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Can councillors request copies of financial documents?

+1 vote
While conducting checks of financial procedures, the Clerk was asked for a copy of bank statements.  The Clerk denied this request and stated that copies of bank statements should not be taken off-site.  While I understand that active original documents should not be taken off-site by Councillors or Council employees, there does not appear any reasonable case for denying Councillors a copy of a bank statement.  There may be a need to hide the names of some individuals (for data protection purposes) but these could be redacted on the copy.  Councillors should agree that copies should not be passed to third parties.

The Clerk has also been asked to provide budget reports in spreadsheet format - this is available from our accounting system Scribe.  However the Clerk also denied this request and asked why reports were required in this format.  The Clerk expressed concerns that the reports could be modified.
asked by (1.5k points)

2 Answers

+1 vote
I am a Clerk and what your Clerk is suggesting is highly inappropriate and I would be concerned about their refusal to provide bank statements.  As a Clerk you are employed by the Parish Council so if you are asked to provide information by the parish council, you are obliged to do so or face disciplinary proceedures.

I also consider it vital that bank statements can be inspected by the Parish Councillors as they are actual proof of the money the parish council has and evidences that the accounts being presented to the parish council are honest and correct.
answered by (13.3k points)
Just to clarify we were allowed to view the originals of the bank statements but we were not allowed to take copies of bank statements - "for security reasons".  However I'm struggling to understand what these security concerns are - and if they exist the statements could be redacted to hide names or account details.

Do you have any views on the reluctance to provide reports in spreadsheet format (thus if councillors want to do any analysis of the numbers they have to retype the numbers into a spreadsheet)?  I think the rationale that the reports might be changed is not logical - the originals are retained by the Clerk.
Oh, I see.  In that case, I am not sure why Councillors would need to keep copies of the bank statements out of the office but if they were wanted, redaction would be the way forward on this and using a black marker is very quick and effective!

With regards to the Clerk's reluctance to provide a spreadsheet, I suppose this could be down to a number of issues - perhaps the Clerk is not familiar with excel, or sees this as doubling up of the workload.  I don't know if your accounting system allows for the downloading of reports onto a spreadsheet - Sage certainly does and it is fairly painless.  However, I don't understand the rationale behind the figures being changed - as you say the accounts package is controlled by the Clerk at all times....

What I would say is that Councillors have a duty of care to the parish to ensure that the accounts and council finances are run appropriately and that the parish council is ultimately responsible for its financial management.  Therefore, councillors have a duty to understand the information that is presented to them and if this means that the accounts have to be handwritten on toilet paper, then that is what is required!  Therefore to request information on a spreadsheet is perfectly aceptable as long as it doesn't take the Clerk hours and hours of work.
Councillors don't want to "keep copies" of bank statements, they just want to be able to review them and reconcile them away from the parish office.  Alternatively access to an electronic scan of a bank statements (suitably redacted if necessary) available via e-mail or on our website would also be acceptable.  Having to attend the parish office can be intimidating for staff who are not accustomed to audits of their processes.

I can see the point about extra work for the Clerk - but without the spreadsheet format there is extra work for councillors interesting in doing analysis of the numbers and therefore making fulfilment of our responsibilities more difficult.
Councillors have a responsibility for ensuring their council operates lawfully and are entitled to copies of the bank statements. The transactions should be available for the public to view through the FOI act and during the inspection period, and the public would be entitled to ask to copy the statements. This Clerk needs to be put in her place and told to stop putting up barriers to help them enjoy the easy life.
I can download my Bank Statements electronically and paste them into a spreadsheet. The clerk needs to do their job properly and serve their members.
0 votes
Mrs Abster's answers are spot on. If you'd like to delve into the legal rights, there's a good article at http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15641%3Acouncillors-rights-of-access-to-information&catid=59%3Agovernance-a-risk-articles&Itemid=27

It's perhaps stating the obvious, but if there is some tension over this issue, it's best for councillors and clerk to achieve understanding of each other's legitimate concerns and the reasons behind their actions.
answered by (29k points)

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