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Are Town/parish councils able to have an ‘away day’ to discuss our council strategy? [closed]

0 votes
Our town council strategy is out of date. I have suggested an away day to allow us to have free flowing discussion on what this new strategy and 10-year plan might be. One council member has stated that no such discussion can happen unless the public are invited and there is an agenda with papers on each item to be discussed. This can’t be right, can it?
closed with the note: Question fully answered
by (160 points)
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3 Answers

0 votes
You are a Parish Council serving your community, not a Social Club. Meetings should all be open to the public with agendas and any necessary supporting info made available to the public ln good time so they can choose whether or not to come along.
by (840 points)
Thank you Frank, I wasn’t suggesting it was a social event. I think ‘away day’ was a poor choice of reference on my part. A meeting to discuss and refresh the town strategy is the aim.

We have several working groups that do not have a published agendas or invitations for the public to attend - is this not correct?

Our working groups meet, discuss, bring the results back to council and vote on them. Could we create a working group (of the whole council) to discuss the town strategy, task a new draft, circulate to the public and then bring a paper to the next meeting to vote it in?

Our committees are open to the public with an agenda, but not working groups (although they could be I suppose).

Many thanks.
Ade, we do exactly this - it is a meeting of the councillors in January.  We use it as an opportunity to look at the internal arrangements of the council - whether the committees roles within the council are still relevant, whether they should have a new direction.  We also use the chance to discuss ideas for the action plan for the following year.  All actions are then formalised at the next Full Council meeting.  I consider this 'away day' (which incidentally is in our hall and I provide tea and biscuits on a Saturday morning - hardly a social event) vital for the internal organisation of the council.  I put it on the same level as a training session - and they are not open to the public are they?
0 votes
All meetings of the council must be open to the public, however there is nothing to prevent you from arranging this as a social gathering. Conducting this discussion in public would be inappropriate and unproductive. You should avoid making decisions and limit your deliberations to broader concepts, then take more detailed discussions to a future council meeting to determine your actions in public in the usual way.
by (37.2k points)
Dave,

Thank you - I agree with your comment about ‘raw’ discussion being unproductive in public; it could stifle genuine debate (see the above answer).

Could a working group of all members be created? Once ideas and themes have been captured (the task) a member brings a paper to the next full council meeting (the finish).

I’m looking for a way to avoid using ‘social event’ to avoid any member holding a position similar to Frank above - a perfectly valid viewpoint - boycotting an event they consider ‘illegal’. (I am not suggesting you said it was illegal Frank, just that it needed to be open to the public).

Many thanks
Yes, you could call it a working group if you want to formalise it. There may be a case for involving the public in your long-term strategy, but it's important to remember that we govern for the majority, not just for the one or two who shout loudest. If you could conduct a public consultation across your whole community, it might help to guide your thoughts, but simply allowing a small number of people to participate through the normal meeting process is not democratic.
Dave,

Spot on, thank you - the aim of the meeting is to refresh the strategy. We already have a good engagement process through our neighbourhood plan website and Facebook to allow all in the Town to engage, and we use our regular meetings to encourage feedback.

But I think we could go further (as you suggest) and create a well publicised consultation to allow written and in-person feedback.

Many thanks, all comments really useful.
0 votes
You could set up a strategy working party so it has an official name but doesn't require being open to the public as its not a proper committee, you could then pull together a concept or updated plan to put forward to a Council meeting for formal approval but, I would suggest a Council decision to put it out for public consultation to sense check it against the wants and needs of the residents before formal adoption would be a sensible first step.
by (180 points)
Thank you clerk25, a neat summary. That’s exactly how I’ll approach it.
Key will be when and where any "decision-making" occurs in light of transparency both with members who may not be able to attend the meeting and/or members of the public. If the meeting comes up with several options, each with a summary of pros and cons, and the whole topic is published as a report before a formal discussion and any necessary votes taken at a proper Council meeting, I won't send you to jail for pre-determination - but be careful.
Excellent advice, thank you.

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