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is it ok for a council to 'set ' the annual precept in a closed meeting ?

0 votes
asked by (140 points)

2 Answers

+4 votes
No, almost certainly not. There has to be a justification for excluding the public from a council meeting. Valid justifications would be, for example, to avoid breaching an obligation of confidentiality, to avoid revealing information about an ongoing legal dispute, to avoid giving private information about employees.

It's hard to see how deliberation over the precept could possibly fall into this kind of consideration. It is a fundamental duty of a council to decide on its precept, and the decision and the reasons for it should normally be made in public.
answered by (29.6k points)
maybe important to add - the meeting didn't begin as 'closed' - but included an agenda item to exclude the public, followed by the  item to 'review' the first draft of the precept.  But now that the minutes of the meeting have been published, it is clear that the public were not readmitted to the rest of the meeting.  There was no agenda item to propose the 'setting' of the precept either. .The minutes do give details of the precept amount agreed -  I just wondered if it was very bad practise - rather than unlawful ??
It isn't lawful to make an important decision without an agenda item. My feeling is that the exclusion of the public without adequate reason was unlawful,  but if nobody challenged it, there is unlikely to be anything to be done in retrospect. If someone wanted to be awkward they could try writing to the district council stating that the precept was not lawfully decided and therefore should be withheld. I don't know what the reaction would be!
Unless something crops up during the course of a debate as a matter of courtesy any items from which the public could be excluded should always be the last matter on the agenda
•Confidential Matters . The Press and Public can be excluded and This should only be used for the following reasons :
oPersonnel Issues
oTenders
oContracts
oEarly stage of a dispute.

I agree the Council is in breach when setting the BUDGET First then the PRECEPT .

Annual governance statement
AGS assertion 1: Financial management and preparation of accounting statements
Budgeting
5.7. The preparation of an annual budget is one of the key statutory tasks to be undertaken
by an authority, irrespective of its size. The budget has three main purposes:
• it results in the authority setting the precept for the year (or rates and special
levies for IDBs);
• subject to the authority’s Financial Regulations, it gives the clerk and other
officers overall authority to make spending commitments in accordance with
the plans approved by members; and
• it provides a basis for monitoring progress during the year by comparing actual
spending against planned spending.
do you think that 'budget' and 'precept ' often get confused ?  - and are often spoken of as interchangeable, when they are 2 different things ?    and   Re the public leaving and joining meetings, I sometimes wonder if the current  virtual meetings are make it more likely that 'mistakes' will be made in doing this. technical glitches can get in the way.
You're right that budget and precept do need to be considered separately. The budget will be affected by other sources of income and the state of reserves (both current and planned). The budget is a projection of the future financial affairs of the council, and the precept is only one element in that. You're also right that online meetings are raising all kinds of issues never previously encountered and some of these meetings involve practices that are of doubtful legality.
0 votes
No, but some do it to avoid flak from Local residents for as long as possible if they want to impose steep rises to it.
answered by (22.3k points)
yes - I expect that is the case. It does though seem very short sighted and just postponing the inevitable. which in turn leads to even greater lack of trust in local  cllrs. Much better to have Cllrs who are prepared to justify their actions at the time. i know that they can't please everyone all the time - but trust and confidence isn't likely to be increased if  difficult  decisions are 'hidden away' .

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