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what is an informal council meeting and what are the rules

0 votes
We have been notified of an informal parich council meeting, there is no agenda, no clerk and it will take about 3 hours. I have stated this is unreasonable and I have asked CALC to attend but without an agenda, how can we prepare
asked by (160 points)

7 Answers

+3 votes

I understand informal meetings are not unlawful so long as everyone is clear what they are for, and that they are NOT for making of decisions on issues.

answered by (2.8k points)
+1 vote
I doubt we could function as well as we do without informal meetings. We usually have one per month.

These are usually held just prior to the monthly public meeting, we all agreed to that some years ago. It's purpose is two fold, 1 To meet with the District Council Neighbourhood Coordinator and progress anything outstanding from the last public meeting which is likely to require a public response. Or in fact meet up with any other council officer for that same reason. We also preview any planning proposals so that everybody is clear on what is what. Councillors trying to grasp a location or understand a proposals detail during a public session can sometimes come over negatively to the public who have interest. We may also raise any potentially contentious issues likely to arrise at the public meeting so that councillors can be better informed and consider the issue more fully than might be possible during a live public session. We find this adds value to the decision making discussion rather than appearing disparaging to those residents who have interset. etc.

These informal meeting do not pressure everybody to be there. It is usually stated in the email booking the meeting what is likely to be discussed so if a PC has no interest and something personal to attend to they just don't turn up but do usually send an email crying off just out of courtesy. This type of meeting can also be very useful by way of providing an oportunity to register something in a fuller manner for the agenda of the next monthly meeting proper.

Our informal meetings don't have a firm agenda and we don't take actual minutes as such. Everybody just makes their own memory jogger notes for their consideration. Although we do get an email either from the Chair or Clerk with the main topic(s) otherwise how on earth would you know what you are meeting about. We have also had our local ALC representative attend one informal meeting, this to discuss meeting protocol and that was all we needed to tell him so informal meetings of such without agenda and minutes must I presume be OK. As an aside, he then returned at the next public meeting and just took a seat with the public to observe. (We got a thumbs up!)

Incidentally as I understand it, if an informal meeting is refused then it only needs two Parish Councillors to force an extraordinary meeting which would then need to be advertised for public attendance with a formal agenda in much the same way as the normal regular monthly public meetings. So if you have something that needs sorting where some plain speaking could be on the cards it might be better to just get on with the informal meeting and put it to bed but then knowing what a meeting is about is a courtesy that I think you have every right to expect to be made aware of.
answered by (850 points)
edited by
I try to dissuade my members from having informal meetings as It can lead to pre determination.  It is much better for all members to approach meetings with an open mind and to hear the opinions of fellow members around the committee table before deciding how to vote.  It's also good for the public to hear the full debate and the different viewpoints of their elected members.
Yes I agree, as I said the purpose of the informal meets are mainly to review progress from the last meeting with district council representatives. We are maybe lucky in so much that they seem to have no problem attending to explain something in detail but it is also useful to have the details of other items to be discussed which may be involved as it allows for a more meaningful and productive meeting.
It's really only the same as the main district/borough councils having access to consultee responses/views prior to their meetings. Personally I don't see anything wrong with predetermination so long as it is arrived as correctly and with the full facts as not having the full facts or being denied the oportunity to digest them could lead to a wrong decision which later may be regretted.

But yes I take your point, informal meetings do have to be conducted responsibly by all concerned.
It seems to me that some of the attendees at your informal meetings should be there at the full public meetings instead so that the public can see who you are interacting with. With regard to Planning Proposals, you are only a consultee and your collective response only has as much weight as that from an individual member of the public, so I question why you feel the need to have an informal meeting to "explain" them.
The attendees at the informal meetings are usually to just update on minor maintenance issues, ie resident reports of moss from pavements, minor footpath issues roundabouts repairs etc, etc. which is conveyed at the public meetings as is necessary. This is a regular monthly slot for one or two Council Officers and it would be unfair to ask them to attend a monthly meeting just to convey that information. They are shared neighbourhood cordinators, shared with several other Parishes if they were to attend the public meetings for every parish it would create an unreasonable and unnecessary 'out of social hours' workload for them. It has worked very well indeed for us and neighbouring parishes for many years so no need to worry about it.

Re the consultee process we are aware of the limitations of a parish council as consultee but a responsible parish council should really consider what if any impact a proposal may have on their community. Whether it be a proposed build/alteration, tree felling or just a crown lift or reduction. With their localised knowledge they can often assist the primary planning officer, or the Tree Officer by providing their views based on historic local knowledge along with the other council consultees. Again this is something that has worked very well for both us and the borough council for many years. One example: A recent small semi-rural development proposed a dainage scheme which complied with planning law. However having pre-meeting knowledge of that proposal allowed fuller consideration of the plans and in particular the drainage and it was able to be shown that the proposed rural surface discharge was likely to have a negative effect on a locally known flood point some distance away from the actual development and with the help of residents we were able to produce photographs to support this. A further survey was then carried out which supported the local knowledge and the drainage scheme was substantially changed.
I'm sorry to say this James, but this whole process sounds completely inappropriate to me. As a Clerk, I would certainly not permit this in my councils. Officer reports should be submitted in writing to the Clerk and reported to the full council meeting so that they appear on the permanent record. If councillors are not aware of the location of a planning application, they should be reminded of their obligation to read the paperwork and prepare themselves adequately for every meeting.

I think you're holding secret meetings and denying the public the opportunity to hear the full debate on key agenda items. Is this open and transparent local government?
I obviously haven't made myself clear, there are no decisions taken, as said they are primarilly to pass reported maintenance issues to a neighbourhood coordinator in a more meaninful way than an email, and this was initially at the borough councils request. The Parish Clerk is present and will record this as well as anything that may happen to be passed to the cordinator verbally but this would always be backed up by email. The report of completed, in abayance, or newly requested work is assembled and read out by the Clerk at the next public meeting. As you say it is a councillors duty to make him or herself aware. However we are a fairly large parish with approaching 4000 central dwellings plus outer rural properties and even after living here in access of 20 years I still don't know all the locations well enough to visulaise a difference that a particular development or extention might make especially with increasing back garden infills. Or come to that how a particulr tree may be impacting a property. I suppose if you only have a few hundred dwelling over a comparitively small area you might have more of a chance but having details in advance of the agenda papers arriving does allow better familiarisation and adequate preparation for public debate which I think you were advocating.
Regarding secret meetings, this would be rather difficult in an open to public area with usually two resident social groups in the same room. Denying the public a full and open debate couldn't be further from the truth as pre awareness promotes a full and open debate. Unlike some meetings I have visited where little is said apart from the Clerk and the Chair followed by a quick vote if appropiate.
If the Principal authority cllrs are coming to present information and are limited as to the number of occasions to do that, they could just as well do it at full council meetings so that all members and any of the public present get it at the same time. I would also argue that any Cllr  with localised planning knowledge should be putting it to the whole council, not just an "inner circle" that meet informally, as the the Council as a whole are meant to resolve their response.  Many town & Parish Councils have a planning Committee and that would be the right body to consider applications in detail prior to full council, and their considerations would also be formally minuted.  Sorry but I agree with others - what you are doing amounts not even to a working party but an "inner circle" secret meeting & I would advise you to cease holding any more.
I'm affraid you misinterpret/misunerstand the points I make. Of course Principle Borough Cllrs attend the full public meetings. Neighbourhood coordinator are not principle authority councillors. Neighbourhood Coordinators are local works facilitators and highway contractor overseers who also work in cooperation with the Tree Officer and others. In other words they are a go-betweens for our borough's local parish councils and the Borough Council's sub contractors and Officers. It is their job to assemble a program of works as reported/requested by local parish councils who are in turn simply responding to request/reports from residents although sometimes Parish Councillors (as residents) may notice something and report it themselves. Neighbourhood coordinators are directly employed by the borough council but then perhaps your authority does not have such positions.
To all intent and purpose the meetings are full council by way of invitation but if somebody has something more pressing then they are not pressured to attend. However they will be kept in the loop by email via the Chair or Clerk.
The same would be true of an official monthly meeting in so much that while councillors are summoned to attend it is not unusaul for a Parish Councillor to send apologies for not being able to do so. There is no inner circle as you put it, I do really feel that you are trying to paint a picture of some clandestine function when nothing could be further from the truth.
Are you trying to tell me that your councillors do not communicate between monthly meetings either in person or by phone and email. I would very much expect they do, as it's only natural, but without tapping their phones and monitoring emails you have no idea and that would be secretive meetings and possibly the development of an unhealthy secretive inner circle. Especially if information is being withheld until either the egenda papers are issued three days prior to a meeting or even not revealed until the meeting itself, which I would suggests might permit an unhealthy bulldozing of some issue through the meeting.

By meeting openly and transparently solely for the well intended purposes described any need for unhealthy behind scenes dicussion is eliminated. Perhaps it's something you should consider but then if you don't understand a neighbourhodd coordinators function you probably either don't have one or the one you do have is dysfunctional.

Eitherway I'm done explaining on this. Suffice to say that we function totally transparently and have been cited by principle Borough Councillors as the most functional and productivel Parish Council in the Borough so it's unlikely that we will be changing our procedures any time soon.
I note your response, but I don't regard your reasons compelling. As far as  I am aware we don't have so called neighborhood co ordinators in any of the Town  or Parish councils where I live, not because we are dysfunctional but because we don't need them. Our residents associations may fulfill some of whatever they do for your PC but they know approach the Town Council or Principal Authority directly, and don't require some additional "go between" tier of operatives to tick tack between the two.
0 votes
If you're not summoned, it's not a proper meeting. And if it's not a proper meeting, I suspect there are no rules.
answered by (3.1k points)
Does anyone take notes at these meetings?
What will the council do if they start to get FOI requests about these meetings?
The only informal meeting  we have is budget and we have a report from this.  I personally don't agree with it being informal. The budget then moves to full TC but it removes the debate and questions from public view.
We have the same issue with working groups. No notes or reports. It's just a waste of time and energy
+1 vote
Hi Carry,

If you think it is unreasonable then exercise your right and don't go. As there is no summons there is no requirement for you to do so.

I'm sorry but these forums don't always have the magic answer.
answered by (5k points)
+1 vote
A 3-hour meeting with no agenda and no Clerk? Who called the meeting? As a Clerk, I wouldn't permit this. There is no such thing as an informal parish council meeting. It's either a parish council meeting, or it isn't.

You're right to involve your local association. If they are not able to attend, in your position, I'd decline the invitation and advise my fellow councillors to do likewise.
answered by (19k points)
+1 vote
Who informed you about the meeting & what is its stated purpose?  I agree it is unreasonable, and might be potentially unlawful.
answered by (14.7k points)
We have been told it is to sort out disagreements on the council and that several councillors will be uncomfortable with the proceedings
Thanks for the partial response, but who called the meeting? From what you say it sounds like a confidential EGM would be a more appropriate vehicle to deal with this. An EGM can be called legally and minutes, even if some of all is redacted.
0 votes
Taking into account all the posts from Carry Smart perhaps this informal meeting was a way to understand what the problem is from each of the two opposing sides. A public session to do this would just turn out to be unprofessional and in essence a circus show.
answered by (1.6k points)

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