Questions about town and parish councils
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+4 votes
Or does one already exist and can someone point me in its direction please!
by (1.9k points)

4 Answers

0 votes
I would suggest using the knowledge hub platform rather than Facebook. There are better options for sharing files etc  The moderation will be more properly focussed.
by (35.5k points)
+5 votes
I think not just a source of advice, information and guidance is needed, but also a lobby group to influence regulation, challenge poor practice, and push for reform, as well as to be a source of emotional support for individual councillors.

Typically, ALCs (under NALC) describe their role of supporting the 'corporate interests' of councils who subscribe.

That is a vague term open to interpretation by the ALCs. It is likely to exclude support for individual councillors, particularly if seen as potentially contrary to the 'corporate interests' of the council. In some cases, a council's 'corporate interest' might not be seen as co-inciding with best practice or even the public interest.

Access to support for individual councillors is usually restricted by the Clerk and/or Chair acting as gate-keepers. This is problematic if the Clerk or Chair are what the councillor is concerned about, especially if they are in a minority.  And even if an individual does get access to the ALC, the guidance will be skewed by the ALC's view of the corporate interest.

Other external sources of guidance and oversight are limited.

The Monitoring Officer is limited to code of conduct issues, and may interpret their remit very narrowly. That leaves vast areas of poor practice, or worse, unaddressable. Even where the Monitoring Officer does accept a complaint, typically their resources are very limited and their investigation insufficient to ensure a just outcome.

The External Auditor will typically only consider financial issues, and even then sets the bar for impropriety very high.

The Local Government Ombudsman has no remit over town and parish councils.

The Police are usually very reluctant to investigate all but the most blatant and serious breaches of local government law.

Often, only a Judicial Review can challenge a council's poor practice. Few individuals will risk the stress, time, and expense to pursue that route. Councils, and ALCs, know that.

Solicitors are often reluctant to support individual councillors with concerns, and if they do it is of course at the individual's risk and expense.

Elections are too blunt an instrument of oversight. They are too infrequent, and usually the public has little inkling of the details of the poor practice, and if they do it becomes just one of several issues for voters.

Individual councillors who find themselves, usually unexpectedly, in this 'wild west' environment often feel like victims of institutional bullying. The Monitoring Officer usually sets the bar for the bullying of councillors very high - so high that it is unlikely that the concept of institutional bullying would ever reach it.

There is no organisation whose role is to provide emotional support to those councillors.

The results of all this are:

1. Evidence of poor practice, collusion, or even corruption is often downplayed and thus they are allowed to flourish at a low level. Only the most serious examples are acknowledged, properly and independently investigated.

2. Poor or wrong practice becomes normalized and can spread from one council to another. This poor practice only gets corrected when eventually taken to an extreme and/or challenged by a persistent and brave individual who is prepared to take the reputational and financial risks - cf. Ledbury.

3. Individual councillors who have concerns have nowhere to turn. They are also extremely vulnerable to retaliatory allegations, particularly if they are in a minority. This can curtail their ability to fulfil their duties as elected representatives. It can also affect their mental health.

The system of oversight for town and parish councils is in desperate need of reform. But the organisations that could lobby effectively for it, such as NALC and the SLCC, are not interested in that type of reform.  Instead, they focus on addressing the poor behaviour of individual councillors (eg. Handforth). Whilst that is undoubtedly an issue, it ignores the impact a flawed system has on its victims, public confidence, and good local government.
by (1.9k points)
edited by
The limited support available to individual councillors was the primary reason for the creation of this Q&A site.
And very good it is too.  I am just saying that we ought to consider doing something more - some sort of official lobby group or association for mutual support.
Learner...I'd be interested in exploring the formation of such a lobby group or whatever :)
Me too Sapere Aude, what are we waiting for? Last night’s council meeting was another howler!
Worth nailing down, through discussion, exactly what we think it the best next step.  I think start small and then see how it evolves.  I think this forum is key. Next steps could be a truly independent FB group, or a WhatsApp group, or email list, or start at unincorporated association - basically a more formal membership group.  But that will require people to run it, even at a low level of effort, and people who have a lot of experience in councils. Needs a bit more thought and discussion. But one thing I know for sure is that the need for something is clear.
0 votes
There already is a FB group set up through Scribe ( Council software provider) called The Councillors' Corner. Scribe have also set up a FB group for Clerks,  Clerks corner. The sites are not monitored for legislative accuracy. Any advice/feedback is from members to other members of the group.  Responses can be hit n miss (I wince at some of the replies) but it is a place to discuss all things Council.
by (1.7k points)
edited by
Thank you, I will have a look at this group
I absolutely agree that Councillors should have some sort of representation.  Also there should be some mandatory training.    Currently the alliance of NALC/SLCC often associated with a band of senior Councillors are dominating proceedings (in some PC areas).
Let me give you my experience. In Sept 2021 is was co-opted after being a long term critic of the PC. On day 1 I was refused access to LTNs by the Clerk. On day 2 I was refused access to certain financial information.  On day 3 the clerk demanded I change my profile on our web site. When I refused she removed it. The Chairman refused to intervene re the LTNs whereas ACLA would only deal with the Clerk.  On day 4 I resigned.  The next week the Full Council passed a habitual and vexatious complaints policy clearly aimed at me. I then managed to get re-elected by applying for my own vacancy.    All concerned were furious that they had been out witted.   The clerk then introduced a members behaviour protocol which threatened injunctions under ASB legislation . Life is one continuous battle with the clerks saying you cant do this, you cant do that and you must do things this way .   After the latest spat  I was told I did not have  authority to write to a local landowner about a PROW issue which I countered by quoting para 25 of  the SOs .  Days later all Councillors have been circulated suggesting they attend the latest Civility and Respect course.
The sad facts are that at the last round of elections only 38% of Councillors posts will filled . We should all be asking why ?    Of course the need exists for good and firm Clerks but somehow IMHO the role of the Councillor is not seen as being important and consequently many good local  people loose interest
Have long advocated on these pages that there should be a professional body to which new councillors  are invited which can lay down required professional levels of competence and professionalism and having a nomenclature system to reflect experience, service and training levels attained.
That way councillors would have a  professional body to support and organise required and recognised levels of competence of councillors. "Doctor heal thine self "
0 votes

My Parish of some 12,000 residents has 20 Parish Councillors, 4 Borough Councillors and 1 County Councillor but the Parish cherishes it’s “ independence “ by refusing to have joint meetings 

Both  at Parish and County level the service we get is dysfunctional 

The City next door to us has a single tier of 54 Councillors for a population of 358,000 and appears to provide a far better service 

As so few Parish Councillors are elected in a competitive contest to me this points to a radical change in the structure of Local Government but as the National Government has bigger issues on hand nothing will ever happen 

by (11.7k points)

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