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Meeting with public present

0 votes
I’m really new to this and would like some advice please.

We have a parishioner who seems to be picking us up in everything we do.

We updated the allotments agreement but he says the new on hasn’t been properly adopted as we didn’t act within the Transparency code and wants us to with draw it.

We introduced a charity policy and again he says it wasn’t adopted correctly and wants us to with draw it.

We held an informal meeting to chat about these issues and the way we weren’t closing items down and completing things and just a general catch up really with out the public present. There was no agenda, no clerk, no decisions and basic notes taken, which have been made public.  We had some conclusions on how to move forward to be presented to the next PC for discussion.  He is saying we have acted unlawfully.  I have so little experience that I’m not sure if we’ve done right or wrong.  Not really a question I suppose just a lot of confusion.

Thank you
asked by (180 points)

3 Answers

+1 vote
First question is of course does the parishioner have a valid point regarding their observations? Were updates on the agenda, details of changes notified and an agenda item for voting by full council?
You say you had an "informal" meeting" to "chat" about these and other issues. Who was invited or attended the "informal chat".? Was it every member of the council?. Rule of thumb is that there is no such thing as an "informal meeting". All PC meetings are formal affairs where decisions are openly proposed, and ratified by democratic principles as laid down in standing orders. These meetings must comply with the regulations in codes of conduct with regard to openness and transparency and notification of the meeting to allow attendance by the public and media.

If you failed to meet these points then your community member could well be correct. This is where you seek the wisdom and expertise of the clerk. That is their job!
answered by (6.8k points)
Whilst I agree with a lot of what Mentorman says, my parish council has an annual workshop where the councillors attend informally allowing for general conversations about the direction of travel to be discussed.  In January we met online and discussed how we can engage with the community more, what makes a good parish project - it was essentially a training day for the councillors.  Therefore it was not a public meeting.  So you can have informal meetings, you just can't make any decisions.
I would suggest that the OPs informal chat is similar and is allowed and is often very helpful in educating councillors in the correct procedure.

You could go one step further and conclude that all training sessions attended by parish councillors should therefore be open to the public, advertised and recorded as council meetings.....

Sal, I believe you did the right thing with the informal meeting as you mention bringing the proposals made at the session to the next full council for approval.  The golden rule is that all decisions have to be made in a formal meeting - be that at committee or full council.  Proposals can be formulated informally as long as they are formally ratified.
I wouldn't have made the notes of the meeting public. That feels as though you are elevating the informal process towards a formal meeting.

If you feel that the policies might not have been adopted properly, adopt them again at the next meeting. There is no rule against adopting the same policy twice.
Surely the notes would still be available under FOI. At least that was the conclusion of the information commissioner when our council was taken to task by a member of the public in similar circumstances.
Perhaps the way forward is to formally convene a working party. A report can then be presented to council for discussion and decision making.
Re FOI, yes, definitely, as they form part of the official record.

I am not in favour of informal/private meetings. It's a grey area and fraught with legislative complexities. In its basic form, it may not even be legal. I agree with Mrs A regarding the value of training/briefing sessions, but the challenge is always to prevent members from determining policy at such an event.

I took over a parish council that had always set the budget and precept at a private session in a member's home, to which only 50% plus one of the members of the council were invited. Invitations were issued on a seniority basis, so with minimal turnover, some people had served for more than ten years and never been involved. I haven't completely weaned them off this process, but it now includes any members who wish to attend and I take away a draft budget to present to the next public meeting to ensure that all of the necessary decisions are taken in public and fully minuted. The flip side to all of this is that five of the seven members of that council are regulars in the village pub, so these conversations take place in the normal course of village life anyway.
Dave, after all these years I thought I’d seen everything regarding Parish Councils but an invite only private budget meeting !
0 votes
Thank you all for your help
answered by (180 points)
0 votes

If the Clerk updated the allotments agreement and drew up a charity policy, these should have been resolved by full council at a meeting where they were referenced on the agenda.  If that didn't happen, then the paritioner's criticism is valid.  An informal meeting itself is not illegal but best avoided as it lays you open to lack of transparency etc.

answered by (19.4k points)

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