URPC Councillor Tool Box

Documents for Councillors and Parishioners alike:

Guidelines for the press and public using multi-media at Public Meetings.
Full document is here.

Guidelines on Openness and Transparency Interest:
Openness And Transparency On Personal Interests Guide – .gov.uk

NALC is a very informative website. They have some worthwhile documents on this site and a book explaining how LOCAL COUNCILS should work – worthy of any councillors money.

All the publications below can be found on this page.

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Local Councils EXPLAINED is NALC’s new book about local councils. With over 200 pages, it provides an easy to read narrative about the role of local (parish and town) councils, their councillors and officers and how they work. There is comprehensive and practical guidance about the legal issues that local councils are exposed to.

SAMPLE PAGES 2013

 

Prices:

Member rate: £49.99 + P&P
CALC rate: £39.99 + P&P
Non-member: £59.99 +P&P

Key Points

  • A councillor’s normal term of office is four years
  • Any person over 18 who is a citizen of the UK, the EU or the Commonwealth can be a councillor if they are an elector in, work in, live in or live within three miles of the area of the local council, unless they are disqualified.
  • The first business of the annual meeting of a local council is the election of its Chairman.
  • Most councils appoint a Vice-Chairman but this is optional.
  • The normal term of office for the Chairman and Vice-Charman of a local council is 1 year.
  • A councillor is the holder of a public office, not a volunteer.
  • A councillor can receive expenses for his role.
  • A councillor has no authority to make decisions about council business on is own.
  • The main job of a councillor is to participate in the collective decision-making processes of the council.
  • A council may arrange insurance cover to indemnify its councillors against liability resulting from them being representatives of the council.
  • A councillors financial and certain other interests in council business must be transparent.
  • A councillor is subject to obligations set out in the code of conduct adopted by the council.
  • Information about councillors is available in the council’s publication scheme.

Information about councillors

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires a local council to have a publication scheme, which makes available to the public certain information about the council. One category of information available via a council’s publication scheme concerns who makes up the council and what they do? Councillors names, roles within the council (e.g. Chairman or Vice-Chairman or Chairman of a Committee). And, where used, contact details should be available to the public via council’s publication scheme.

Councillors’ conduct and interests

A councillor is subject to statutory rules about how he conducts himself as a representative of his council. He is also subject to statutory rules which require him to be transparent about the existence of certain financial and personal interests. There are seven principles which apply to the standards of conduct of those in public life which, for example, include members of Parliament, Ministers, and councillors of all local authorities.

The seven principles, which were established by the Committee on Standards in Public life, are

  • Selflessness – you should act in the public interest
  • Integrity – you should not put yourself under any obligations to others, allow them improperly to influence you or seek bene t for yourself, family, friends or close associates
  • Objectivity – you should act impartially, fairly and on merit
  • Accountability – you should be prepared to submit to public scrutiny necessary to ensure accountability
  • Openness – you should be open and transparent in your actions and decisions unless there are clear and lawful reasons for non-disclosure
  • Honesty – you should always be truthful
  • Leadership – as a councillor, you should promote, support and exhibit high standards of conduct and be willing to challenge poor behaviour.

The seven principles are the origins of the legislation in England and Wales that established the standards of behaviour expected of a councillor as a representative of is local council, require the disclosure of certain financial or personal interests, and restrict his participation in the discussion and voting at a meeting that is considering a matter in which he holds a financial interest.

In England, a local council has a statutory duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by its councillors when they are representing office. In discharging this duty, a council must have a code of conduct that confirms the obligations of councillors when they are representing council. A council’s code of conduct must be consistent with the seven principles above. A council’s code of conduct may, for example, require its councillors:

  • To treat others with respect,
  • Not to bully or behave intimidatory manner,
  • Not seek or improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on others,
  • To use the resources of the Council in accordance with its requirements; and
  • Not to disclose confidential information.

A complaint that a councillor has not observed the code of conduct of his local council must be submitted to the district or unitary (including London Borough) council that covers the local council area. The district or unitary council will notify the complainant of its procedures for handling the complaint. If the district or unitary council decides that the councillor has failed to comply with the council’s code of conduct, it will notify the councillor and the local council of its decision. If the district or unitary council decides that the council has failed to comply with his local council’s code of conduct it can take no direct action against the councillor. Responsibility, for deciding what action to take against the councillor, if any rests with the local council. It may, for example, decide to censure the councillor, remove as a representative on an external body or request the councillor to attend training or apologise. A local council cannot suspend or disqualify a councillor from office.

RULES FOR COUNCILLORS

You cannot act as a councillor until you have signed a formal declaration of acceptance of your office.
You must sign it at or before the rst council meeting following your election or co-option in the presence of another councillor or the clerk. Failure to sign means you cannot continue as a councillor, unless you were given permission to sign later.

As a councillor you have a responsibility to:

  • attend meetings when summoned to do so; the notice to attend a council meeting is, in law, a summons, because you have a duty to attend
  • consider, in advance of the meeting, the agenda and any related
  • documents which were sent to you with the summons
  • take part in meetings and consider all the relevant facts and issues on matters which require a decision including the views of others expressed at the meeting
  • take part in voting and respect decisions made by the majority of those present and voting
  • ensure, with other councillors, that the council is properly managed represent the whole electorate, and not just those who voted for you.

Councillor Musts

The law gives local councils choice in activities to undertake; but surprisingly there are very few duties, or activities that they must carry out in delivering services to local people. Exceptions are that a council must:

  • comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010
  • publish certain information such as annual accounts, notice of meetings, agendas and meeting notes
  • comply with the relevant Local Government Transparency Code (see further details on page 26) comply with employment law
  • consider the impact of their decisions on reducing crime and disorder in their area
  • have regard to the protection of biodiversity in carrying out their functions consider the provisionof allotments if there is demand for them from local residents and it is reasonable to do so decide whether to adopt a churchyard when it is closed, if asked to do so by the Parochial Church Council.

Your local council also has a duty to ensure that all the rules for the administration of the council are followed. The council must:

  • appoint a chairman of the council
  • appoint officers as appropriate for carrying out its functions
  • appoint a responsible financial officer (RFO) to manage the council’s financial a airs; the RFO is often the clerk, especially in smaller councils
  • appoint an independent and competent internal auditor — see below
  • adopt a Code of Conduct
  • hold a minimum number of four meetings per year, one of which must be the Annual Meeting of the Council — see below.These rules are set out in law to guide the procedures of the council and your council can add its own regulations. Together these rules make up standing orders as formally agreed by your council (see Part Three). If you discover that your council does not have its own (non- nancial) standing orders don’t panic; this is unwise, but dutiesset out in statute, such as appointing a chairman and a proper o cer, still apply. The National Association of Local Councils (see Part Five) provides model standing orders.Council, committee and sub-committee meetings must generally be open to the public and the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 mean that councils must allow members of the public to record and report the proceedings of public meetings. Equalitylegislation reminds the council that it must make its meetings accessible to anyone who wishes to attend.Similarly the Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires the council to have a publication scheme explaining how certain types of council information are made available.If you are beginning to think there are too many rules, remember that they protect people’s rights (including yours) and give con dence that the council is properly run.

RULES FOR DEALING WITH PUBLIC MONEY

Being nancially responsible for a public body can be daunting. The rules set by Government are designed to make sure that the council takes no unacceptable risks with public money.

The words risk management should be engraved upon every councillor’s mind. The good news is that the rules protect you and your council from possible disaster. Your council should establish a risk management scheme which highlights every known signi cant risk in terms of the council’s activities and makes clear how such risks will be managed. This includes ensuring that it has proper insurance to protect employees, buildings, cash and members of the public. For example, playgrounds and sports facilities must be subject to regular checks that are properly recorded. It’s not just about protecting assets; it’s about taking care of people.

As a councillor, you share collective responsibility for financial management of the council. The council will have made arrangements for its nances to be administered by an officer known, in law, as the responsible nancial o cer (RFO). Your role is to ensure that the RFO acts properly so that the council avoids the risk of loss, fraud or bad debt, whether through deliberate or careless actions. Robust nancial checks and oversight are of great importance. Your council may make electronic payments or pay by cheque, whatever arrangement is in place you should ensure that there is a system to reduce the risks of error or fraud, for example never sign a blank cheque.

As an aid, your council should have its own financial regulations (as part of standing orders) giving details of how the council must manage its nances.

The National Association of Local Councils publishes model financial regulations available from your county association. If your council has not adopted financial regulations then you leave yourselves open to considerable risk and your council must take action to correct this as a matter of urgency.

The council must operate an overall system of internal control appropriate to your council’s expenditure and activity. There is extensive guidance on risk and internal control in Governance and Accountability for Smaller Authorities in England — A Practitioners’ Guide to Proper Practices4 to be applied in the preparation of statutory annual accounts and governance statements – published jointly by NALC and the SLCC. As part of its system of internal control, the council arranges for an Internal Audit where someone, (other than the RFO and acting independently of the council), scrutinises the council’s nancial systems.

The findings of internal controls are reported to the council, so, together with regular feedback from the RFO on the accounts, all councillors should be aware of the council’s nancial position. This ensures everything is open and above board and you have what you need as a councillor accountable for the council’s nances.

The budget is an essential tool for controlling the council’s nances. It demonstrates that your council will have su cient income to carry out its activities and policies. By checking spending against budget plans on a regular basis at council meetings, the council controls its nances during the year so that it can con dently make progress towards what it wants to achieve.

Transparency and openness should be the fundamental principle behind everything your parish council does. Greater openness and transparency is part of a wider transformation process across local government and provides local people with the information they need to hold your council to account.

As part of this, a new plain English guide to openness and accountability 5 issued in 2014 sets out clear guidelines on what should be available to the public in relation to your council, including attending and reporting on meetings and accessing information.

In addition, a new Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities 6 came into e ect from 1 April 2015. It requires the online publication of key nancial, governance and meeting information from 1 July 2015. It applies to parish councils and certain other small bodies with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000, and from 1 April 2017 replaces the need for external annual audit in most cases.

Whilst this Code only applies to parish councils with an annual turnover of £25k or less, it is considered best practice for all parish councils, whatever their turnover, to be meeting the transparency requirements set out in the code and this best practice is reinforced by National Association of Local Councils’ Award Scheme.

Parish councils with annual turnover exceeding £200,000 are expected to follow the Local Government Transparency Code for larger authorities.7

The Smaller Authorities Code requires Parish Councils to publish the following information:

  • all items of expenditure above £100
  • end of year accounts
  • annual governance statement
  • internal audit report
  • list of councillor or member responsibilities,
  • the details of public land and building assets,
  • minutes, agendas and meeting papers of formal meetingsSeparately, from 2015/16 all parish councils are required to publish their annual end of year accounts online.To help the smallest parish councils meet these new transparency requirements, DCLG is supporting NALC and its county associations to deliver funding of £4.7million over three years to enable those bodies without the capacity or resources currently to enable them to get online and comply with the code as soon as practicable. Details of how to apply for funding and what is covered is available on the NALC website.

Complaints against Councillors

An analysis of complaints made against Councillors (previously assessed by the Standards Board for England and now dealt with by local standards committees) indicates that there is a significant problem of bullying and harassment occurring at parish level between Members and Officers. It may be that this is caused in part because of the lack of clarity between the respective roles of Officers and Members and of the relatively isolated nature of the position of the Clerk. Other factors that may contribute to a breakdown in relations between Members and Officers include the absence of authoritative Member/Officer protocols, proper disciplinary and grievance procedures and (in some cases) written contracts of employment.

Bullying is specifically prohibited in the Member Code of Conduct (paragraph 3(2)(b) of the Model Code). Councillors must not bully any person, including other Councillors, Officers or members of the public.

The attached protocol is therefore commended for adoption to ensure that Members and Officers operate in an environment of mutual trust and respect. It should assist in the development of a culture of clear and honest communication between Officers and Members.

Model Protocol on Bullying and Harassment (including Grievance Procedures and Whistle Blowing)

Background

  • The relationship between Councillors and Officers is an essential ingredient that should contribute to the successful working of the organisation. This relationship within the authority should be characterised by mutual respect, informality and trust. Councillors and Officers must feel free to speak to one another openly and honestly. Nothing in this Protocol is intended to change this relationship. Objective criticism is usually acceptable but can be unacceptable if the criticism becomes personal. This protocol gives guidance on what to do on the rare occasions when things go wrong
  • Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work. Bullying and harassment of any kind are in no-one’s interest and should not be tolerated in the workplace.

What is bullying and harassment?

Examples and definitions of what may be considered bullying and harassment are provided below for guidance. For practical purposes, those making a complaint usually define what they mean by bullying or harassment – something has happened to them that is unwelcome, unwarranted and causes a detrimental effect. If employees complain they are being bullied or harassed, then they have a grievance which must be dealt with regardless of whether or not their complaint accords with a standard definition.

How can bullying and harassment be recognised?

There are many definitions of bullying and harassment. Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient.

Harassment, in general terms, is unwanted conduct affecting the dignity of men and women in the workplace. It may be related to age, sex, race, disability, religion, nationality or any personal characteristic of the individual, and may be persistent or an isolated incident. The key is that the actions or comments are viewed as demeaning and unacceptable to the recipient.

“inappropriate behaviour”

  • intimidation/humiliation
  • excessive criticism
  • autocratic/dictatorial behaviour
  • shouting
  • browbeating
  • haranguing
  • swearing
  • ridiculing
  • expressions of intolerance

Behaviour that is considered bullying by one person may be considered firm management by another. Most people will agree on extreme cases of bullying and harassment but it is sometimes the “grey” areas that cause most problems. Examples of what is unacceptable behaviour include: general discourtesy.

Bullying and harassment are not necessarily face to face; they may be by written communications, e-mail (so called “flame mail”) and telephone.

Why does the Council need to take action on bullying and harassment

There is an implied term of mutual trust and confidence in every contract of employment. Where the parish council is aware of a situation of bullying or harassment of an employee by one of its Councillors, but fails to act to stop it, it will be in breach of that implied term of employment contract and may be held liable for the constructive dismissal of that employee.

It is in every employer’s interest to promote a safe, healthy and fair environment in which people can work

A parish council’s duty of care to an employee relates to all forms of personal injury, which will include mental as well as physical health. If a risk to health was foreseeable but no action was taken then the parish council could be at fault and compensation could be sought.

The Members’ Code of Conduct

Bullying is expressly forbidden under paragraph 3(2)(b) of the Model Code of Conduct. There are, in addition, complementary obligations to;

  • not do anything which may cause the authority to breach any equality laws;
    treat others with respect;
    not intimidate any person who is or is likely to be a complainant, a witness or involved in an investigation relating to a breach of the Code; and;
  • Not compromise or attempt to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the authority.
  • A proven allegation of bullying or harassment will always be a breach of the Code of Conduct and the Councillor involved is liable to be reported to the Local Standards Committee. Councillors are entitled to challenge Officers as to why they hold their views. However, if criticism amounts to a personal attack or is of an offensive nature, the Councillor is likely to have crossed the line of what is acceptable behaviour.

If there are instances of bullying or harassment by Councillors towards officers or other Councillors, then those Councillors who are aware of the incident should consider reporting it to the Standards Committee of the relevant principal authority. It is also open to Officers who are either the subject of bullying or harassment or who witness such an incident to similarly report it to the Standards Committee (which is likely to have established an Assessment Sub-Committee to decide whether to investigate such complaints).

If Members or Officers are unsure what to do or how to report the matter, they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer.

Grievance and disciplinary procedures

Obviously it is best to try to avoid things getting to a state where an employee considers themselves dismissed or issues a personal injury claim against the Council. This can be done through having an accessible and useable grievance procedure.

Since October 2004 all employers have been required by law to have disciplinary and grievance procedures. These cover disciplinary rules and procedures for handling discipline, grievance and appeals. Details must be included in the employee’s written statement of employment particulars or reference made to a separate document which is readily accessible to the employee.

A grievance procedure enables individual employees to raise concerns, problems or complaints with management about their employment. It should allow for both an informal and formal approach.

A grievance procedure provides an open and fair way for employees to make known their concerns, problems or complaints. It enables such grievances to be resolved quickly before they fester and become major problems. An employee who fails to raise a grievance with their employer using the statutory procedure may be prevented from taking a claim relating to that grievance to employment tribunal.

Grievance procedure should allow grievances to be dealt with fairly, consistently, speedily and should include:

  • how and with whom to raise the issue
  • whom next to appeal to if not satisfied
  • time limits for each stage
  • the right to be accompanied by a fellow worker or trade union representative
  • the statutory grievance procedure

 

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