Advice for parish and town councils
Holding remote meetings
NALC produced two documents which was circulated to all members, including a legal briefing note on their interpretation of the regulations and practical guidance for local councils on how to hold effective remote council meetings.
The County Associations in the South West (South West Local Council Association) have worked together to draw up top tips for holding remote meetings.
We appreciate this may be difficult for some councillors, but we suggest that you hold the meeting, ensuring that you have a quorum with tech savvy councillors. There is no legislation in place to allow for decisions to be made by email. However, the clerk could collate the views of non-attendees by email in advance and tell the quorum, who then vote.
It may be worth contacting your insurance company to check that you have cyber insurance to cover remote meetings.
NALC has advised that they will not be revising Standing Orders as there is no change to the way meetings procedures, other than they now must be held remotely.
Top Tips for remote Council meetings
- 1. Choose a platform that works for your council. See the Local Government Association's list for a range of options. Many platforms offer the option for joining via video or telephone.
- 2. Consider the equipment needed. Not only may the platform itself have a cost, but you may want to purchase additional laptops or phones to enable everyone to take part. But bear in mind the requirement for remote meetings is for the short term and large investments are not advisable.
- 3. Decide who will manage the IT. Someone will need to be responsible for controlling video and telephone remote access, ensuring everyone can hear, and where possible, see the meeting, and ensure procedures are followed such as order of speaking, voting and exclusion of councillors and/or the public.
- 4. Practice first! Hold a 'practice' meeting to test the features of your chosen platform. We suggest you may want to practice:
- How members can access the meeting
- Taking a roll call and checking the quorum
- Muting and unmuting participants
- How you will vote (depending on how participants have joined)
- How the clerk will communicate with the chairman during the meeting i.e. to advise on a procedural matter
- How to remove an individual and bring them back, as you would if a member declared an interest.
- Managing any screen sharing function, and how to disable it to prevent it being used inappropriately.
- 5. Keep the agenda short. It is much harder to stay focused in a remote meeting. We recommend keeping meetings to no more than one hour where possible and focused on a few urgent/important matters such as finance and planning.
- 6. Ensure the details of the meeting are included in the meeting notice. You are advised to display the web link and/or meeting ID and any passwords on the public notice. Or invite the public to contact the Clerk for the password.
- 7. Think about how you may present reports. Many of these platforms enable you to share content such as presentations, and participants often engage well when they have something to look at. You may wish to prepare presentation slides to show during the meeting. For example: finance reports.
- 8. Be mindful to individual's behaviour. Just because people can access the meeting remotely, does not mean they will engage in the meeting in the same way as before. And this can be for a variety of reasons from lack of confidence to simply stress under the current circumstances. It will help if your council has clear priorities, concise agendas and shared expectations for your remote meetings.
- 9. Dress code. This is still a public meeting so present yourself as you would do for a meeting where the public may be present.
10. Consider where you position yourself if you attend via video. Make sure not to show the valuables in your home, or the entrances to your property, other people in your home, and do not sit with your back to a window as this will cast shadows over you.
11. Ensure everyone knows how to rename themselves. Having attendees named 'ipad' or a nickname will not assist you in knowing who is present. We also suggest that councillors use the 'Cllr' prefix and that the Chair and Clerk are identifiable.
12. Have members join the meeting early. This will avoid the inevitable camera adjustments and 'can you hear me?' repetitions which are likely to occur. Get this done before inviting the public in.
The start of the meeting
We would advise that the Chairman undertakes the following tasks at the beginning of each meetings:
- 1. Confirm that all present can hear the proceedings
- 2. Take a roll call to confirm the members present at the meeting
- 3. To confirm the meeting is quorate
- 4. Outline how the meeting will be run including protocols for wishing to speak, vote and viewing documents, before proceeding with the business on the agenda. This is for the benefit of councillors, the public and any guests attending.
During the meeting
The meeting will proceed largely as normal following your standing orders. Remembering that this is a public meeting, even though you are in your own homes. The chairman will chair the meeting in the usual way but needs to feel confident about managing peoples input on the platform chosen. Some suggestions would be:
- 1. Individuals being muted until asked to speak. This reduces background noise and helps everyone to hear the discussions.
- 2. A process for indicating you would like to speak. This could include raising your hand on the video or using a 'raise hand' feature on the platform.
- 3. A process for involving telephone participants where they cannot visually indicate they wish to speak. The chairman could ask these participants in turn, or they could simply speak but this can be disruptive if not managed.
- 4. Individuals stating their name before speaking allows for all participants, not matter how they have joined the meeting, to know who is speaking each time.
- 5. Keeping track of who is present throughout the meeting. This may require a new roll call at certain points on the agenda in case someone has lost connection.
- 6. A process for voting especially if participants are joining the meeting in different forms. Options could include:
- Using chat features or voting buttons if the platform allows for it
- Show of hands using their webcams
- Confirming a consensus verbally
- A roll call with the number of votes for or against a motion, amendments and abstaining recording. The clerk/chair could read back the results to ensure accuracy
- 7. Removing councillors with an interest. The Code of Conduct still applies in a remote meeting. You will need to ensure councillors who have declared an interest are removed from the debate (where applicable). Depending on the chosen platform this could include:
- Moving them to a waiting area (if the platform allows) for the duration of the item
- Removing them completely and agreeing a time for their return
- Removing them completely from the meeting and using an alternative means such as a phone call or email to invite them back. This method is likely to take longer.
- 8. Confidential sessions. If the council moves to exclude the press and the public, it will need to ensure that that they are removed from the meeting. You may choose to use methods as described above or may wish to set up a separate meeting where meeting details kept separately.
You will also need to make sure that any 'livestreaming' or recording is halted. Councillors should declare that there is no-one in their vicinity able to overhear the confidential session.
- 9. Public Participation. The meeting must still be advertised and open to the public and public participation should continue as before. We suggest you consider asking those who wish to speak at the meeting to contact the clerk in advance so they can be invited to speak at the appropriate time. All other members of the public can remain muted throughout. Remember that anyone disrupting the meeting can be removed as normal by resolution of the council.
After the meeting
Once the meeting is finished, the chair will close the meeting and the host will end the session.
- 1. Minutes of the meeting will be written by the clerk in the normal way and should reflect where the meeting took place. Minutes can be agreed at the next meeting and the signing deferred until the next face-to-face meeting.
- 2. Recordings of the meeting. Where the meeting has been recorded or streamed, the council may decide what to do with those recordings or videos. You may make Standing Orders requiring recordings of meetings to be deleted once minutes have been approved but this is not a statutory requirement.
- 3. Reflect. After your first few meetings, take some time to reflect how it went and how it could be improved for next time. Practice makes perfect!
Cyber security for remote meetings
Two resources on cyber security during remote meetings
Casual vacancies, co-option and by-elections
Consequences of postponing May elections for parish and town councils (Stroud District only)
Elections have been postponed until 6 May 2021. NALC has published a new legal briefing to guide councils affected. Councillors now stay in post until May 2021, but if a casual vacancy arises then you should advertise it in the normal way and advise the District Council. If 10 electors request a poll, the earliest that this can take place is 6 May 2021. If there is no request for a poll, you can co-opt in the normal way.
Casual vacancies and banning of by-elections
For councils that had elections in May 2019, the legislation also applies in that if you have a casual vacancy and 10 electors request a poll, this cannot take place until 6 May 2021 as by-elections have been banned in the new legislation.
Neighbourhood Development Plan referenda
Neighbourhood Plan referenda
If you were planning to hold a referendum in the coming months, this cannot now take place until 6 May 2021, following the recent Covid 19 legislation for parish and town councils
Financial year end and AGAR
All councils should have received the information for the Annual Governance & Accountability Return on 23 April. A number of changes have been made for this year:
- The Annual Governance Statement, Accounting Statement and Certificate of Exemption (if eligible) must be done by 31 July, instead of 30 June
- The publication date for final, audited, accounts for local councils will move from 30 September to 30 November 2020
- To give local councils more flexibility, the requirement for the public inspection period to include the first 10 working days of July has been removed. Instead, local councils must commence the public inspection period on or before the first working day of September 2020
To help with the process, members were sent a step-by-step guide to completing the AGAR.
Good practice shared by parish and town councils
There is a lot of negative news at the moment but here we are sharing some of the extraordinary work that is going on in parish and town councils across Gloucestershire. We salute you all!
In addition, NALC has also prepared a publication with case studies of good practice across England and this includes Cirencester TC.
This booklet of case studies is designed to be used as an example of the vital work that is being done by our sector in helping their communities during the Coronavirus outbreak. These are all examples of best practice and demonstrate actions that benefit those at high-risk, the vulnerable and residents in general. Ten examples from Gloucestershire are featured.
Nailsworth TC (Stroud District)
Nailsworth TC has drawn up basic guidance for volunteers and residents. They are also using Edge IT Systems Service Manager to log calls, raise job tickets and keep a secure record of volunteers and residents.
Brockworth PC (Tewkesbury Borough)
Brockworth is providing a food and prescription service using a team of volunteers. They leaflet-dropped the whole parish with details of how to get in touch for help. They are signposting callers to places where they can order food online or over the phone if they are able to do so, otherwise the local Co-op will take orders and payment over the phone. They have 2 volunteers a day that carry out the collections, and 3 admin staff are coordinating the arrangements. As the parish council staff members are working from home, they have set up a VOIP phone that receives re-directed calls from the office line. Any one of the admin team can receive the call using an app on their mobile phones and they can transfer calls between the team. This has significantly reduced the pressure on each person. The borough council is also make referrals to the PC.
They made a decision not to DBS check the volunteers due to time constraints but asked them to complete a volunteer agreement and send through a copy of ID which they verified. They keep a log of every request they fulfil and the name of the volunteer used, just in case of issues later.
We're noticing some overlap in the community hub system and ours, with some residents getting repeated welfare checks but we are now sharing the names on our list with the borough council to reduce the duplication. We satisfied ourselves (both BPC and TBC) that we could share the names and remain within the guidelines of GDPR.
Upper Rissington PC (Cotswolds District)
Councillors are coordinating activities in the village and the Chairman has kindly shared the flyer they have distributed as well as some of the working documents. Services include:
Shopping; Pharmacy collection; Daily text or call to ensure that all is ok; A friendly chat by telephone; Telephone, Skype, zoom, FT support; Exercise classes on zoom etc; Coaching, wellness sessions by phone & various other media; Dog walking; Postage
Flyer kindly shared by the Chairman of Upper Rissington PC, Declan Torris.
Covid 19 emergency plan (Word Document, 737 Kb)
Kindly shared by the Chairman of Upper Rissington PC, Declan Torris
Kindly shared by Upper Rissington PC Chairman, Declan Torris.
Covid 19 risk assessment (Excel Spreadsheet, 15 Kb)
Kindly shared by Upper Rissington PC Chairman, Declan Torris.
Kindly shared by Upper Rissington PC Chairman, Declan Torris.
Newland PC (Forest of Dean District)
Useful resources and links
Gloucestershire Community Foundation
Below is a link of the organisations that they have already supported.
Useful Resources & LinksFunding Opportunities Emergency Funding
In light of the number of emergency funds that are being launched, the VCS Alliance has compiled a list of funds they are aware of that they think will be useful at this time. You can find this extra bulletin on their website at http://www.glosvcsalliance.org.uk/external-funding-opportunities-bulletin/ and they will keep the list updated on the webpage.
Funds included are:
SPECIFIC TO GLOUCESTERSHIRE
Gloucestershire Coronavirus Emergency Response Fund
Gloucestershire Community Resilience Fund – Covid-19 Response March 2020
The Langtree Trust
NATIONAL FUNDS - GENERAL
National Lottery Community Fund
CAF Coronavirus Emergency Fund
John Lewis Partnership Community Support Fund
Tesco Bags of Help Covid-19 Communities Fund
RURAL AREAS: Rural Response Emergency Grants Programme
Central Government Coronavirus information
For all the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic go to https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has a specific coronavirus page for the local council sector :https://www.nalc.gov.uk/coronavirus
ICCM Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management
NSALG - National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners
ACAS has lots of useful information relating to employment matters
National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Government Guidance – updated regularly https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-the-charity-sector
Charity Commission guidance for Trustees
Data Protection & Covid-19
Business Continuity Planning support
Charity Finance Group – Financial information
DBS changes information
Emergency funding information for VCSE sector
ACRE information for Village Halls
MIND - Advice on Health and Wellbeing with links to NHS advice