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.