WTC: Keeping Tabs on the Minutes
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, commenting on an exchange of correspondence on the time-honoured subject of “openness and transparency” within local authorites.
I was interested to see that Whitby Community Network (WCN) lost no time in following up on a topic of discussion raised at its meeting held at the Coliseum on Monday 15th May 2023, on the subject of transparency at Whitby Town Council. An approach was duly made the very next day, by email to the Town Clerk and the new Mayor, which reads:
To Town Clerk, Mayor,
Can we please request that Whitby Town Council adopt a policy of publishing MINUTES of its meetings (full, and committee) on its website (in draft form) within, say, 5 working days of the meeting.The current process of never putting minutes under https://www.whitbytowncouncil.gov.uk/beta-whitby/documents.html?query=&tag=Minutes&sort=latest&submit=Filteruntil a year has passed is a serious hindrance to democracy.In fact the only current way of seeing minutes is to wait 2 months until the next meeting of the particular type and looking under the AGENDA to find the minutes for approval. This provides a suitable deterrent to any member of the public taking an interest in council matters, and we have to assume this was not the actual intent.
Given that WTC has increased its precept significantly in the current financial year, with no published rationale for this increase, and given that it has paid members of staff, it should at least attempt to provide some modicum of responsiveness and respect for the public, and providing visibility of its minutes in good order would be a start down this path.Please advise when you will be adopting an improved policy.RegardsWhitby Community Network
Further to this request, we would like to enquire why the WTC full council meeting has a section “to approve as an accurate record the following minutes”
- These are voted on by councillors who were not even present at the respective meetings; please explain the reasoning behind that since such councillors will not be in a position to state if they are a true record.
- There appears to be no scrutiny of committee actions by the overall town council, as in the committees do not report back to full council. When will this be remedied? The subsequent wording of the vote in full council would need amending at this point, effectively to accept the actions of the committee.
- The section at the meeting “to approve as an accurate record …” applies to a large group of minutes, not one by one, which seems peculiar also. Wouldn’t approving them one by one be a clearer and more correct process?
Regards Whitby Community Network
Whitby Town Clerk, Mr Michael KING, responded very promptly (as is his wont) with the following words of polite dismissal:
(1) Regarding the approval of minutes, the following extract of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) Legal Topic Note 5, sets out the position:
“66.The draft minutes of a meeting are circulated with the agenda for a subsequent meeting tasked with approving the accuracy of them.”
“67.The draft minutes of a meeting must be formally approved by the next suitable meeting and duly signed by the Chairman of the meeting (paragraph 41(1) of schedule 12 to the 1972 Act). The signed minutes of the meeting serve as a legal record of what has taken place at the meeting to which they relate. Before a meeting approves the minutes of a preceding meeting by resolution, the meeting may, by resolution, correct any inaccuracies in the draft minutes. The attendance (or otherwise) of the Chairman or those voting in favour to amend or approve of the minutes is irrelevant. Minutes should not be altered once signed unless inaccuracy in the minutes is discovered after they have been signed. Inaccuracies in the signed minutes can be amended by resolution at a subsequent meeting.”
Namely, that “The attendance (or otherwise) of the Chairman or those voting in favour to amend or aprove the minutes is irrelevant”.
(2) & (3) At full council meetings, there are two categories of decision under the heading MINUTES (my emphasis):
- To approve as an accurate record, minutes of the following meeting(s)…(full council), and
- To receive the (draft) minutes of the following meetings…(committees)
These are separate recommendations and are taken as separate resolutions. Only council minutes are approved. Draft committee minutes are received (en bloc) but are not approved. Committee minutes are not approved until the next meeting of each committee – and are, necessarily, considered individually. Council may scrutinise or comment on any of the draft minutes of those meetings (and could by resolution of full council refer to the approving committee instructions to amend the draft) under the following agenda item:
Any other matters arising from the minutes noted above”
I hope this clarifies these points for you.
The Town Clerk has offered his opinion; here is mine:
6. In this Part—
“background papers” in relation to a decision which falls within regulation 7(2), means those documents other than published works, that—
(a) relate to the subject matter of the decision or, as the case may be, part of the decision; and
(b) in the opinion of the proper officer—
(i) disclose any facts or matters on which the decision or an important part of the decision is based; and(ii) were relied on to a material extent in making the decision;
Decisions and background papers to be made available to the public
8.—(1) The written record, together with any background papers, must as soon as reasonably practicable after the record is made, be made available for inspection by members of the public—
(a) at all reasonable hours, at the offices of the relevant local government body;
(b) on the website of the relevant local government body, if it has one; and,
(c) by such other means that the relevant local government body considers appropriate.
Being “made available for inspection” means published clearly on the WTC website, as set out in (b) above.
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