Supporting Local Councils in Leicestershire & Rutland

You have no authority here Jackie Weaver..........!

The job of running a County Association of Local Councils can be a challenging one. As well as running and developing an organisation with no guaranteed funding, you have to be on the ball 100% of the time when giving formal advice to councils. Even advice which may appear innocuous when being given can end up being publicly scrutinised by any one of a number of people wishing to show that advice to be erroneous. Even when advice isn't in writing (which LRALC always aims to provide, hence our online Member Support System which allows written advice to be requested, given, and accessed when needed), for example when meeting with councillors and/or clerks or attending council meetings, a politicians wit and an officer's impartiality are essential skills to avoid councils losing confidence in your abilities and by default the Association as a whole. You need to be able to think on your feet.

In the week since the name "Jackie Weaver" became synonymous with parish councils and a certain kind of councillor behaviour, few of my friends and family have realised that Ms Weaver does my job in Cheshire. This is not a complaint. I am sure that none of us in the sector would want to be associated with anything about that now legendary Zoom meeting. Whilst I am sure that many clerks, and indeed councillors, will have taken a certain element of satisfaction in the way that Jackie decisively dealt with those councillors whose behaviour undoubtedly was inappropriate and incompatible with their Code of Conduct, the simple fact remains that under the law neither I (as a County Officer), nor any other officer, has the power to unilaterally remove an elected member from a meeting for poor conduct.

Whilst the claim that "you have no authority here Jackie Weaver" may not be entirely correct in the capacity she was attending the meeting (which is still unclear), we do know for certain that the only people who can remove councillors from a meeting which they are a member of are the other councillors, and only then by a vote of the councillors present. Even a Chairman cannot unilaterally remove a councillor from a meeting. The aggressive shout of "READ THE STANDING ORDERS" was a lowlight of the video, and unfortunately a very valid point was lost as a result of the delivery (which is often the case when people's emotions run out of control in meetings). If your council has adopted the NALC Model Standing Orders then the process for removing a councillor causing a disturbance is quite clear, though a future amendment may be needed when that person is the Chairman themselves……………!

So, ultimately if the meeting and actions in question are ever the subject of legal challenge, the outcome of that challenge will be watched with interest, not only within the sector but also within the tiers of local government as a whole for whom any case law could have implications. However, there is clearly a wider issue here, one where there has been a large amount of work undertaken by County Associations and NALC already, namely the issue of councillor conduct and the lack of "suitable" sanctions for the worst kinds of behaviour.

NALC has taken the view that the ability to suspend or disqualify councillors found guilty of the worst abuses is something which government needs to reintroduce following the repeal of the previous legislation in 2012. It has lobbied government and the Local Government Association (LGA), and continues to do so, about this as part of the national work around the production of a new model Code of Conduct. However, whereas the model Code of Conduct does not require any change of legislation, reintroducing the ability to suspend and disqualify councillors would do, and there has been some reluctance from both government and the LGA to support this. Perhaps the exposure given to what happened at Handforth Parish Council in December 2020 may change a few minds………….

Jake Atkinson
Chief Executive LRALC

February 2021

NB: Member councils can book a one hour Zoom training session for their councillors on the Code of Conduct and councillor interests for £90 (raising to £100 on April 1st), see here for further details: The framework for councillors' conduct and interests | Leicestershire & Rutland Association of Local Councils (leicestershireandrutlandalc.gov.uk)

Posted: Mon, 15 Feb 2021 09:54 by Jake Atkinson

Tags: Handforth Parish Council, Lralc