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Considering a grant request in private

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My local Parish Council intends to consider a grant request at its upcoming meeting and proposes to pass a resolution to exclude the public. Is this lawful?

There is a strong suspicion that the application is one that has been considered by council twice this year which has proved contention. Naturally, this can be no more than suspicion because no information is been published as to who and what the grant is for.

Any guidance will be much appreciated.
by (170 points)

3 Answers

0 votes
This is your money going out as a grant presumably directly or indirectly to benefit your community

 I can’t think of any circumstances that would make this legal but there’s no one to enforce so it’s a catch 22 situation
You could ask your Monitoring Officer for advice as some are quite helpful

You could during public session at the start of the meeting ask for confirmation that full minutes are going to be prepared and made available after the meeting
by (5.4k points)
0 votes
The resolution to exclude the public will have to include a legal justification.  Such justification must demonstrate that discussing the item in open forum would be prejudicial to the public interest.  The list of legitimate reasons is included in Part 1 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 and, broadly speaking, encompasses personal information relating to an identifiable individual, employer/employee negotiations, legal or criminal proceedings.
by (37.2k points)
Thank you Jules and DavetheClerk for your answers.

I have now had all but confirmed unofficially that the grant application is the same one from the PCC which the PC considered (in public) at its last meeting. Apparently, the Clerk passed on advice that the PC could not make an award to the church. No decision was made. It is now back on the agenda to be considered following the passing of a resolution to exclude the public.

I cannot see how a grant to the local Parochial Church Council towards grass cutting in the churchyard can possible fall under Part 1 of 12A.

There is the strong suggestion that the PC is trying to circumnavigate the legal prohibition on giving money to the church (if indeed, it is illegal) by going into private session and the resulting minutes will not identify the recipient of the grant.

There is some further background information on this, but I do not think it is relevant. The local PCC has come under fire for failing to address inappropriate conduct by one of its members in relation to a funeral. I know that the PCC have been investigated by the Church of England and there is some talk that the family of the deceased person are intending to take the PCC to the High Court. Minutes of a previous PC meeting refer to a resident raising concerns about the PCC. This information (apart from the reference in the minutes) is only one small step above gossip, but what I am getting at is: if the PCC is defending legal proceedings and if the family concerned have reported the existence of their lawsuit to the PC, would that give cause for the PC to be able to consider anything concerning the PCC in private?

Sorry for such a long follow-up but I would be most grateful for advice as to whether any of this changes you initial response.

Many thanks,
The short answer is no and even if they do exclude the public they can’t prevent anyone from finding out how much the grant is and who it went to
If they do it you could always contact their Internal Auditor and ask what they think
Whilst the current advice from the NALC is that the Victorian legislation that prevents a parish council from spending money on the affairs of the church remains in force, many hundreds of parish councils contribute towards the cost of grass cutting in churchyards. Many parish churches in small parishes are in dire financial situations these days, with closure a common occurrence, so a decision on whether or not to offer support to the public realm element (i.e. the outdoor space) has wider significance.

On the specific question of a public complaint about a funeral, this has no bearing whatsoever on the council's ability to consider a grant in public session.
Dave what always interests me about this kind of thing is who would enforce the "Victorian Legislation"
I've. seen all sorts of breeches of Laws by parish councils including election laws yet I've never heard of a single case that's been pursued
The honest answer is, probably, nobody, which explains why the breaches are so common. I am aware of at least one internal auditor who highlights the church one though. Once such offences have been committed, they hang like the sword of Damocles over the heads of those who were involved, as the potential for future litigation never goes away.
Thank you both for your further informed views. Can I bother you once more for clarification on one point?

The agenda item concerned reads as follows:

A resolution will be passed to exclude the press and public (Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960) from the
following confidential item.
17. To consider grant application received.

Do councilors have an option; ie, can they vote against excluding the public?

I have managed to speak to one member and she tells me that the Chair is determined to award this grant and has the support of other members closely connected with the PCC who are applying. Meanwhile, a member of the family involved in litigation with the PCC has asked the PC not to fund the PCC until such time as the PCC has been cleared. The Chair claims that he has been advised by the County Council that because of the litigation, the matter can be discussed in private. Several people can smell a rat though.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation how do you exclude the public without revealing what you are discussing
Firstly Councillors can vote against it that’s the point of presenting the motion the way it is, if Councillors vote to exclude when they shouldn’t it makes them complicit

Secondly before the vote it should be explained precisely what section of the Act is being applied

Thirdly as I’ve mentioned before they would still have to keep minutes and record who the grant goes to

I’m not that familiar with S137 but if I were making the decision I’d consider that facts not the feud
Will the grant benefit the community, will it be spent on the work also what are their finances like
The agenda item is not correctly worded. The agenda item must give the council the choice of whether or not to exclude the public and press, so it should read something along the lines of "to consider a motion to exclude..."  A simple majority (chair's casting vote if necessary) will decide whether or not to exclude, so you do have the right to determine that the item be discussed in open forum.

If the chair has written advice from the County Council, that should be presented to the meeting as part of your deliberations. If it isn't written advice, in context, I'd be tempted to ignore it. From the information you have provided, it seems highly unlikely that the County Council would have issued such advice, unless the potential litigation relates to the length of the grass at the funeral. A County Council cannot issue advice that contravenes an Act of Parliament, so legislation always trumps individual opinion.

Looking at all of the connections you've highlighted, anybody who has a connection with the PCC should declare a non-pecuniary interest and their involvement should follow the rules set out in your code of conduct. In a controversial situation like this, the council must take extra care to follow its own policies and procedures.

Finally, the request from the complainant to withhold funding must be ignored. It is vindictive and may subsequently be used as evidence in legal proceedings to suggest that the council believes that the PCC is at fault.
Once again, thank you both for your invaluable comments. It is great to have stumbled on this forum - such informed folk on it.

DavetheClerk: I feel I ought to clarify my bit above about the complainant, I feel I might have done him an injustice. I am not privy to his actual complaint; his letter was not read out at the meeting when this application was last considered. All I can go on are comments from members at the time. He didn't ask the PC to withhold funding as such. His complaint was that the PCC would not respond to correspondence or address any complaints and had been pulled up by the Diocese for the manner in which it operated. The suggestion was that the PC should not fund the PCC until it was satisfied that the PCC was being properly run.

I am not sure that this clarification would change your view on this point, but I felt I ought to clarify. I don't think that the complainant was being vindictive especially.

Once again, very many thanks for all the helpful input.
Thanks for that clarification. Whilst it may well be the case that the PCC is not being properly run, this has little bearing on the need to cut the grass, so if a grant is awarded, it would be reasonable to place a condition that the grant may only be used for that purpose. This demonstrates intent on the part of the parish council, although it is practically unenforceable.
0 votes

This also sound very much like a conundrum we had a couple of years ago, where we sought legal advice form NALC, they referred us to L01-18 | FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO THE CHURCH

In a nutshell, it makes it very clear that if we do fund, then we could be open to legal action as there is a conflict between various laws, and it has not been tested in court.  The crunch being is that we could be tested in court at a large public expense (insurance will not cover it as we have been warned).

Suggest that you either look at (or ask your Clerk to furnish a copy of) the above briefing, which can be found under Briefings on the NALC website

BTW having due regards to the legal standpoint we stopped funding the PPC for a lot of activities, as we know it only takes one member of the public or even one councillor to challenge!


by (1.8k points)

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