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0 votes

Hi, below is my Parish council’s correspondence policy. 

All correspondence to the parish council should be addressed to the Clerk. This will ensure that the matter is recorded and passed to the parish council for their attention at the next meeting.

If a parishioner wishes a subject to be raised, and it is appropriate for discussion at a parish council meeting, then the Clerk will have to be notified seven days before the publication of the agenda.

The parish council will determine the response, if any, to correspondence received. The parish council reserve the right to not respond to any correspondents that are taking up a disproportionate amount of the Clerk’s time. Advice will be sought upon receipt of vexatious communications and acted upon accordingly.

All official correspondence from the parish council should be sent by the Clerk in the name of the parish council using Council headed

paper. Correspondence from individual parish councillors should be avoided; however, there may be exceptional situations when it is appropriate for a parish councillor to issue correspondence in his/her own name. Such correspondence must be authorised by the parish council.”

For the two years I’ve been a councillor I’ve received much email from residents. I am trusted by many and known to get things done. I often help residents with issues and take matters to full council if needed. Many come to me to with local concerns, or for updates. I often visit people to talk and contact relevant  authority at their wish and on their behalf. 

This week I have been told by the Clerk that she is encouraging residents to no longer contact councillors. Councillors have been told they can only reply to residents if the Clerk is also copied in. 

Residents go to the councillors they trust or like. They know who is proactive, helpful and have knowledge in relevant areas. Daily I receive correspondence asking simple questions  relating to agenda, debate, news etc. All public domain information. Others contact due to planning applications knowing I have some knowledge of planning law. Others want you to help and champion them in a personal or private matter.  Essentially the same contact a borough councillor would receive. Myself and some other councillors have built trust and bonds over time by engaging like this and being accessible. 

These new requests by the Clerk would remove 90% of what myself and some other councillors do within our role. Many won’t contact if forced to go through the Clerk. The individual trust some councillors have within the community has repaired much damage caused by previous administration. We react quickly to residents, listen, give support, inform, answer, put onto relevant authority, get things on agenda if needed, speak for and represent residents if they find it daunting to do themselves. 

All that will be gone. Instead we must wait for the Clerk to be in the office. Decide if she will pass an email over to us to answer, then not allow us to communicate with the resident unless she is copied in. 

Surely, even if written as policy, this cannot be correct or legal? What is the point of being a councillor if a policy bans one  from engaging and communicating with residents? I for one would instantly resign and continue doing what I do from outside the Parish Council. 

Therefore I ask, does the Clerk have a right to apply this policy and demand that only she can correspond with residents whilst also telling residents to not contact individual councillors? 

ago by (120 points)

6 Answers

0 votes
I would propose that thought must to be given to why the PC is there in the first place and what a councillor's"job " is. When this is answered by "to facilitate the wants and needs of the community, and that a councillor's job is to make that happen" then the answer to your question is simple. To facilitate the communities wishes then clear two way communication is required and basic. Any "policy " that makes that communication more difficult or impossible is inherently wrong and the solution is to have it changed at council.Too easy to loose sight of what a council is there for in the drive by some indoctrinated people to impose rules and regulations  over something that might happen effectively negating what should be done in the drive to increase bureaucracy that is not needed.
ago by (27.1k points)
0 votes
Whilst a clerk may draft up a policy, it is only full council that can decide that policy is enacted. As some point a vote must have been taken and it decided by the majority the the council adopt that policy. You may not agree with it but that is democracy.

It can make it easier for all communication to go through the clerk when dealing with things such as FOI requests. If every councillor is doing their own thing it can be harder to manage and you may not be as educated on the laws and make inadvertant mistakes (even though well meaning).

On the other hand if all the requests come through the clerk then they will probably complain that they don't have enough time and ask for more hours.

But that is something for council to weigh up when they adopt any policies. As a councillor you should be willing to go along with what has been voted (even if you were on the wrong side of the vote).
ago by (4.7k points)
0 votes
The parish council is a corporate body that makes decisions and takes action as a single entity.  The point of contact for that corporate body and the legal representative of the corporate body is the Proper Officer (usually the Clerk).  Correspondence to and from the corporate body should be via the Proper Officer who is also responsible for things like responding to Freedom of Information Requests, Subject Access Requests, complaints etc. often within a limited period of time.  It is the job of the clerk/proper officer to ensure that those matters that should be referred to council for a decision are on an appropriate agenda for discussion, decision and minuting.  It is difficult to do that if items that should be directed to the corporate body are not directed through the clerk.  It is what you pay your clerk to do.
This is not restricting your rights to act as an individual but you cannot represent the council/corporate body or state you are acting on behalf of the council unless or until specifically directed to do so by the council.
ago by (19.4k points)
Thank you for the reply. I understand correspondence to the Parish Council is the clerk’s domain. I understand a councillor cannot speak for the full
Council. It is correspondence to councillors and the ability to represent  residents I am talking about.  How can one engage with residents or do any casework being unable to correspond with residents? How can I represent anyone without corresponding? Many just want someone to speak for them and help guide through the process by someone they trust.
A councillors role is to be the bridge between the public and the council. It’s the biggest part of the role. Can’t be done without being allowed to correspond. The clerk certainly cannot represent and speak for residents.
Under these rules we now have no representation, no communication, no advocacy, nowhere residents can turn for help.  There is no point being a councillor. Far more help can be offered and achieved as a member of the public. At least then one can be approached by the public for advice and help. If only a part time clerk in training is allowed to be written to then the knowledge, experience and skill sets of councillors is redundant.
I think you need to focus on the original question “can the clerk ban councillors from corresponding with residents” to which the answer is a resounding NO!!! The issue certainly needs handling carefully but from the way you have framed your comments you appear to understand the dynamics,  pitfalls, and boundaries.
Thank you John, this was my understanding too.
A recent example of the difference between contacting a clerk and councillor; Resident contacts the clerk and received the standard council Officer or employee response  “sorry, that’s not our remit, you need to contact xyz”.
Same resident comes to me “yes, let’s try do something about that”. A week of research of law, gathering information, photos and input from other residents. Write up a report.  Request the issue is put on agenda, present to full council, full agreement gained, clerk handed literature to send to relevant authority and action gained from that authority.
First myself then full council represented a resident.
This is why I became a councillor, to help people through the maze and blockage and to hold higher authority accountable to their responsibilities. Sometimes that means challenging authority. Something a clerk is usually loathe to do but a councillor can dig in, do the casework and stand up for their residents and give them a voice the system would otherwise silence.
WHilst practical in dealing with all correspondence through the clerk there is a possibility that a so inclined person could appoint themselves as a decision maker  in deciding what should or should not be decided by council via deciding what the council sees.
It is vital that the clerk trusted with such power as an employee is required to provide a list of all communications received and sent as matter of course since the previous council meeting so that councillors can question and agree or object any actions taken on their behalf by the clerk. You cannot allow an employee to unilaterally decide what councillors see or not. The council must oversee what is communicated in their name as they are the ones responsible.
0 votes
There are two different issues being discussed here.  First is the communication between 'the council' and residents.  As already explained elsewhere, the council is a corporate body and no individual councillor can/should act on behalf of the council.  Communications to and from 'the council' should go through the proper officer. The first line of the policy references 'correspondence to the parish council' and it's correct to say this is best handled by the proper officer.

Second is the communication between a councillor and their electors.  It is entirely right and proper that electors can petition their elected representative directly, using email, and that the elected representative can respond using their councillor email account.  There is absolutely no need to include the proper officer in these communications.  If the councillor feels that a matter should be discussed at council, or is best dealt with by the proper officer then they can take the appropriate action.  What a councillor must not do in these communications though is give the impression that they are speaking or acting on behalf of the council.

The policy as written lacks clarity in distinguishing between these types of communication.  Have you and your fellow councillors resolved to implement this policy?  It's up to you as councillors to implement / amend policies as you see fit. If you have implemented it, I would recommend amending it to something clearer.

And to answer the question most simply of all:  a clerk cannot ban anything.  Clerks advise, councillors decide.
ago by (710 points)
Thank you LawCruncher, this was the clarification I was looking for. Yes, I plan to raise this and challenge it. Trying to ensure I’m correct in my understanding  before raising the issue. The current policy is an old one from a previous clerk and inner core of councillors which left in under a cloud. Need to address this policy and ensure the same situation is not allowed to happen again.
0 votes
In the short term, just carefully consider (then completely ignore) what the clerk is ‘telling’ you.
In the medium term, explore potential support for policy review.
In the longer term, record examples of inappropriate advice’  from the clerk in case ‘restoring efficiencies’ become necessary.
On a side note, if that is a cut & paste from an adopted policy it presents a woeful picture of the barriers which may exist between the council and the community.
ago by (21.7k points)
+1 vote
As a previous Councillor the Council had a list of all Councillors emails and contact numbers. People often emailed to me asking questions or could I bring up at Council queries on highways etc. At no time did I act independently of the Council. There was always contact available between Parishioners Councillors and the Clerk. An email I received from a Parishioner was considered confidential unless the person gave me permission to pass it on. All has now altered, no councillor list, no telephone contact except Clerk, Chairman and Vice Chair.  As previous replies, it is the Council who agree to adopt the policies not the clerk. I am not as learned as the replies already given but feel for the original questioner. It appears to be a point of obtaining  power over a council.
ago by (300 points)
This cuts both ways.  I am a councillor, not a clerk, but I have complete sympathy for clerks who try to 'manage' certain councillor behaviours.  I have had plenty of experience of councillors over-stepping policies and legislation with no repercussions, so it is understandable that some clerks or indeed other councillors would try to deal with that situation with restrictive policies.  Some of these are silly and unworkable, of course, and I am not defending clerks who also over-reach in their efforts to control councils.
I hear others argue for mandatory training for councillors and clerks.  I am supportive of the widespread provision of high quality training*, but opposed to making it mandatory. Instead, I believe there should be real sanctions for councillors who violate codes of conduct or commit legal breaches.  As it stands, apart from the prospect of not getting re-elected, there is little to deter a councillor from any of this.

*on the topic on training, I recently attended one run by our local association and it was woeful.  A lot of their recommended or 'best practice' was being presented as statutory requirements.  And the trainer did not appreciate being challenged.  Examples of the trainers misinformation included telling the class that Councillors: may not use Cllr outside of council, for example on social media;  may not publicly criticise a decision the council has taken due to 'collective responsibility'; cannot request a recorded vote for a secret ballot.  There was a lot of discussion on what councillors can or cannot do on social media, pretty much all of which is nonsense.  I don't know what the answer to this problem is, but I suggest the way forward does not involve having clerks leading the development and delivery of such training - there is too much scope for bias.

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