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Are all your resolutions submitted in advance and on the agenda?

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The model standing orders produced by NALC and adopted by many (most?) parish councils contain a section Motions for a meeting that require written notice to be given to the Proper Officer. Paragraph 9(b) in the version I have says:

No motion may be moved at a meeting unless it is on the agenda and the mover has given written notice of its wording to the Proper Office

The motion has to be submitted a specified number of days before the meeting. 

(It should be noted that procedural motions do not require written notice in advance.)

How realistic and practicable is it for parish councils to follow this requirement? There are clearly many agenda items where, until the topic has been discussed and explored, it will not be known whether a resolution is required and what form it might take. It seems to me that, if followed, this standing order would frustrate and delay the decision making process of parish councils. I would be interested to know how this is dealt with in other parish councils?

asked by (1.7k points)

1 Answer

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I'd dearly like to have a simpler set of standing orders. Like most legal documents, the model has a tendency to grow larger and larger, without necessarily obviating all possible doubt.

Like you, we have standing orders derived from the NALC model and including the clause you mention. Our interpretation of this is to see it as protection for the clerk against unreasonable councillor demands. In practice, the clerk is happy to cooperate with councillors and get matters raised as soon as practicable.

Our aim is to have agenda items that describe as clearly as possible the nature of what is to be discussed and to indicate that a decision may be made. This is necessary to meet the statutory requirements of giving proper notice to councillors and public. An agenda item can always be amended by resolution in the council meeting, subject to remaining close enough to the original as to still meet the requirement for notice.

Where a matter is particularly unclear, we may find it necessary to hold discussions to clarify it and only make a decision at a subsequent meeting, extraordinary if time pressures demand it. This rarely happens in our case.

Of course, the standing orders not in bold (i.e. not statutory obligations) can always be suspended by a resolution in council (without advanced notice). This means that they are really a guide to action rather than an absolute requirement.
answered by (28.7k points)
Many thanks Counterpoint for your response. There are two aspects to this. The first is the status of standing orders. You say firstly that  they form a legal document; later you say that they are only a guide. (I understand the point that standing orders in bold actually are statutory obligations.) I would suggest that standing orders have more force than a guide. Surely they are adopted by decision of the parish council on the basis that they will be followed as they stand? Nowhere is there any suggestion that they are just a guide. (Again I understand that they can always be suspended by a resolution of the council, but this should be, by its very nature, exceptional.)
On the substantive point of having to give the wording all resolutions in advance of the meeting: I fully support the necessity of agenda items clearly indicating what is to be discussed and that a decision is going to be made. However paragraph 9(b) goes beyond that and means that you have to announce a preference for a particular decision in advance. This could be confusing for the public, for example in the consideration of planning applications.
I still feel that paragraph 9(b) is impracticable, and looking at agendas and minutes it seems that most parish councils don't follow it. Indeed it turns out that resolutions are quite rare. Most decisions are recorded as "It was agreed ..." or "Invoice approved for payment ..." or "It was decided ...". This raises the question: are resolutions needed at all?
Thanks for your comments. I guess you're right that standing orders are not a legal document pure and simple. And my comment about growing documents that still fail to resolve every issue applies to tax codes, accounting standards, and so on, as well as standing orders. But standing orders do have a legal status, in that a failure to follow standing orders (without deliberately suspending them) could well be held to render a decision unlawful. Standing orders also have status by virtue of being mentioned in the Local Government Acts. I'm not clear that there is a problem with an implied preference for a decision. If an agenda item is "To agree..." then I would assume that the context implies that the council can reject the implied decision, in which case the minute will say "It was not agreed...". Most agenda items tend to be something like that. Of course they could be written as "To consider whether to agree..." if it was felt that starting off with a positive statement was misleading. In any event, many agenda items are prepared by the clerk, whereas I would think the legislation in the question is about insisting that where councillors want to raise issues, they are required to give reasonable notice and to express themselves clearly. In this case, it is clear enough that whatever the resolution may say, the fact that it is in the agenda doesn't prevent the council from rejecting it.

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