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Dysfunctional Parish Council and what can Anyone do about it

0 votes
Our Parish Council is staggering from one crisis to another. First the Chair resigned following a dispute with the Clerk. The Clerk then resigned but changed their mind and took advice from a Employment Tribunal. They have now resumed their role ( After not attending one meeting) but at each meeting makes threats of resignation if questioned regarding their lack of carrying out their duties. In the past 5 months two monthly meetings have been cancelled due to failure to comply with the 3 days rule for circulation of Agenda/ minutes. Public documents ie. past Agenda's are deleted from the Council website which is a total mess. Attendance at meetings of a Council of 11 members ranges between four and six with work, Holiday or Family commitments or even no apology at all. At every single meeting there is Confidential Business which has the same subject title every time regarding the local Pub Car park and Development, this item has now been on the Agenda for some 18 months.Some of those Councillors who do attend role up in their Football strips or shorts and walking boots ( I kid you not). A new Councillor has been co opted on some and some 5 weeks still no details of them have been made public. I will not dwell on the Neighborhood Plan which has been running for some 3 years plus with thousands of pounds of grants and two meetings within the past 12 months.Please no replies of fetch Guy Fawkes to sort it. lol
asked by (150 points)

2 Answers

+3 votes
The standard response would be to make every elector aware and encourage them  to stand at the next bring about change.  The other thing that should have been done would have been to report these failings to the External Auditor.  However, the EA can only ask the Council to change their ways and isn't empowered to enforce any actions it calls for.  Some EA's don't show a great deal of willingness to even call for corrective action.  If any consultations about Parish Councils are launched, call for  the remit of the Local Govt Ombudsman to have jurisdiction over Town & Parish Councils -  they don't now,  govt have thus far resisted calls for this to happen.  The nuclear option would be for a petition to hold a governance review calling for abolition!
answered by (13.5k points)
Quite rightly as you point out if you cannot beat them join them and so some years ago 4 Residents did stand for election and were successful. Over the next few years they were whittled out and replaced by previous members. The Clerk has been in post for at least 20 years and has more to say at meetings than the Council, a very sad state of affairs.
+1 vote
It would be lovely to live in a world where parish councils function as efficient beacons of local democracy, with fastidious clerks providing immaculate and timely paperwork. Sadly, the real world ain't like that and we hear so many horror stories.

My advice to you is to explore training opportunities for your Chair, your Clerk and all members of the council, to help them to understand their roles and responsibilities. Your local association should be able to provide this. Give everybody a copy of the Good Councillors Guide 2018, which contains so much useful information. If you have a competent neighbouring council, suggest that members attend one of their meetings to see how they conduct themselves. Attendance rates can usually be improved by publishing the attendance record for each councillor at the end of the year and reminding members of Section 85, the six-month rule.

It sounds as though there is an issue with your Clerk and you haven't commented on their experience/qualifications etc. Has anybody sat down with the Clerk to ascertain why they have been unable to meet deadlines etc? The council, as the employer, has a duty of care and should be working in a positive and supportive manner to help the employee.

If there is nothing new to say about the long-standing agenda items, they shouldn't be on the agenda. Confidential business items are for commercially sensitive matters, so the same topic of discussion can be open at one meeting, then confidential at the next, according to the matters to be discussed.

I hope this is helpful.
answered by (18.5k points)
One further point. The 3-day rule for the distribution of paperwork is not a reason to cancel a meeting, although it should be considered as a vital part of the democratic process, so it should not become the norm to disregard it.

Schedule 12, Part 2, para 10(3) of the 1972 Local Government Act states:

"Want of service of any such summons as is referred to in sub-paragraph (2)(b) above on any member of the parish council concerned shall not affect the validity of the meeting."

Sub-paragraph 2(b) is the 3-day requirement for agenda and papers to be delivered to all members.

Failure to distribute paperwork before the meeting will inevitably lead to longer meetings and potentially poorer decision-making if members have not been given the opportunity to consider fully the items under discussion.
Thanks for that I note though the 3 day rule failure only applies to 2(b) failure to serve on members not as in our last case failure to publish for Residents.I doubt our Clerk at around late 70s would appreciate being asked to attend Training opportunities. I also forgot to mention he is also the Clerk for a second Parish Council.
The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities is a code of recommended practice, not a legal requirement, although an auditor should highlight cases where the council has failed to comply.
So what takes precedence Local Government Act or a code
The Local Government Act is the law. Acts always come before codes.

The LGA dates from 1972, when open and transparent government wasn't a high priority. The Localism Act in 2011 sought to devolve decision making down towards local communities wherever possible and introduced greater powers for individuals and local communities to manage local facilities and services. For this to be successful, it was also necessary to give them greater access to the information and the decision-making functions of all tiers of local government. Subsequent tweaks to audit regulations etc have sought to support this principle.
Just thought you may be interested in the latest update to this mess.The Chair who in my mind ensured some form of support was provided for the Clerk finally after August 2019 provided the minutes(Draft) of the confidential meeting regarding the Clerk and his issues. The Councillor who shall we say fired all the bullets regarding his performance then threatened legal action against the Council if they were ever accepted and produced at a Public meeting.The Chair resigned, the Vice Chair refused to stand as Chair so who did they agree to vote as Chair? you got it the one firing the bullets.The Clerk resigned at the end of the meeting having been there for 50 years shocking.

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