Questions about town and parish councils
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+1 vote
I considered myself as an enthusiastic local Councillor who was determined make sure our business was conducted legally and fairly. I had no agenda and was truly independent. I saw myself as a reformer, rooting out bad practice. I served under two Councils.  The first was where a long standing  inner sanctum was well established. They saw me as a pain in the backside and constantly tried to rein me in. The clerk was very much seen as always right and to be obeyed. However, with the current Council all the old guard had gone, and we had largely new Councillors and two relatively new inexperienced  clerks.  With the current Council I had considerable success in changing things and was by and large listened to. At the height of my credibility  I was then invited to join the staffing committee (SC) by the clerk and then it all went wrong in that I discovered the she wasn’t managed at all and said so (no leave card , no appraisals etc, no working from home arrangements, etc etc) . The clerk ended up walking out of the meeting  in tears. From that point on it became personal and two other Cllrs on the SC turned on me. There is thread on this forum from one of those Cllrs about the situation.  The ensuing  dialogue was initially done through E mails citing the clerk now dreaded meeting me and accusing me of not knowing how to deal with professionals. I was accused of continually challenging the clerk rather than supporting her.  At about this time the Asst clerk resigned (hadn’t spoken to her for 6 months) and when her resignation was discussed at the next FC meeting, one of the SC Councillors stated that her resignation referred to my actions as being a contributary factor in her leaving.  The Councillor then warned of a possible imminent constructive dismissal claim (no evidence for this ) . He also mentioned the unwelcome response to the thread previously mentioned.  This then turned into an unpleasant shouting match during which  the debate was turned into discussing the the possibility of the clerk resigning as well. The Chair did not intervene.  Despite having achieved considerable recent success after several weeks of abuse I felt I had reached the “why do I bother” stage and resigned. One Councillor then later wrote and claimed that I was at the meeting subjected to "unacceptable bullying"

Now when discussing my situation with others I soon became aware that similar situations are commonplace across the country and there was a perception that Cllrs have zero support to turn to for advice, when such problems arise i.e. you were seen a very much alone. There is also a general perception that  NALC/CALCs and the SLCC are only to be interested in the clerk’s point of view and that individual Councillors  are "not our problem"

The consensus of this discussion is that there seems to be an almost deafening groundswell of opinion that  Councillors  are treated as mere bit players in the current “PC model” and regarded almost as second class  citizens. It seems that on many Councils clubs form and dominate proceedings and do their best to shame any opposition into resigning. I know that a lot of good local people have resigned, whereas others would not even consider applying to become councillors given the lack of support.

The upshot is do readers now believe the time has come for a professional body to be set up to support Local Councillors and how should we best go about it ? Should training be mandatory?.  Should  the co-option process be reviewed ?

 It seems that the self governing PC model is broken .  Something needs to change but what can be done to fix it ?

Views please
by (5.0k points)
edited by

8 Answers

+1 vote
I can't support the premise that the model is broken, as there are hundreds, or probably thousands, of councils in which Clerks and Councillors work well together, not always exactly in compliance with the detail of the regulations, but providing a united service to their communities. And then there are the others...

Is mandatory training the answer? Looking at my cohort of Councillors, both current and former, the idea of formal training would have been enough in many cases to prevent them from standing. Since the pandemic, only two of around 30 Councillors in my Councils have attended formal training and these were specialised ALC courses led by experts from outside the ALC. I provide all other training for my Councillors, delivered in bite-sized chunks appropriate to their roles within the Councils.

Should the co-option process be reviewed? The big issue with the co-option process is that it doesn't exist in the legislation, so it's up to Councils to define how to use it. Good Councils do this well; bad Councils do it badly.

The professional body to support local Councils sounds logical, but it's difficult to see how this would work in practice. Mediators attending meetings would make a difference, but the scale of the problem makes this impractical. Who would pay for this and how? If Councils were charged for the service, the process would require a majority decision to instigate it, so with many issues arising from the David and Goliath scenario you've described, how would you persuade your fellow Councillors to pay for someone to come in and tell them they need to change?

Ultimately, this is all down to basic human interaction. Councillors and Clerks need to build positive working relationships in which honesty and openness allow differing opinions and concerns to be discussed in a calm and civilised manner and criticism is seen as something positive, not an act of aggression. Some individuals lack this skillset.
by (53.3k points)
0 votes
Whilst all of what you describe is, unfortunately, readily recognisable, all of what you describe is symptom rather than cause.
The cause which facilitates the symptom is utter voter apathy.
The symptom exists because nobody cares enough to put themself out enough to properly understand and appreciate the what, why and how of a PC preffering simply to leave well alone.
by (21.7k points)
0 votes
I very much share the view of DavetheClerk.

Whilst you and some of the councils you know have had a bad experience, its worth remembering that there are about 8,500 parish/town councils in England and Wales, many doing sterling work in their community.
by (10.3k points)
You would find the figures in the 2024 Good Cllr Guide, as well as many other widely available references, set the indicative number of first tier councils in ENGLAND alone as being around 10K.
0 votes

I’ve felt for some time that the number of functioning councils locally is in decline at an alarming rate and going to come to ahead. It can’t be a coincidence the better councils seem to have less and less to do with the ALC and seem quite insular locally (not following the madness and simply setting their own standards regardless of what the dysfunctional mess next door does or does not do). The next Goverment need to halt transfer of further powers & responsibilites to this tier till the underlying weakneseses addressed.  

by (9.1k points)
+1 vote
I think the model is flawed and this results in a number of dysfunctional councils who think they are laws unto themselves.  In order to fix it, Town and Parish councils need to come under the jurisdiction of the Local Government ombudsman and if legislation is breached there should be actual consequences to hold a council to account, such as fines. Breaching the councillors code of conduct is dealt with by an ineffectual telling off, and there are no mechanisms for dealing with errant clerks.
by (35.4k points)
I use to think the same... but when you look at the state of councils under LGO jurisdiction has it had the desired effect. Many of the problems either exist or starting to emerge (just adding 000s ont ot the end for good measure). I certainly never expected to see as many uncontested or barely contested elections at higher tiers as I did in May. Something much deeper is wrong.
+1 vote
Not broken but in many instances "lost its way". The concept is sound and basically admirable." The closest tier of government to the electorate". Lack of interest from higher tiers and main government has left it somewhat rudderless and open to unprofessional kudos seekers who actually have no interest other than personal.

I have many times promoted a professional associate body for councillors to join and to follow an incremental path of knowledge and recognised qualification accompanied by post-nominals. This would make assessment of councillors by the electorate open and transparent and could be used should further advancement through local and national government be desired. Become professional not amature.

No one will do it for you it would be do it yourself and make it that the councillors professional body is the one consulted on changes rather than self appointed companies.
by (27.1k points)
+1 vote
Completely agree I went through an almost identical situation, the Clerk basically dominates and runs the Council and the Councillors run scared

There are very good Parish Councils but it depends on the standard of the Councillors which generally is very poor

When I moved to Borough level I was amazed at the difference in professionalism and support but even so then you only have to read Rotten Boroughs in Private Eye to realise even at that level all is not well

I’m afraid throughout society people constantly complain but are not prepared to commit to do anything about it as witnessed by the lack of elections at Parish level
by (11.6k points)
+1 vote
Yes, it's broken. SLCC and NALC acknowledge some of the problems but ignore others. This leads to reforms and changes to the system that have the effect of hiding or suppressing those problems.  There are many victims of this broken system, and they are not heard.
by (1.7k points)

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