< The Good Councillors Guide

  1. Hazards
  2. Important documents
  3. Important links
  4. Sources of advice and information

16    Hazards

Even in the best councils, things go wrong so one of the most useful resources is the council’s clerk. Trained clerks can recognise when something needs attention and if they cannot fix the problem, they will know someone who can.

Risk management allows your council to anticipate where breakdowns and accidents might occur. For example, it is unhelpful if the clerk and councillors (including the chairman):

  • are unsure of their respective roles, duties and responsibilities
  • don’t work as a team or respect each other’s roles
  • don’t communicate with each other
  • concentrate on scoring points.

Furthermore, the council will have difficulty if it:

  • allows one person or a small group of councillors to dominate its work
  • allows a councillor (including the chairman) to make decisions on its behalf
  • doesn’t listen to and communicate with its community, other local councils, principal authorities, outside bodies
  • ignores or antagonises the press
  • doesn’t have written contracts of employment for staff
  • doesn’t keep its records in order
  • lacks a robust system of financial control
  • doesn’t manage meetings effectively
  • is not well-informed on topics to be discussed.

Everyone in the team is responsible for checking that the council avoids these dangers; ultimately the council is liable. By contrast, well-prepared and well-informed councillors avoid difficulties and spend their energies on serving their communities.


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17    Important documents

Always know where your important documents are kept so you can refer to them when necessary.

You are advised to have your own copy of:

  • a schedule of meetings for the coming year
  • the council’s standing orders
  • the council’s financial regulations
  • the council’s code of conduct
  • contact details of councillors and the clerk (but note, only contact the clerk during working hours)
  • the budget for the current year
  • the minutes of meetings that took place during the previous year.

You will also find it useful to refer to the following (if they exist).

  • A map of the parish
  • local council’s development control and planning policies
  • Your council’s statement of community engagement
  • Your council’s communication strategy
  • Policies for equal opportunities and health and safety
  • Your council’s publication scheme for the Freedom of Information Act
  • Procedures for emergencies
  • Grievance and disciplinary procedures
  • Bullying and harassment (dignity at work) policy

The clerk will keep the following documents; we suggest you ask to read them.

  • Risk assessment policy
  • Assets register (list of property)
  • Leases
  • Insurance policies
  • The cash book for recording receipts and payments
  • Schedule of council charges and fees for services and facilities
  • Partnership agreements
  • Planning documents (including the parish plan and/or neighbourhood plan) for the locality

You might also need to know

  • the population of the parish and how the population is made up
  • how much an average household pays in council tax to the local council
  • contact details of principal authority councillors
  • contact details of local organisations

Don’t worry if your council doesn’t have all this information; it can be assembled over time. A few items, such as the financial regulations, are essential however, and must exist already.


18    Important links

You may have noticed that certain terms throughout this publication have been hyperlinked. If you are reading the hard copy, you will need the web addresses below to find this information.

Community rights information
My Community Rights
Community right to bid
Community asset transfer
Community right to build
Communityright to challenge
Neighbourhood planning
Planning for Councillors

Organisations (government and non-government)
The Department for Communities and Local Government
The Local Government Association
National Association of Local Councils
The Society of Local Council Clerks

Publications
NALC and SLCC Governance and Accountability for local councillors publication
Local Government Act 1972, Section 101

Other government initiatives
Sustainable Communities Act and barrier busting
Community shares


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19    Sources of advice and information

Always start by asking your clerk. It is the clerk’s job to receive information from other bodies and keep up-to-date on your behalf. As a council you should monitor the clerk’s workload to ensure that there are sufficient hours to carry out the tasks required by the council.

Organisations
The first stop for advice will probably be your county-based Association of Parish and Town (or Local) Councils (known as the county association). It is vital that your council is a member to benefit from its services and keep abreast of changes affecting local councils. The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) provides advice for local councils in membership of the local county association and NALC on legal matters, policy, training and development. It also keeps councils up-to-date with news affecting local councils. As a councillor you cannot approach NALC directly for legal advice. If your council requires advice, your clerk should first see if the County Association can help. If not, they will refer your council’s query to NALC. There is also information available on the NALC website.

Your clerk (and the council) benefit if the clerk is a member of the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) and its Institute of Local Council Management (ILCM). The Society provides legal, financial and other advice, a useful training pack and considerable support and guidance from the clerks’ network. Your council may wish to pay the clerk’s subscription to the SLCC. There is also information available on the SLCC website.

Rural Community Councils (Also known as ACRE) and Councils for Voluntary Service are county-based organisations offering advice on local service delivery, funding and community projects.

You might want to refer to the Local Government Association while Government departments responsible for local government and rural or environmental issues are:

If you want to draw the Government’s attention to legislative barriers to localism, go to the Barrier Busting Portal at Sustainable Communities Act and barrier busting.

Other websites
If you want to know more about the community rights outlined in Part Four, get in touch with the Government’s support provider at My Community Rights. They give advice, let you know about grants and put you in touch with experienced communities willing to act as mentors. You can find out more on this website about the right to bid, community asset transfer, the right to challenge, the right to build and neighbourhood planning. There is also useful material on planning at Planning for councillors and community shares at Community Shares.

Publications
Your clerk or the chief officer of your county association will help you find the following publications. County associations disseminate information and often assemble valuable packs for new councillors.

Local Councils Explained is a valuable book published by the National Association of Local Councils. It explains the legal background to procedures for local councils and provides a set of standing orders that your council tailors to meet its needs. The book can be obtained through your county association.

Governance and Accountability for Local Councils: A Practitioners’ Guide (England) is a valuable reference pack usually held by the clerk or RFO. It explains statutory ‘proper practices’ for local councils. Your clerk and RFO should always have the most recent version.

Being a good employer is an extremely useful booklet that takes you through all stages of the employment process from recruitment to departure.

Useful magazines include:

  • LCR is a the quarterly magazine produced by the National Association of Local Councils; LCR Online is the updated weekly sister.
  • The Clerk published every two months by the Society of Local Council Clerks.
  • The Direct Information Service (DIS) is a fortnightly news bulletin produced by the National Association of Local Council.

The Community Planning Handbook by Nick Wates (published in 2000 by Earthscan) is a useful and concise source on public involvement in planning and action.

Training
First launched in 2001 the National Training Strategy sought to increase consistency and quality in training taking place across the country. Revised and updated in 2010, the strategy sets out the core aims, objectives and aspirations for the sector and its development of skills and qualifications. The strategy can be found on both the NALC and SLCC websites.

There is a wide range of training available to local councils. County associations all provide training specifically designed and delivered for councillors. Whether you are newly elected, or have been on the council for many years, training can help you keep up to date with best practice and help you and your council give your full potential for your local community. There may also be training offered by your principal authorities or other local partners, your county association can help you find and choose the training that is best for you.

Nationally recognised qualifications and courses include the NTS Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA), the accredited certificate for the sector designed to test competence for the role of council clerk. Attending training will help your clerk in their work for CiLCA. There are ‘recognised CiLCA trainers’ in every county area that have specialist knowledge of this qualification. You can find your local CiLCA trainers by contacting your county association who will coordinate the local training. SLCC also offer CiLCA training as a CPD course and at some of their events and conferences. “Introduction to Local Council Administration” (ILCA) is an online course in five sections based on the Occupational Standards established by the National Training Strategy in England. It can be completed by distance learning and is widely recognised as a useful induction tool and an excellent preparation for CiLCA. Further information is available on both the NALC and SLCC websites.

The SLCC offers an extensive suite of national training programmes tailored to support clerks’ professional development delivered through a network of providers and training officers. The full range of courses, events and how to access them can be found on the SLCC website.

The SLCC also provides a higher education qualification for clerks. This is a programme of advanced courses in Community Governance (formerly Local Policy and Community Engagement & Governance) including single modules, a Certificate of Higher Education and a Foundation Degree. The awards are made by the University of Gloucestershire which also provides a Level 6 course for an Honours degree.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the process by which employees can track, record and plan learning. A structured CPD training programme has been developed by the SLCC providing in-depth training opportunities for practitioners working for, or involved with local councils.

There is also a CPD point scheme developed by NALC and SLCC under the NTS. This allows council staff to record points allocated to various development activities such as attending any training relevant to their council role, research, qualifications, reading etc. All clerks whose councils seek an award in the Local Council Award Scheme (p46), are required to demonstrate that they have achieved at least 12 CPD points in the 12 months immediately preceding the council’s application. The CPD point scheme is also the vehicle by which members of the Institute of Local Council Management (ILCM) can progress through the ranks of membership. A copy of the CPD point guidance can be downloaded from both the NALC and SLCC websites. with information on how to join the ILCM.

It is good practice for councils to have a development plan for both staff and councillors which is reviewed on an annual basis. A development plan outlines what training and development staff and councillors will undertake during the period covered by the plan. This might include a range of activities such as attending training, taking on a new challenge or participating in a mentoring programme. The development plan should be linked to the council’s strategic plans, with the aim of ensuring that staff and councillors have the necessary skills and knowledge to deliver the objectives set out in those plans.


< The Good Councillors Guide

 

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