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About as Bad As It Gets

0 votes
Here is our PC situation :

PC has been imploding since last year - now only 4 out of possible 12 councillors left
No Clerk since Jan 2022. No meeting (other than emergency one) since Jan 2022 and no minutes published. Previously chair postponing meetings prior to that.

Chairman no longer effectively communicating with rest of councillors. Chair is only signature on PC account and with holding bank statements. There is a very large amount of money in the PC account. Chair refusing to resign. Chair proven that has lied amount previous PC experience. Chair was a relative newcomer to village and now appears to have chequered & colourful say the least
Remaining councillors (themselves with little experience) refusing to resign and intent in trying to sort the situation out themselves.

Surely there must be some authority that can effectively take control of this situation ASAP ?
by (120 points)

2 Answers

0 votes
This situation highlights the unacceptable lack of accountability and power for an external authority to take action when a town or parish council becomes dysfunctional. But a bit more background would be helpful. What steps did the principal authority take to fill vacancies? I think I am right in saying that they can call elections if they feel the parish council is failing to make satisfactory progress.  The chair cannot with hold bank statements but you could force him by submitting an FOI request which the information commissioner could ultimately force him to hand over or threaten him with prosecution.
by (30.4k points)
They had done nothing about recruiting.... until now - but recruiting will take almost a month by what they have said. The remaining councillors seem determined to sort out the mess - though clearly got themselves into this situation in the first place through their lack of knowledge and love of simply "winging" things. They have been running the Council like an old boys club - literally as all the female councillors have all resigned one by one.
Al this time it appears the Chair has full control over a significant amount of money, possibly £150,000+ (the remaining councillors don't even know how much as they clearly haven't been taking much notice of the finances !) .
 It transpires that the Chair appears to be something of a Walter Mitty character
As a general rule, standing orders specify a quorum as being one third of councillors so 4 remaining out of a possible 12 implies the council is quorate.   I'd not expect the principal authority to step in as they have no authority to do so unless a parish council is inquorate. Frankly it would help the situation if the remaining 4 did resign (or at least one of them) but technically, they're legal at the moment.
One councillor having signing authority on an account, whatever it holds, is not in accordance with financial regulations and the amounts suggest this is not a small council.  An urgent referral to external auditors would seem to be appropriate here.  They can intervene if there are allegations of financial misappropriation which could be the case.  The remaining four need to be clear that knowingly allowing this situation to continue could make them personally liable.  That might concentrate the minds a little.
Going by the number of cancellations, it seems this council is unable to act. See section 91 of Loc Govt Act 1972 (1) Where there are so many vacancies in the office of parish or community councillor that the parish or community council are unable to act, the district council [F1or Welsh principal council] may by order appoint persons to fill all or any of the vacancies until other councillors are elected and take up office.
0 votes
The three remaining councillors (excluding chair) should try to act. At least two of them can requisition the chair to hold a meeting, and if the chair does not act within 7 days, the councillors can call a meeting. The councillors can determine the agenda for this meeting.

To some extent, the chair is still in control, since the meeting will not be quorate unless he attends along with the other three councillors. So the meeting needs to be arranged to suit all councillors and pressure (personal? publicity? press?) exerted to persuade the chair to attend.

It should then be possible to pass resolutions to ensure the bank mandate requires two signatures, to set a programme of regular meetings, to appoint an acting clerk (a volunteer councillor can do the bare minimum to ensure meetings go ahead and make essential decisions), to instigate co-option of additional members, to decide anything else considered important.

Also, bear in mind that the next meeting of the council ought to be its annual meeting, which has to take place during May. The chair ceases to hold office at that meeting and a new chair has to be elected. If this is not done, the council is no longer properly constituted.

The advice to involve the external auditor is good.

If the above fails, then there is no alternative but to press the principal authority to appoint additional councillors as quickly as possible.
by (30.8k points)

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