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I copied in our local ALC to an email sent to clerk and have been castigated

0 votes

I wrote the following to our clerk (and copied to all councillors and our local ALC) recently after the Clerk sent an email asking for councillors to sign up to a to-be-paid-for ALC training course that would take place before the next council meeting. One councillor emailed back that they would attend the course, and the Clerk signed them up on it despite the fact it had not been addressed at a convened council meeting.

Dear Clerk. Thank you for sending the information about the ALC  course. I understand that this course may have been offered at short notice. It also comes at a cost.

As this is the case, I would point out that any decision (including instructions for the Clerk) about the attendance at this course by a member of  a councillor must be made at a convened parish council meeting with councillors voting in person on a published agenda item - not via emails or phone calls outside of council meetings – particularly since parish council put an end to the use of all S101 emergency delegated powers in June 2021.

I have raised my concerns about this matter with the parish council Chairman, who agrees that decisions – particularly those involving spending money - cannot be made and actioned between meetings, they must wait to be addressed by the council at the next meeting.

I would request that this unauthorised application for a member of  the Parish Council to attend the ALC training course on 9 September is cancelled forthwith as due process has not been followed in this case.

I am sure that our ALC will understand the booking was made in error, and that there will be ample opportunity for any of the parish councillors wishing to take their place on the next course to apply to do so in the proper manner. 

I then received this reply from the Clerk (copied to all councillors)

thank you for your email regarding the training course.  

At the present time, our budget for training is set at £1,200 and we have spent, not including the cost of the course in question, £225, therefore in adherence with our financial regulation, there is no reason for the course to be cancelled. For your easy reference, the appropriate financial regulation is copied below: 

  1. 4.1.  No expenditure may be authorised that will exceed the amount provided in the revenue budget for that class of expenditure other than by resolution of the council, or duly delegated committee. During the budget year and with the approval of council having considered fully the implications for public services, unspent and available amounts may be moved to other budget headings or to an earmarked reserve as appropriate (‘virement’).

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Four of the seven councillors wrote the following:-

1: Nonsense and I look forward to the training.

2: I agree and you are correct re training. The common sense approach is the only way forward.

3: At the PC meeting on 17th Dec 2020, under the agenda item regarding the budget for 2021-22 we specifically discussed, and it is minuted, about increasing the proposed figure for training.  I remember the thoughts were that councillors should attend more training as it would benefit themselves and the PC as a whole to do so. If money has been budgeted, a training course comes up at short notice and a councillor tells the rest of the PC they wish to attend and no-one immediately disagrees then I can see no reason why they shouldn’t attend. Sometimes common sense is more important that following the letter of the law - else nothing would ever get done.

4: Totally agree. It was agreed and therefore no need to wast any more time on it. 

I then received an email from the Clerk copied in to the six other parish councillors, but not, it appears, our ALC:-

Dear Councillors, I have just seen that '*Emails are not allowed*' was included in the list of recipients copied into the previous correspondence regarding the training course. 

Please be advised that it is ONLY the clerk who has access to this service and exceptionally the chairman on employment issues and therefore no further emails should be sent to this email address by councillors. Thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.

I have concluded that the Clerk is overstepping her brief on this occasion. Why should I not copy in our ALC as they were offering the training course in the first place? I consider that it is wrong that elected councillors cannot raise objections to tax payers money being spent (whatever the amount or the reason) without being properly itemised on a published agenda and addressed and voted on in person by councillors attending the next convened parish council meeting. Reading recent copies of the SLCC magazine The Clerk, I am alarmed to see their advice to Clerks appears to sanction them to make ad hoc  decisions of all description on behalf of 'their' community - with no mention made to the fact that the law dictates that Clerks can act only on the instruction of the council once a decision has been made following due process. Also, why would a Clerk employed by a council in which they are not a taxpayer feel they have a right to dictate where public funds should/should not be spent. Who is in control of taxpayers' money these days - is it the elected council or the non-elected employee? Also, who checks the independence of Clerks? Our parish council has a small budget of under £13,000, half of which goes to pay the Clerk's wages, payroll, expenses and overtime. leaving precious little to fund community projects.

by (260 points)
edited by

4 Answers

0 votes
It's interesting that your finance reg 4.1 is 4.2 in the model and the model 4.1 outlines the authorisation required for items included in the revenue budget, according to amount.
by (35.2k points)
+1 vote

I agree the Clerk is overstepping the mark, and cannot issue edicts about who you can or can't send E mails to.  The Council pays a subscription to the ALC and the Council should have access to its services.  The Clerk is not the sole entity of the Council.  As far as the Financial regulation is concerned, the Clerk is arguing that becuase all of the budget hasn't been spent it is ok to send somebody on the training.  However the regulation says " No expenditure may be authorised that will exceed the amount provided in the revenue budget for that class of expenditure ..."    But the training still needs to be authorised by the full council even if it doesn't exceed the revenue budget amount.

by (25.3k points)
Interesting point about budget and training. We have an agreed budget for training (which I am trying to encourage with only a small amount of success) and anyone wishing to attend a One Voice Wales training session only has to let the clerk know. These requests are not put before the full council or the finance committee for authorisation. Should we be doing so??
Thank you Graeme_r for a sensible and well researched point. I have always advocated training for staff and members, but for the Clerk to be making decisions between meetings about who can and cannot undertake paid-for training courses is a step too far in my book. Also, the negative and threatening attitude of our Clerk towards members copying in their ALC regarding the legitimate concerns is disgraceful and I'd like to put a stop to it. However, I've no idea how to do that as the Clerk is not independent of the council in that they are close to the Chair/Vice Chair and several other councillors who accuse me regularly of bullying the clerk who is doing a great job. Two out of seven councillors are easily over-ruled at every meeting at which they raise their legitimate concerns. Ideas welcome.
Unfortunately it sounds as though there is an "inner crcle" at your Council of the Clerk, Chair, Vice Chair and possibly others, who feel they can covertly assert their will without fear of challenge. Have a word with the Monotoring Officer of the Principle Authority.  He or she might resist getting involved but start off by asking for their advice.  It sounds like the Chair & Vice chair might be in breach of the Cllrs code of conduct so that does come within the MO's remit.  Failing to treat you with respect, and trying to confer a disadvantage on you would be two areas of potential breach.  The threatening E mails from the Clerk could be evidence if they reference the Chair or vice chair or have them in the circulation lists. Ultimately your ALC should really specify the terms of your Council membership, and there should be documentation showing what you as a council are entitled to.  Ask the Clerk for it, and if it isn't forthcoming - put in a Freedom of Information request for it via https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ Point out if an FOI is needed that you have done it because the Clerk has unlawfully prevented you seeing a document of the Council.  When you get it, unless it says that ALC's must be approached by the Clerk, you have the documnetary evidence to carry on doing what you are doing.
+1 vote
Whinnie, our ALC encourages councils to write to them via their clerk as otherwise they would be inundated with emails concerning internal PC procedures rather than questions for the ALC to deal with.

Jann, that is what we do in my PC.  The training budget is for anyone to use and I email councillors with the training opportunities and ask them to let me know if they would like to attend.  I don't add it as an agenda item for 'permission' from the parish council to allow councillors to attend training - it is their right and I encourage them to do so...  Plus the courses can get booked up quickly to a delay in booking can be problematic.
by (17.2k points)
Thank you Mrs. Abster. I'm glad to hear it's ok and had not thought of any delay meaning some might 'miss the boat'. I just wish more would take up the opportunity to attend. I fact, if I had my way it would be obligatory to attend Code of Conduct, Council Meetings and Finance.
0 votes

With regard to whether or not Councillors can access NALS services, it is worth looking at this https://www.lalc.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/NALC-benefits-of-membership.pdf 

NALC aren't helping matters because they don't explicitly define who within a Council can or can't use their services.  So by default I would say all Cllrs can.  It has phrases such as

  • Members may obtain written legal advice from NALC’s solicitors.
  • Our new website is a hub of information with member-only access areas and documents.
  • By joining your CALC and NALC, you (who do they mean by you?) and your council become part of a strong nationwide network, representing 85% of all local councils in England.
  • We represent our members’ interests on a national level, provide legal advice and practical guidance in partnership with CALCs, and campaign to vocalise and progress our members’ interests.

But given it means NALC members, does that include elected members of the authority?  They don't say.

by (25.3k points)
Graeme, NALC were  going to give me legal advice but stopped when they realised I was an individual
But individual members are allowed access to the website
This suggests that NALC are not fit for purpose. They don't publically state in what capacity "The Council" can access their services.  I haven't seen a service level agreement that stipulates what services they provide, and to who, have you Jules?  Councillors as well as Clerks are responsible for the operations and actions of the Council.  If Cllrs have doubts about the legal consequences of the Clerk's advice or actions, NALC are effectively removing that check mechanism from Cllrs if they repeat what happened to you.  If anyone has doubts about the credibility of NALC they need look no further than the actions of one of their ilk, Jackie Weaver who unlawfully took control of a Parish Council meeting. The annoying thing is that some people see her as a heroine. Have NALC issued a briefing note to clarify what she did was unlawful? If so I haven't seen or heard of one.
Graeme,
I asked for legal advice from NALC who were happy to oblige until they realised I was a Councillor not a Council and they dropped it like a stone
I have got access to the NALC site after the Clerk refused to give me the password and the Chair told me I’d got to raise a motion but I overrode them by going to the local association
Their website and any local ones are freely available to Councillors who’s Council is affiliated
I completely agree with your comments about Jackie Weaver
NALC will happily take money from any Council no matter how badly they behave

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