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Following advice on this forum I met with the Chairman of our new Council in May and made several suggestions re possible improvements. I thought these were well received and after an exchange of E mails I was told my suggestions would be considered at a July workshop. Having received no feedback I submitted a letter for consideration at the September Council meeting which related to the inclusion of background papers with future Agendas and provided all the necessary references. The Agenda was so long that there was no chance of it ever being completed and eventually the meeting was closed at 10pm with about a third of the Agenda not dealt with including my item.  The Chairman seemed uncertain as to what to do with the outstanding items. The following morning, I fired off an E mail requesting that my paper be circulated to all Councillors and a view formed in time for the next meeting but questioned whether a change in Agenda policy could come within the powers of the Chairman. So two questions a) what should be done about agenda items carried over from a meeting and b) does a change in Agenda Policy have to be subject to Councillors approval? Incidentally in my E mail I suggested the following criteria could be adopted for the preparation of any future agenda. Are they reasonable?

a)   All Agenda items requiring a report/update etc shall be allocated a Lead Role who will alone be responsible for providing any updates and in a timely fashion. This to include any proposed motions.

b)   At meeting date minus two weeks Clerk to circulate first draft of Agenda and require all reports to be submitted by nominated date (meeting minus one week).

c)    If no reports are received item(s) to be removed from final Agenda

d)   Oral updates are not to be allowed nor will any AOB

e)   These rules will induce a discipline into Cllrs and reduce the length of Agenda/meetings by excluding “non urgent” items.

f)      All reports to be submitted in electronic format and stored in dedicated folder.

g)   Clerk to embed files in final Agenda document as launchable icons

asked by (1k points)
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2 Answers

0 votes
Re " Agenda items carried over from a meeting"  What does that mean? Items that weren't discussed at all?  All items should be discussed.  Not all are reasonable. Exclusion of non urgent items in particular. Who decides the urgency?  In theory the items could be excluded forever.
answered by (10.9k points)
If a meeting exceeds the maximum time stated in the standing orders, it should be adjourned and all remaining items on the agenda should be discussed at the next meeting.
Our meetings start at 7.30pm and traditionally end at about 10pm. The maximum time allowed in standing orders is 3 hours. The Agendas tend to start with any subject that may be discussed by the Councillors and often as it transpires without any submitted reports i.e. oral discussion which often tends to “go on a bit”. At the end of Agenda there is a heading for “public correspondence”.  In the last two meetings I have had items under public correspondence to be discussed but both meetings have been closed before my item had been reached. So, having sat there for two and a half hours I feel somewhat pxxxd off.  The most recent item related to a review of the whole agenda process including the public access to background papers. I feel the circumstances precisely illustrate the point I am trying to make i.e. the whole agenda process is not efficient or customer orientated.
I am trying to encourage the Council to refine the process and inter alia understand that the content of an Agenda has more than one customer i.e. the public as well as the Councillors. What I am not sure of is who makes the decision re Agenda policy (is it the Clerk?) and also what should happen re items not reached on any given Agenda.
If a meeting exceeds the maximum time stated, it raises questions about how well the meeting is being chaired or how many items should have gone on the agenda in the first place.
The agenda states what is being discussed at the meeting Cllrs are summoned to attend.   There is a case to adjourn if it is disrupted or a fire alarm goes off, but less of a case to do so if there is no disturbance.
The Clerk is responsible for the content and format of the agenda and there are many guidelines and suggested models, but no specific legislation. The Clerk would normally discuss the content with the Chair, but it is the Clerk who has the final say.

The next meeting should pick up where the previous one finished, but if the issues you have highlighted are not addressed, your council will never catch up without calling additional meetings. As a first step, suggest that each agenda item has a time slot published for it and ask the Clerk to surreptitiously notify the Chair when that time slot has overrun. If nothing else, this will highlight where the most time is being lost.
0 votes
This does all sound very chaotic and perhaps your Clerk and Chairman would benefit from specific training in this regard, which is readily available.

There is no justification for routinely over running a meeting and your time limit of 3 hours is on the generous side. Many councils opt for a shorter limit. All items on the agenda must be fully explained to the public beforehand and the only realistic way to achieve this is to follow the model that has been used by larger authorities for as long as I can remember. Written reports, published a few days in advance of the meeting (Transparency Code), taken as read at the meeting, one question per member, clear recommendations in the report, vote by show of hands, move on.

For my own Parish Council, the one I Chair rather than Clerk, we have a simple report template, with three headings: Purpose of Report, Key Issues, Recommendations. This is used for every item on the agenda. Purpose, obviously, explains the reason for bringing it to the council.  Key issues, usually bullet points, explains the background, essential information and proposed actions. Recommendations provides specific resolutions to be voted upon and for the Clerk to include in the minutes. Reports must be with the Clerk a week before the meeting to appear on the agenda. There are two main sections of the agenda: Reports for Information and Reports for Decisions. In the case of an information report, the recommendation is simply "Members note the contents of the report." As stated above, at the meeting, I introduce the item, ask the report author whether there is anything they wish to add to the report, invite questions from members, read out the recommendations, request a show of hands, then move on to the next item. We allocate three minutes for a decision item, less for an information report. Occasionally something will take a little longer, but they average out over the course of a meeting. It's not unusual for an information report to be done and dusted in 30 seconds, when it would have taken ten or fifteen minutes previously. We have no oral reporting, urgent items must require an urgent resolution in order to be included and we have no any other business. A typical agenda would contain up to twenty reports, for which a couple of hours is adequate, including a public forum.

It wasn't popular with members when we introduced it, as some liked the sound of their own voices, but it has gradually been adopted by the majority. New councillors just accept it as the only way. It means that Mrs Biggins from No 42 Acacia Avenue can visit the website the day before the meeting to find out whether or not we're discussing anything that has a bearing on her life, to allow her to decide whether or not to attend. That's what the Transparency Code is all about.
answered by (15.9k points)
Many thanks for the detailed response.
And confirming one week correspondence action  to a  Clerk

There are people within some  parish areas that cannot physically attend the public talk  time at the beginning of the meeting due to disability or illness e.g. housebound
The  need for a reasonable adjustment arises.
Here is a  scenario,  if  the reasonble adjustment was made as correspondence this  potentially is what may  follow.
 The persons housebound  correspondence has  to be with Clerk 1 week prior but the  new agenda meeting give 3 days notice only
 The person with the housebound  disability has to. put their correspondence in, not knowing the agenda as if it was their public voice for that agenda contents,  1 week in advance to the Clerk but  can never get their voice into that specific public meeting time  as the agenda has only 3 days notice.
A vote could be done without their reasonable adjustment correspondence voice letter.
I would be interested on anyone advice, views, or experience
Many thanks for Clarifying the one week notice in these posts
The publication of the agenda is defined by the Transparency Code as three clear days before the meeting. A clear day excludes the day the notice is published, Saturdays, Sundays and the day of the meeting, so if the meeting takes place on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, the agenda must be published six days beforehand. However, if the meeting takes place on a Friday (which is less common), the agenda need not be published until the preceeding Monday, just four days beforehand.

If a parishioner is unable to attend a meeting due to a disability, reasonable adjustment could be made to enable them to raise an issue via a third party, who could be the Clerk, a member of the council, or any member of the public. If somebody phoned me with either my Chairman or Clerk's hat on (I am both, for different councils), I would ask whether they have an advocate who could represent them at the meeting, or ascertain whether their concerns can be communicated adequately in a phone call. If not and a visit is necessary, I would seek their permission for two people to visit them to discuss their concerns. All of this could be achieved between the publication of the agenda and the start of the meeting if the parishioner's concerns relate to another item on the agenda.

The timing of the publication of the agenda needs to strike a balance between the desire to give parishioners as much notice as possible of the items under consideration and the requirement for a small parish council without a Finance Committee with delegated powers to approve all items of expenditure at a full council meeting before payment, especially when that council doesn't hold monthly meetings.
I am meeting with my MP on 25 Oct in order to raise the issue of PCs making sure they publish background papers with Agendas. I believe this will do much to improve residents understanding of the issues being discussed. This will include the lack of any code for PCs with a turnover between £25k and £200k pa. I am also interested to know what the government's feelings are regarding ensuring compliance as auditing seemed to be restricted in this area.  Are there any specific/associated  points anyone wants raising?
In March of this year, I wrote to my MP (a cabinet member) on the lack of a prescribed code for the £25k to £200k band, but the response I received was non-committal. It stated that the Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities is not mandatory for councils over £25k, but "they are encouraged to adopt a code of practice" they "must still appoint an external auditor to prepare accounts as required by the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014" and "principal authorities are responsible for undertaking investigations into breaches by parish councillors." It also mentioned a draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill which will make the complaint mechanism faster and more effective.

The whole system is based on trust and allows far too much scope for abuse. Councils appoint their own auditor from an unregulated list and can simply dispense with anybody who asks difficult questions. With no Transparency Code to fall back on, a Monitoring Officer cannot investigate any failure to disclose information. Those councils that choose to operate in an open and transparent manner have adopted the simple principles of letting the ratepayers know how their money is being spent, whilst the secret societies continue to work unchallenged behind closed doors.

The Government wonders why so few people take an interest in representing the people at a local level. They need to clean up the reputation of the sector to resore public confidence. We all have a part to play, but ultimately, only legislation can do this.

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