Frequently Asked Questions
Approval of the minutes of the previous meeting - what does this mean in practice?
At the point on the agenda where the council is asked to approve the minutes of the previous meeting, the only question that it should be asking is whether what is recorded in the minutes is a true record of discussions/decisions at the last meeting. Any concerns about issues/decisions should be raised completely separately.
Can a council legally have an 'Any other business' item on its agenda?
There is no explicit legislation which states that this item cannot be included. However, remember that only lawful decisions can be made on business that is specified in the agenda. (Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12).
Obviously, a stand alone item 'Any other business' does not specify anything at all and therefore any decisions taken under such an agenda item are likely to be unlawful. Most councils leave this item out entirely because it is dangerous. Instead, councillors are encouraged to contact the clerk in advance of the meeting and ask for any issues that they wish to raise to be included and specified on the agenda; in that way if any decision(s) need to be made they will be lawful.
Can a local council provide a loan to others?
Yes. A local council can provide loans to community and other groups (but not to an individual) subject to having a power under legislation to support the provision of a particular service or facility. For example the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 allows local councils to support the provision of recreational facilities. We would advise any member considering providing a loan to contact YLCA for detailed advice and it is always recommended that a written agreement is put in place. It is worth adding that a local council is not permitted to loan funds itself to then loan on to another group.
Can a local council take out a loan?
Yes. However, a council must obtain permission from the Secretary of State to do so. This is a relatively straightforward process and is done through YLCA. Most councils access their loaned funds through the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB). The amount to be borrowed should not be less than £5 multiplied by the number of local government electors for the area. The amount an individual council will be authorised to borrow will normally be limited to a maximum of £500,000 in any single financial year for any single purpose; although larger loans are granted with special permission. The maximum period for a loan is 50 years for the acquisition of, or works on or to, land, buildings, roads or structures, or the making of grants for such purposes; or 10 years in all other cases. Interest rates on PWLB loans are low compared to commercial lenders but will vary depending on the amount borrowed and the length of the repayment period. A local council can also take out loans from banks and building societies but any such loans would still require approval from the Secretary of State.
Do we have to allow the filming or recording of meetings?
Yes. Under the Openness of Local Government Regulations 2014 all local councils and parish meetings must allow members of the public to record their meetings (this includes committee meetings). Further information can be found in YLCA Advice Note number 22, NALC Legal Topic Note 5 (available from the Guidance and Resources pages) and this section you will also find a copy of the 2014 Regulations and the Government's Plain English Guide to the Regulations.
Does a clerk have to be employed by the council or meeting and have a contract of employment?
Yes. A clerk to a local council must be an employee of the council (they cannot be self employed in that role) and he or she must have a contract of employment. In addition the council must register for PAYE with HMRC. The exception to this is that a councillor of a local council can be the clerk on an unpaid basis. If this arrangement is followed then HMRC should still be informed. It is important to remember that from 1 April 2020, all employees must be given a copy of their contract of employment on the day that they commence work with the Council. That means councils have to do some preparatory work and ensure that this document is ready for signature by both parties on that date.
Does there have to be a formal type of 'invitation' to the councillors to attend the meeting?
Yes, under the Local Government Act 1972, there is a requirement that the person convening the meeting must 'summon' councillors to attend. This is a legal summons and is the reason why councillors have a duty to attend council meetings.
For ordinary meetings of a council, the Clerk convenes the ordinary meetings, ie those agreed in a schedule by the Council in advance of the meetings.
Only the Chairman can convene an extraordinary meeting in the first instance and it is this person that will summon the councillors to attend and sign the summons. An extraordinary meeting is one that is called between ordinary (scheduled) meetings, and is for a specific purpose.
If two councillors request a chairman to convene an extraordinary meeting but the chairman does not or refuses to, after a period of 7 days has lapsed, any two councillors can convene an extraordinary meeting and as the convenors of the meeting, it is the two councillors that will sign the summons.
The clerk will prepare agendas for the ordinary and extraordinary meetings.
How detailed should the agenda be?
This is an important issue as the council is not allowed to take any decision on a matter which has not been specified on the agenda which has been circulated to councillors in advance. (Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12). To be correctly specified the agenda item should be well detailed. Any decisions taken under an agenda with one word items are likely to be unlawful. See in the Guidance and Resources section of the website - YLCA Advice Note number 7.
How do we acquire the General Power of Competence?
Further to the Localism Act 2011 an eligible local council can acquire the general power of competence (GPC) which is a power to do anything an individual can generally do within the law. To acquire the GPC a local council must have a qualified clerk (e.g. one holding the Certificate in Local Council Administration including the module on GPC), plus at least two thirds of councillors must have been elected or stood for election at an ordinary election or by-election. Members wishing to know more about acquiring or using GPC should contact YLCA for detailed advice.
How much notice should councillors receive of a parish/town council meeting?
Councillors should receive at least three clear days notice of an ordinary meeting of the council. Sundays should not be included in the calculation and good practice not to include Saturdays. Some councils may have set a different policy in their Standing Orders. Standing Orders are a set of policies on business that Councils adopt. If your council has adopted Standing Orders, you should have a copy of them and you need to familiarise yourself with them. See YLCA Advice note number 7 for more information on the convening of council meetings.
Must the chairman always use his/her casting vote?
No, use of the casting vote is a choice issue and if not used the motion will fall and perhaps need further discussion when more information is available which then may result in a majority vote being achieved. There is one occasion when a chairman must use the casting vote and this is when the council is in the process of electing a chairman. This is because a council is not constituted until it has elected a chairman
What is Neighbourhood Planning ?
Neighbourhood Planning is way for local councils to influence the planning of their local area. It can be used to choose where new homes, shops and community facilities should be built and what they looks like, identify and protect important open spaces and buildings and grant planning approval for new development. A Neighbourhood Plan has to work hand in hand with the Local Development Framework, not against it. Once approved, Neighbourhood Plans will become part of the Local Plan and the policies contained within will be used by the planning authority in the determination of planning applications.
What is the role of local councils in the planning system?
Local councils can help shape and guide the type and nature of development that takes place in their local area by influencing planning decisions and policy, facilitating development such as identifying sites for new affordable housing or recreational purposes and the preparation of planning documents such as Neighbourhood Plans and Village Design Statements. The Planning Authority (normally the local District or Borough Council) has the final say on any planning decisions, not the local council.
Local councils are permitted to make observations on planning applications in their parish. Many councils say that the local planning authority does not take notice of the comments that they make. This is generally because a council is not giving responses that are 'material planning considerations and to learn more about those go to the National Planning Portal:
What legal powers do local councils have in respect of the planning system?
They have some. Where a local council tells its local planning authority that it wants to be consulted, the local planning authority must consult the council on any relevant local planning applications. Any comments submitted to the planning authority by the local council should taken into account by before a decision is made but local councils must ensure that their observations are planning based to receive due consideration by the planning officer or committee.
Where can I get further information on Planning?
A useful resource for local councils is the Government's Planning Portal website which can be found at www.planningportal.gov.uk. The Locality website also useful information on neighbourhood planning. This can be found at http://locality.org.uk/projects/building-community/ You can also contact the Associations.