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:
- 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’).
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.