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0 votes
We have a Staffing Group, not a Staffing Committee, and its terms of reference refer to reports to council, rather than  minutes. It is a permanent group and serves the same purpose as a Staffing Committee,  but it operates in secret when it wishes. So no notification of meetings is given to Cllrs. I'm told that agendas are rare and three days notice would be unusual. It seems to me that .calling it a group rather than a committee has allowed all sorts of secret activity to take place. My question is, essentially, if such a group is, in all but name, a committee, must it operate as a committee, in which case agendas, minutes etc must be produced as a matter of course.
by (730 points)

3 Answers

0 votes
What you should be asking in my opinion is why your council has decided to operate a group ( working party, task and finish etc) rather than a committee which is the defined structure of a council. One reason could be utter secrecy thus avoiding accountability. There are defined requirements for committees and sub committees which reflect requirements of public notification of meeting agendas, minutes, admission of public to observe. Normally committees would be given powers to act on behalf of the council and this would be defined in their terms of reference and strictly adhered to.

Committees would be empowered to form sub committees or working parties to examine and investigate particular sections of their remit and report back to the committee enabling them reach accurate conclusions and to present to back to the council where required or act upon their findings if in their remit and report to council.

The necessity to follow a structure of a committee removes the temptation to work in secret, and hide their work from the scrutiny of the electorate.

Perhaps this is the underlying reason that more and more councils are, in my opinion, bypassing committees in favour of working parties etc. rather than the usual excuse given of " we don't have enough councillors to form committees". Nothing wrong with councillors participating on several committees at the same time,other than taking on extra work. But of course if it is only Kudos of the title that is sought then it is understandable that working for the community will come far down the list of to do's on such a councillors list.
by (25.7k points)
Thank you, Mentorman. We've been led by a very experienced clerk, and act according to his advise. However, now that I'm becoming much more familiar with regs I think you're correct to emphasise committee use. That does seem to be a way of avoiding secrecy, which has led to a number of crises in the last couple of years. Trouble is, others really don't seem to be bothered, so it'll be an uphill struggle to get any meaningful change. I often feel I'm entering a Tardis when we have meetings, where the year is 1970, and where any change is tut-tutted. Advice here gives me the confidence to challenge thinking, so thank you.
0 votes
How is this reflected in your standing orders?
by (52.8k points)
0 votes
Working groups shouldn't really be used for routine council business as they are more appropriate for task and finish type scenarios but the general rule is that they are not required to give notice to other councillors, nor are they required to be open to the public, publish minutes etc.  although it is good practice if they do all of those things.  However, working groups can never be delegated authority to actually agree or do anything so any "secret activity" would have to be agreed or confirmed by full council as otherwise it would be invalid and unenforceable.
by (17.3k points)
DavetheClerk- we use the model SOs, so 4a. tells us about committees, but nothing about groups. We do have other groups, notably ones set up to focus on specific priorities over the four year term of an elected council e.g. a Climate Emergency group. These work very well, agendas, minutes, and reports to council. The one issue is the Staffing Group, which one could argue is the most important one, and the only group or committee where there is competition to be on it.
Delboy'sWife. The key part of your reply, that applies to us, is the importance of the Staffing Group when it comes to recruiting a Clerk or Deputy Clerk. We've now had HR training and it's been made clear that when we do go through such a recruitment process, it's that group that has full control over the process and the actual decision - that comes as quite a shock, i.e. effectively delegating authority to a  group.
But it's more than that, since it seems that members of the Staffing Group have decided to take some kind of disciplinary action against its chair, which on the face of it smacks of a Ledbury case. I'm not looking for advice on Ledbury ! But it gives you a little insight into the secret goings on of that group. It's my belief that having a Committee will overcome much of the council's problems. Sounds simple, doesn't it - if only !
The crux of your problem revolves around your comment (and I quote) "...its that group that has full control over the process and the actual decision:".

If that is how its actually done then you/your council has a fundamental lack of understanding of the law as applied to parish councils.

So lets go back to first principles.

1. The parish council is the only decision-making body unless it decides otherwise.
2. If the parish council wishes to delegate its decision-making then Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 defines the bodies/persons to whom it may do so.  These are a) a committee of the council, or b) an officer of the council.  In turn, a committee with delegated authority may further delegate decisions to a sub-committee.
3. Your ad hoc. secret group does not fall into any of the above descriptions and therefore it does not lawfully have the power to DECIDE anything.

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