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Where are the boundaries?

0 votes
I am a new Parish Councillor and ex Highways Authority officer.  I have noted recent threads which sought to discuss the various roles of the Clerk and by default Councillors.  While the role of the clerk is enshrined in their job description,  the role of a Councillor is less clear, let alone defined .As  a new Councillor I have had several incidents lately in which I have been told “you can’t do that, you must do it this way” to the extent I am beginning to wonder precisely what a Councillor is allowed  to do.  These incidents involved public representations  made to me personally .  In the first case,  I asked the gentlemen concerned to apply to speak at the next meeting under public participation and produced a report in which inter alia advised the Chairman of the relevant Committee  to note  and consider possible inclusion on the next Agenda.  I then proceeded to discuss the issue with an old colleague with a view to presenting the options at the next  meeting. That dialogue led to a proposed site meeting with my ex-colleague .  Anticipating a proposed solution, I asked the Chairman/Clerk to make sure it was on the next Agenda. At this stage I got a stinging E mail from the clerk saying that he knew nothing about it and castigated me for contacting the District  Council .  I was told I have no authority to do this and he would now take over.  I said “carry on” if that’s the way you feel.

A second incident involved another  important local  issue which was seldom discussed at Council.   Again, I used an old contact and the officer involved agreed that he would, if invited give a presentation to Councillors i.e. before the next meeting .  Accordingly, I wrote to the clerk to arrange.  He told me to immediately cancel the arrangement and advised that the correct procedure was that I had to submit a proposed motion to him  which sought to ask the committee whether they wanted the training in the first place.  He made it clear again I had no authority to make such an arrangement .

In both cases I thought I had  used my initiative to facilitate solving public concerns  but am staggered by the responses I have encountered.    My question therefore is where/what are the boundaries as to what Councillors can or cannot do ?
by (2.8k points)

2 Answers

0 votes
In its simplest form councillors are bounded by their code of conduct which enshrines the Nolan Principles and also legislation governing the council as a whole. They are also bound by the council's standing orders which have been agreed democratically by the council. In effect laying down procedures that councillors follow in regard to the day to day work of the council. If you like fine tuning to meet the council's needs.

It could be assumed that anything not covered in either of these documents and not illegal is open to a councillor to follow. What must not be lost sight of ( and usually is in conflicts that arise) is why the councillor is there in the first place. Most of the electorate would quite reasonably define this as they are there to represents the views and needs of their community not their personal agendas.
by (16.6k points)
I often seek out information, from both our County Council and other bodies such as Transport for Wales. However, I always make it clear that it is myself asking not the Town Council and I do not have the power to make decisions. What ever I have discussed or asked will be taken to Council. (Presuming the info garnered is suitable for putting before the Council.)
We have only one Clerk and as far as I'm concerned it's not her job to seek out information I might need in order to put something before the Council. If every Councillor did this, the Clerk would not have enough time to do the things they are employed to do. How else can Councillors do their job of putting pertinent items on the agenda and helping their constituents without investigating?
+1 vote
There is an excellent publication called the Good Councillor Guide which outlines the rights and responsibilities of councillors.  If you've not already seen a copy, please ask for one.

Where issues often arise is that few realise (and it's a parish thing, not a principal authority thing) is that under the Local Government Act a councillor cannot act alone on his or her volition.  Its a simple statement but one which can be interpreted in so many different ways.  Whereas some might think that your efforts would be welcome in aiming towards presenting council with appropriate information to make a decision, others might be less enthusiastic and think you're presenting council with almost a fait accompli.  There can be a fine dividing line between overstepping the mark and being helpful and sometimes your background in local government and using former colleagues to approach might be construed as you acting on behalf of the parish council when the parish council haven't authorised that act.  Different councils may have a different interpretation of how this "preamble" to a decision is applied and it sounds as if yours are a little rigid, requiring a resolution of the council to agree that you act (however well intentioned).

In my own council we have a councillor who means well but will often take a subject area and conduct his own "investigation" with our principal authority.  The officers in the principal authority don't know if he's authorised to make a decision or statement on our behalf so accept this at face value and we've had a few near misses with a misinterpretation of his questions as being authority to enter into a contract for something (which he nearly ended up paying for himself as others disagreed with this proposed course of action)!.  It's unfortunate that sometimes the processes we have to go through take an extraordinary amount of time to achieve, not helped by what is to most a rather bureaucratic process of seeking authority to just start gathering information.
by (4.9k points)

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