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What should happen if a Parish Meeting (in a parish without a Parish Council) fails to elect a Chairman?

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We are a small parish, without a Parish Council, but the Parish Meeting has been granted limited powers of a Parish Council in order to raise a precept, primarily to meet the costs of maintaining our parish cemetery and a parish defibrillator.

Over the past 20 years, it has become increasingly difficult to persuade anyone to take over the office of Chairman. Matters came to a head some six years ago, when we decided to seek a Community Governance Review  (GGR) with a view to establishing a Joint Parish Council with a larger, neighbouring parish. Agreement was reached with our neighbours, and the very helpful Proper Officer of the District Council (as one of the Parish Trustees) attended the Annual Assembly at which no Chairman was expected to be elected, in order to assume the Chair and initiate the CGR process. Unfortunately, an unexpected candidate (who had no prior knowledge of the role of either the Parish Meeting or its Chairman) emerged at the very last moment: such was the relief of the meeting at the prospect of maintaining our independence that he was elected. He resigned three months later, and the casual vacancy was filled by the previous Chairman (myself), following which two new arrivals to the parish have served successful terms in the Chair.

Now, however, we are back to where we were six years ago: work commitments on the part of our excellent Chairperson of the past three years mean that she is unable to stand for further re-election, and no successor candidate has emerged. Our neighbouring parish council has confirmed that it is still willing to pursue a CGR with a view to forming a Joint Parish Council, but the District Council and its current Proper Officer are far less amenable than previously to helping us move forward: in particular, the Proper Officer has been advised that his involvement would not be appropriate, his duty as Parish Trustee notwithstanding.

We (together with our neighbouring parish council) can certainly request a CGR before our incumbent Chairperson's term of office comes to an end, but who is to take the process forward? Who would be able to authorise budgeted expenditure during the coming year, or to set a budget and precept requirement for the following year, whilst a CGR is proceeding? Is it unreasonable to expect the remaining Parish Trustee to step up to the plate, as his predecessor did?
Any advice as to how we should now proceed would be extremely welcome!
by (120 points)

1 Answer

0 votes
The Parish Meeting must have an elected Chair. This must be the first item of busiess at the annual meeting. The serving Chair remains in office until their successor is elected.
by (41.0k points)
In the expected event that the upcoming Annual Assembly fails to elect a Chair for the coming year, the serving Chair could simply resign rather than remain in office for an indeterminate period. If nobody is prepared to put themself forward for election at the Annual Assembly, there is no reason to suppose that anyone would be prepared to do so to fill a casual vacancy. My understanding is that it then falls to the remaining Parish Trustee (the proper officer of the District Council) to take over the Chair if so directed by the Parish Meeting; however, the District Council believes that the proper officer cannot act alone as a Parish Trustee, as the body corporate "the Parish Trustees" must comprise both the proper officer and the serving Chair.  Stalemate!
This cannot be the first time such a situation has arisen, and a way forward must surely exist!
I believe that the way forward is to do nothing until somebody expresses a willingness to act as Chair.
With fewer than 100 electors, and all regular attenders having served multiple terms as Chairman, the likelihood of someone else expressing a willingness to take on the role is minimal.
I guess our best way forward is to ensure that a Community Governance Review is requested jointly with our neighbouring parish council whilst the serving Chairman remains in post, and that bank transfer instructions in respect of all budgeted expenditure for the coming financial year are set up prior to the upcoming Annual Assembly. The disposition of the Parish Meeting's reserves will presumably form part of the CGR outcomes in the fullness of time.
You're in a difficult position. The District Council is correct in saying that there must be two Trustees and you cannot act until you have elected a Chair. You are required to meet at least twice in every year, but without a Chair, you can't. The CGR is unlikely to come to your rescue in sufficient time. A temporary Chair would be by far the best option.
Thanks, Dave.

It seems not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Parish Meeting could limp along without an elected Chair until a CGR has been concluded. The likelihood of six parish electors getting together to convene the necessary two biannual assemblies may be wishful thinking, but our ward District Councillor may be willing to do so, such assemblies being chaired by someone elected from the floor. What is not clear to me, however, is whether the individual elected to chair a particular assembly convened in this way would, for the duration of that assembly, have the powers of a formally elected Chairman, such as the ability to sign off the Parish Meeting's Annual Return to the external auditors, or to oversee the setting of a budget and precept requirement for the following year. Clearly such an arrangement would be less than ideal, but would seem to provide a mechanism for previously budgeted expenditure to be incurred and for reserves to be managed.

Hopefully, if we and our neighbouring parish council jointly request a CGR (expressing the preferred outcome to be the formation of a joint parish council) whilst our serving Chairman is still in office, the CGR should have been completed in time for the May 2023 local authority elections. Or am I being unduly optimistic?

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