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Legality of working parties

+1 vote
How can a Parish Council abolish committees and and appoint councillors to working parties to carry out the work( all the usual duty areas: planning, finance, communications, playing fields, employment etc). A couple of points spring to mind that holding meetings of working parties in someones house without public notice of such meetings and essentially exclude members of the electorate, followed by no minutes of the meetings flies totally in the face of the requirements of councils to meet obligations of the Nolan principles and the Localism act which demands openness and transparency of councils as laid out in their standing orders etc.

These working parties then put together a very loose "report " of what they have discussed usually with a recommendation (usually on investigation flawed or incompetent or bad value for money) to council which is unquestioningly adopted. They are also called upon to put together their planned costings for inclusion in budget and precept proposals which they, correct me if I am wrong do not have or had delegated powers to do so

All attempts to question this state of affairs are ignored and side stepped.

Any advice as to how the PC can be persuaded to return to a committee structure with working parties answerable to it's particular committee when formed to carry out minor investigations.
asked by (3.1k points)

3 Answers

+2 votes
Totally agree with your concerns.  I cannot see any reason why a parish council would abolish committees in favour of working parties in this manner.  Working parties are useful tools for task and finish projects but only if there are strict rules on reporting fully to the committee or full council and being kept under constant scrutiny for their actions and behaviours by the council as a whole.

Working parties have no powers at all to make decisions; they can only make recommendations to full council (or the committee that set them up) for them to adopt or reject.  This is why the rules around working parties are more relaxed.

This shoddy behaviour is a bad reflection on the council and the Clerk who should know better (unless they are being bullied and browbeaten by the councillors).  All I can suggest is that you contact the Local Association branch of the NALC, possibly the internal auditor for an explanation (their report should be freely available under FOI) and / or the Monitoring Officer for the borough or district who might be able to give advice.  That said, I am not sure what can be done if the three options above are not willing to get involved.
answered by (11.5k points)
Accept there are legitimate concerns around some "Working Group"s but at same time have real concerns about "death by committee" which seems to be feature of some areas of local government.  Indeed I have seen some working groups act far more transparently than some committees.  Detailed written reports / Invited Members of public & Cllrs to attend informal meetings letting folk speak freely and candidly which resulted in issues been properly considered and options explored and part of a detailed recommendation to council.   I have seen Parish Precept double and continue to rise year on year to cover Staff Costs which continue to rise year on year (have more than doubled on 4 years).  If a council is sinking in 2 Hour Committee meetings X times a month + Ordinary Council Meeting 2 Hours at what point does every single sane member (and indeed public watching) flee..  (then the accountability argument for Committees ceases to be relevant).
1)Personnel Committee
2)Finance Committee
3)Planning Committee (if we wish to continue the pretence of submitting comments pretending planning authorities take any special notice of Parish Councils views over public comments)

Rest of the work seems ideally suited to Working Groups.  Making proper detailed recommendations & reports to ordinary meeting of council (or relevant committee). Formal Meetings should be for decision making not long winded talking shops and social club which far to many resemble.   If you want to start looking at things best place to start to me is informal conversation followed by a small group set up to explore idea assess viability.  Not dragging it to Committee and trying to think it up on the hoof on the night paying someone to sit and try to take notes as it all pours out with 10 Cllrs & Clerk all throwing their ideas in.
I agree with your analysis of death by committee and the benefit of working parties in acting quickly but IF and only IF there are tight, formal controls over the actions taken by the working parties.

My council has working parties and committees and they work well.  However, I have seen first hand councils where working parties make decisions, are entirely unaccountable and unminuted.  Then decisions are made with no audit trail in any shape or form and they are very antidemocratic.

Don't get me wrong, there is a benefit for working parties but there has to be control too.
+1 vote
Working parties can be a dubious legal tool to avoid transparency and accountability.  The only way sadly to return to a committee structure is through new members via the ballot box. NALC will avoid getting involved and even if they did, would be powerless to do anything.
answered by (13.6k points)
0 votes
Totally unacceptable springs to mind. Whilst I agree that some PC's overcomplicate business with committee's in order to hold up progress there are many that use committees properly.

Simply put - working parties are there to meet without the bureaucracy, however, because of their very makeup they have no power whatsoever and can not have it delegated. There is no formal process to follow in relation to minutes etc either.  A committee, of course, has to ensure it is quorate, minuted and has delegated powers (potentially). However, a committee may not necessarily how the power to vote on financial/budgetary matters unless the Standing Orders allow the full council to delegate this.

Working groups can ONLY recommend things to the full council and the full council must ensure they can vote on these proposals as per their standing orders.

This is extremely bad practice for most councils but for small councils with not many members it may be a more fluid way of working.
answered by (4.5k points)

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