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Can a PC without GPC set up a crowdfunding campaign to contribute towards the cost of legal representation for a planning appeal?
by (380 points)

1 Answer

+1 vote

Yes, you can set up crowdfunding for any purpose, as long as the purpose is made clear and donors are aware of how their money will be spent. The more complex issue is whether or not the council has legal powers to spend its own money (i.e. precept) on legal representation for a planning appeal.

We've touched upon this a couple of times recently, so have a look at the following and the link it contains to the previous discussion:

by (52.9k points)
I agree with a lot of what you say but the fact is that seeking a court's  ruling on a point of interpretation is way beyond the means of most residents  to the extent that the fact  that  the facility is available is meaningless. In the case of S137 guidance states that an interpretation is challengeable if the challenger deems the Councils view as "wholly unreasonable".  The implication is this can be done via the external auditor but that isn't really an enforceable  challenge as his decisions are only advisory.  A better "dispute resolution" procedure is needed
The use of S137 is not appropriate for this purpose, as the legislation prescribes the purpose of S137 in explicit detail.

On the wider issue, up and down the country, hundreds of councils have contributed to the expenses of their parish church, either on a regular basis for the maintenance of the churchyard, or through a one-off contribution to the maintenance or improvement of the church or church hall. Local councils have no power to incur this expenditure. It is accepted on the basis that it meets an identified local need. More specific legislation may have prevented the sector from responding with such extraordinary dedication and compassion to the coronavirus outbreak this year. We broke the rules to address urgent issues within our communities. The flexibility is a strength, not a weakness.

Finally, you may have underestimated the powers of the external auditor. I wouldn't dismiss a public interest report as only advisory.
I would say that for the examples you quote PCs do indeed have the required powers.   As regards S137 the indications are that the interpretation does indeed lie in the hands of Councillors with the caveat of the "wholly unreasonable" qualification.  Still we shall see how it pans out.
Section 137 may only be used in the following way:

"A local authority may, subject, in the case of a parish or community council, to the following provisions of this section, incur expenditure on contributions to any of the following funds, that is to say—

(a) the funds of any charitable body in furtherance of its work in the United Kingdom; or

(b) the funds of any body which provides any public service (whether to the public as a whole or to any section of it) in the United Kingdom otherwise than for the purposes of gain; or

(c) any fund which is raised in connection with a particular event directly affecting persons resident in the United Kingdom on behalf of whom a public appeal for contributions has been made by the Lord Mayor of London or the chairman of a principal council or by a committee of which the Lord Mayor of London or the chairman of a principal council is a member or by such a person or body as is referred to in section 83(3)(c) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973."

The total sum of money available in each year under S137 is capped at £8.12 (2019/20) or £8.32 (2020/21) multiplied by the number of electors on roll and the benefit must be commensurate with the sum of money committed. So your council can't spend £100k in a year, can only appoint a charitable planning consultant and would need to demonstrate a benefit (i.e. a guarantee of success).

On churchyards, s.6(1) (a) of the Local Government Act 1894 transferred powers from the Vestry and Churchwardens to the newly formed parish councils “except so far as relates to the affairs of the church or to ecclesiastical charities.” s.6(1) (c) of the 1894 Act confirms the powers, duties and liabilities conferred on parish councils include “the holding and management of parish property “not being property relating to affairs of the church or held for an ecclesiastical charity”. So there is no power to support a church, a church hall or a churchyard.

Many councils provided welfare services to vulnerable residents this year, including setting up foodbanks and distributing welfare packages, but there is no power to provide goods or financial benefits to individuals. The correct way to address this is for the council to provide money to a not-for-profit organisation, but this is not always feasible and inevitably takes time. Nobody should criticise a council for providing a compassionate and timely response in such extraordinary times and that is why we need to have the flexibility to respond to local situations without red tape getting in the way.
To me the Practitioners Guide is crystal clear viz
Local Councils are governement bodies and can only do that which they are empowered to do by law. Anything else, no matter how apparently justifiable or useful is beyond the powers of the Council ie acting ultra vires. The problem is that any dispute can only be "settled" by means of a judicial review  started by an individual, group or the auditors

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