The role of the public at council meetings
We often get queries from members of the public and councillors alike regarding the role and powers of members of the public in parish council meetings. It can best be summarised as a statutory right to observe the business undertaken at formal meetings of a council, akin to being able to sit outside the goldfish bowl and observe what goes on inside.
We are asked "how does a member of the public propose an amendment to the minutes", "how does a member of the public add an agenda item for a meeting", "how do parishioners call an extraordinary meeting of council", and even "all the members of the public at the meeting voted for X to happen; does the council have to do it?".
There is a simple rule which will answer all these questions; parish council meetings are meetings IN public, not meetings OF the public. The law allows members of the public and the press admission to parish council meetings so that they can observe democracy in action, but under no circumstances does a member of the public have a vote on any matter at a parish council meeting.
Recent best practice also indicates that parish councils should consider allowing members of the public a short allocated period of time to make representations on matters on the agenda for the meeting, but this is not enshrined in law. Members of the public cannot speak on agenda items outside of this allocated slot unless invited to do so by the council, e.g. as an adviser to the council on a specific matter.
It is important that councils make decisions transparently and openly, allowing members of the public to give their views and raise issues that the council may wish to consider, but it is also important to remember that members of the public do not have a formal role in proposing or making decisions at local council meetings, including with regards to the minutes of meetings.
However, a good council will engage with its community and consult with them when setting council priorities, though a parish council will not necessarily have a role to play in all matters of local importance. It would not be wise for a parish council to refuse to add an agenda item on a matter simply because a member of the public raised it, but equally every issue raised by a member of the public should not automatically find itself on a council meeting agenda.
Member councils can take advice from the office if they are encountering difficulties in this area; we have successfully advised a number of councils on this issue.
Posted: Thu, 16 Jun 2022 11:37 by Jake Atkinson