Chairs discretion to authorise expenditure

0 votes

Our Parish Council uses the model Financial Regulations, which provide for the Chair and the Clerk/RFO to jointly authorise expenditure up to £500.  Unfortunately, this seems to be used to avoid due process.  

For example, at this month's meeting the Clerk confirmed that he had received a quote for (less than £500) to prune some overhanging vegetation.  A Councillor asked the Clerk to confirm that the quote had been obtained in compliance with the process laid down in the Financial Regulations/Standing Orders.  The Chair and the Clerk then began a mumbled conversation from which it was apparent that neither was clear what the process should have been.  The Vice Chair then jumped in and told the Councillor it didn't matter, because the Chair and Clerk/RFO could authorise it without Council approval.

 The Vice Chair clearly thought he was being clever, but this is not the first time the Council has been asked to approve a payment, only for the Vice Chair to suggest this power is exercised when the debate in Council turns sticky.   it seems odd that the Financial Regulations should encourage the avoidance of scrutiny in this way.

asked by (550 points)

4 Answers

0 votes
The power's intention is for small incidental purchases (paper, toner, general 'things') or for emergency spending, I.e. felling a dangerous tree, or opening the village hall during a long power cut to keep villagers warm.

Pruning vegetation would seem to a be regular scheduled activity which should form part of a work plan, agreed by the council.

The wording of the standing order does however leave a large amount of discretion (we use the same ones) the council may ask for the standing orders to be tightened if they believe the chair and clerk have too loose an interpretation of the power.
answered by (3.7k points)
0 votes
I think the spirit of the regulations is for the Chair etc to approve the actual payment of recurring expenditure.  Not to unilaterally decide that they want to spend Council money on something and instruct the Clerk to pay for it  without seeking a prior resolution.
answered by (5.7k points)
0 votes
The provision for Clerk and Chair to authorise minor revenue expenditure up to £500 is restricted to items of expenditure included within the budget for the year, so it cannot be used for any other purpose. If the council hasn't already agreed in principle to the payment via the budgetary process, this power does not apply. (Model Finance Regs 4.1 and 4.2)
answered by (5.2k points)
0 votes
As a Clerk I have delegated authorisation for spending up to £1000 for matters that are 'business critical' which include such things as emergency repair work but I have to seek approval at the earliest instance for this and as a matter of course, I would inform the chair.  The other process that we have is to agree an appendix to the financial regulations in our May meeting where regular payments are approved in bulk, such as direct debit payments for utilities and payroll.  All other payments are agreed twice a month at Full Council and in our Finance committee too (who also have delegated powers to approve payments)

My concern with your situation is it seems that the Chair is approving non-emergency payments and that should not be the case.  The chair is the same as every other councillor in that sense and it does seem that there is a severe lack of scrutiny in this case.  £500 doesn't seem much but if you are looking at 10 x under £500 payments a month, you could be looking at £000s of payments that are not receiving formal approval...
answered by (5.5k points)

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