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0 votes
My local parish council are holding a budget and finance meeting on Wednesday  . The Clerk has sent out papers and an 'informal agenda' to councillors but it has not been published and members of the public are not allowed to attend . It is a private meeting !

The next full parish council meeting is at the end of November when the budget and precept will be set .

One of the Cllrs is unhappy with this and has said the discussions should be held in public . He has informed several residents that the meeting is taking place.

My concern is that the setting of the budget and the precept at the end of November will be a rubber stamping matter only as the decisions and discussions are taking place in secret .

Is this allowed ?
by (180 points)

7 Answers

0 votes
Is this a meeting of the Parish Council, or do you have a formally-constituted committee with delegated authority to consider the budget?
by (53.6k points)
There are no committees or working groups and no Terms of a Reference for any committees or groups .
0 votes
Formal approval of the budget and precept request can only be made by full council meeting in a properly arranged meeting but, as Dave has said, it is not unusual for a smaller group to be involved in the initial workings for the budget.  A committee should be open to the public whereas a working party might not be.   In my own council the initial figures are put together by a small group which then present this to the finance committee who make suggestions and adjustments before it is presented to full council for consideration when it might be amended again (or referred back to committee sometimes).
by (19.6k points)
0 votes
Our Council used to do the same. I remember seeing an old guidance not advising this approach, a small group of Cllrs would meet to go through it line by line, and then it would go to full council twice, once for initial soundings and then once for final approval once the latest tax base we have received.

We now run the informal meeting as a Committee meeting, it works much better, it feels more transparent and allows for a more honest discussion around the challenges the council faces balancing the books. It also means nothing comes as a surprise and everyone has their chance to contribute rather than a smaller group.
by (160 points)
+1 vote
I think the small group approach outlined by Delboy's wife and councillor2001 is fine and I use it myself with one council, however, if it's a meeting of the whole council, surely it should be held in public? Otherwise, we could call all of our meetings working parties and never let the public in.

Fixing the budget and setting the precept in November sounds very early in the cycle. A lot can change between November and March. I carry these items forward to January's meeting, as that fits the deadline to notify the district council of the precept requirement. At this stage, members are proposing projects, allowing me time to obtain fairly accurate costings to be included in the budget.
by (53.6k points)
+2 votes
There is no such thing as a "secret" council meeting. All council meetings must be open to the public and press which is why there are laid down legal requirements on notifications, agendas and minute taking. These requirements are also required to be adhered to by committees of the council. Working parties or "task and finish groups" set up by council or committee do not have this requirement upon them but their findings they are tasked with must be ratified ( and therefore documented) only at a meeting of the council where recording, and public disclosure is a requirement.

There are some councils who purposely use working parties rather than committees for decision making purely to avoid having to hold notified and open meetings to avoid public scrutiny for whatever reason but, this must make a statement of the attitude of the council rather than the "system" and begs the question to such a council... WHY?
by (27.2k points)
0 votes
I'm a member of our Parish Council Finance Working Group - NOT a Committee. There are 5 of us and we meet in October to discuss the budget for next year. We also look at any grant applications and decide if any of them need to be looked at in more detail to help Councillors make informed decisions when these come to Full Council.
The draft budget with notes, and the recommended grant  schedule (we might recommend that we grant less than some organisations want) are then circulated to Councillors in late November.
The January meeting is put back by two weeks to allow additional time for Councillors to look at the proposals and contact members of the Working Group if they have any queries.
At the January meeting the whole budget with grants is discussed as agenda items. The proposals are made public as they form part of the meeting schedule. The public can attend and ask questions.
So, yes, we do have a 'private' meeting as a WG to work through the budget and come up with proposals,  but nothing can be, or is, decided without a full Council Meeting.
by (180 points)
Given the importance of the budget, I would think it preferable for this to be a committee with the right of public access. Citizens should know what considerations went into deciding how the precept is to be spent.
0 votes
There must be a resolution to exclude press and public and the resolution must say why the exclusion is justified, usually with reference to exempt or confidential information.  The exclusion should only apply to relevant items perhaps for example a portion of money allocated towards unresolved tenders from competing suppliers, where confidential information would be discussed. Personally I doubt it is justified in this case.  The council get away with disregarding  this because there is no mechanism to hold them to account  but the external auditor should be informed.
by (35.4k points)

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