contact you and respond to your correspondence. 

Your personal information may be shared with Parish Councillors, where appropriat1]<!--[endif]-->, but will be not shared or provided to any other third party without your prior consent. 

Your communication will be kept to deal with your enquiry and then removed from the Parish Council records at the earliest convenience.

<!--[endif]-->

[1] NALC LTN1 Councils Powers to Discharge their Functions. 26 The Need to Know. Councillors do not have a ‘need to know’ all aspects of council’s business and cannot claim an automatic right to see all council documentation and information. In other words, councillors are not permitted a fishing expedition in respect of council documentation and information simply because they are councillors.  

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Reading the above policy document, it seems that councillors, who should be seeing all correspondence sent to the council via the Clerk as they are 'the council', will not be guaranteed that access if this policy is adopted.

If  the above policy is adopted, all decisions about council business that must be made by members in open meetings would end up being dealt with in an ad hoc, selective and private fashion by an employee who has no decision-making role. The Clerk would be able to deal with all correspondence, receiving it, triaging it answering it and finally deleting it without sharing it with the council, without the council's instruction or permission, and the council would be none the wiser. 

A dangerous precedent surely? 

It appears that the Clerk would become the sole decision-maker on any/all matters of council business he/she chooses to address and make public, rather than the elected members of the council making decisions in convened council meetings - ie an open, transparent public forum. If that is the case, why bother having a council at all?

Despite repeated requests, our Clerk refuses to put a list of the emails/letters etc received by the council in any of the published agendas for council meetings.

asked by (260 points)

3 Answers

0 votes
Be careful what you wish for.  The amount of emails that Clerks can receive is huge and some councillors would object to being inundated with a copy of every email or response.  And if you want a list of every email received by the council over the course of a month, that could go into 00s of emails.

Behind this and your other posts, there is clearly a loss of trust between the council / clerk and residents which is sad to hear.  If the Clerk was trusted to undertake work on behalf of the council then there would be no requirement for every councillor to see every email and / or response.

Surely rather than creating a correspondence policy, your council needs to look at the root of the issue and arrange a disciplinary hearing with the clerk as they are not undertaking the work that the council requires from them, withholding information and not acting in the best interest of the council.

Best wishes
answered by (16.8k points)
Thank you Mrs Abster. We are a small parish council with a few hundred residents so it should be possible for all correspondence to and from the council to be copied in to the seven members - if only to help them address items on published agendas fully informed and cognisant. It isn't rocket science. How would members of the board of a company react if they were kept in the dark like this?
I see what you are saying but members of a board would not be privy to every piece of information either. The HR director wouldn't know what the Finance director would know...
I agree your clerk is not conducting themselves appropriately. I would suggest the clerk should be dismissed rather than creating a policy. It seems to me to be putting a plaster on a more serious issue.
Straight to dismissal on a single issue?

Bit harsh maybe, that’s got unfair dismissal written all over it.
Perhaps a more measured approach would be to set and agree a policy which is supported by council, amend ToRs to reflect new policy (if required), employee given clear instruction, performance appraisal, monitor, review....
where did I say dismissal in my response?  I said that reading this and the other emails from the same poster indicates that there is an underlying problems covering a number of issues that all need to be addressed.  The correct process if the Clerk is not doing their work would be via the disciplinary process.
“...I would suggest the clerk should be dismissed rather than creating a policy. It seems to me to be putting a plaster on a more serious issue...”
These were your words.  Since they follow on and are linked directly to a previous comment which states:
“...arrange a disciplinary hearing with the clerk as they are not undertaking the work that the council requires from them, withholding information and not acting in the best interest of the council...”

It’s difficult to assume any other meaning of “dismissal” might have been intended.
It’s all there in the thread. Where did you say “dismissal?”  Right there....
Fair enough but I also did say that there were a number of issues that this poster had raised and therefore dismissing the clerk based on the serious allegations made about hiding information, incorrect work on the annual return and other items is something that needs to be considered rather than a communications policy...

You are normally the first to suggest that its the Clerks fault and that they should be whipped through the streets for their actions.
Whilst personally in favour of the reintroduction of village stocks, and whilst acknowledging that my criticism of clerks may have been noted as a ‘trend,’ I genuinely believe that constructive criticism should not be demonised as so often is the case - esp where clerks seem to be the subject.
PS - I’d suggest there is a commonality (albeit polar opposite) of my apparent tendency towards negativity in relation to employee issues and your apparent tendency towards being overly sympathetic towards clerks and critical of Cllr’s. There’s probably a balance in there somewhere and our personal experiences are dominant factors in our assumed positions.
I would agree - be careful what you wish for.   I see no need to see all communication to be shared, especially day to day normal business.    But the NALC guidance seems a bit suspicious - has it been tested in law?   The council can vote to go on a fishing expedition it if likes on any matter it is held accountable for -  and has the legal powers to do so.  An individual councillor - not so I suspect and there is the rub, and appropriate defense against forwarding all communications to councillors?
0 votes
It appears that you have a clerk that seeks barriers to effective process rather than facilitating them - certainly fits the (apparently common) model of clerks attempting to establish / maintain ‘dominance’ and inappropriate ‘authority’ over a council.
Your council just needs to set a policy and amend employee ToRs to reflect the requirements of the council rather than the quirky idiosyncrasies of an employee.
The poorly considered reference to the misguided NALC guidance is indicative of a desire to seek to validate a notably ill advised stance with a pseudo authoritative reference.
It’s poor guidance inappropriately applied by an unprofessional and belligerent employee.
A shared online document reading file with ‘read only’ access to Cllr’s would present the simplest of solutions and also assist in general information management potentially saving time and effort in relation to future FoIs.   Hell, a ½ decent admin employee would even get redacted versions on the website with public read only access so that general public could see routine business.
This really isn’t rocket science - it is basic admin.
answered by (6.3k points)
I agree with all the above comments and thank you for providing them. Unfortunately, when you have two councillors out of seven who understand due process and the proper manner in which council business should be administered then the Clerk is able to run roughshod over any reasonable concerns raised with the Clerk 0during/outside meetings. The major problem is a marked lack of independence of the Clerk, who appears to act with impunity as they wish, backed by  the Chair and Vice Chair, and a band of ignorant members who seem content to rubber stamp anything the Clerk wants the council to do. When challenged, the Clerk asserts that their actions and decisions have been carried out following advice sought from the local ALC and the SLCC - however, none of that advice has been made available in writing to back up the claims.
"...marked lack of independence of the Clerk, who appears to act with impunity as they wish..."

Bit confused by that but I think I get your meaning.

"...When challenged, the Clerk asserts that their actions and decisions have been carried out following advice sought from the local ALC and the SLCC..."

A VERY common ploy!  "Show me" is the stock answer and the point at which it all falls over - swiftly followed by a recurring illness, complaint against a Cllr, threat of Ind trib etc...

It is a very well recorded and discussed path you are on!

Here's a suggestion - have you sought access for Cllrs to the ALC web portal that the clerk claims to be drawing their references from?  Expect resistance when you ask for a password (knowledge is power and all that) but since it is the council that pays for the subscription, it is for the council to dictate who has access to the service.

Even the regional ALC tried to resist granting access to cllrs when I asked - but they did yield under pressure.
0 votes
Maybe one of the forum members that is a current town or parish clerk could find and share a full copy of the NALC LTN 1 since an Internet search throws up nothing other than password protected documents.

Therein lies a large part of the problem which seems to arise between cllrs and employees - the firewall that prevents cllrs accessing the information that is propagated and published by NALC and then referenced by clerks.

The consequence being, clerks make grand declarations of NALC policy whilst often cherry picking only that part of a reference which, when taken in isolation, is believed to validate an otherwise unjustifiable position.

Of course it's not in the financial interest of regional ALCs and NALC to make this information freely available to cllrs since they top their coffers up by charging for seemingly random, scattergun 'training' for cllrs at the slightest opportunity.

As I have previously found, my ALC was not at all 'keen' to allow Cllr access to the portal.  ALC's would do well to remember that it is cllrs that vote to either subscribe or maintain a subscription and so treating cllrs as valued customers would be the wise move.
answered by (6.3k points)
My councillors all have the login details for the NALC website.  Whether they choose to look at the LTNs is up to them - the vast majority of the time, they ask me to do the research rather then them.
That is really good to hear.
I was told “...I’ll tell you what you need to know...” by the incumbent clerk when I started.
You can imagine how that was received );0)

The info should be available for those that seek it.
I’d go so far as to suggest it should also be publicly accessible so that Joe Public can understand the duties, responsibilities and restrictions placed upon a PC.
Our Clerk and Chair refuse to give us the password to access the NALC site
Plus our Clerk often quotes from “ legal advice “ but won’t show us the supporting documentation
I have a saying which applies to circumstances such as this “ I know the answer but what was the question?”
It is illogical and unreasonable to adopt such a stance. Cllr’s should have access to all the support and advice that is available.
I had a similar situation.
A clerk that had, for years, convinced the PC that he knew best and so ALC subscription was a waste of money.
I got that changed and the PC joined. He quit under threat of a fraud investigation.
The next challenge was to gain access to the ALC portal. New clerk, chair AND ALC were resistant but the simple fact was - there is NO justification to intentionally withhold available info from Cllr’s. Quite the opposite really.
The ultimate threat being, if the council are denied access, don’t expect the council to approve next years subscription.

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