A New Mills councillor has been in touch about the current attempt by some New Mills councillors to use secret ballots during upcoming town council meetings.
One of the councillor’s complaints about High Peak Transparency’s coverage is that HPT draws public attention to New Mills town council’s new-fangled secret ballot scheme while at the same time ignoring two High Peak parish councils which have already used secret ballots during council meetings.
The standing orders and relevant recent minutes of those two other councils have been sent to HPT. What follows are the results of scrutiny of those documents. One council fails in its public duties of transparency, openness and accountability. The other council suffers the same failures and in addition breaks the law while doing so.
A reminder of the relevant frameworks of best practice and law:
The best practice guide for everybody in public life is The Seven Principles of Public Life. Additionally, the best practice guide for members of town and parish councils is The Good Councillors Guide. The law that governs the method of voting in town and parish council meetings is The Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, Paragraph 13.
Full text of The Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, Paragraph 13:
13 (1) Unless otherwise provided by the council’s standing orders the manner of voting at meetings of a parish council shall be by a show of hands.
13 (2 ) On the requisition of any member of the council the voting on any question shall be recorded so as to show whether each member present and voting gave his vote for or against that question.
The secretive local councils referred to in the complaint about HPT’s coverage are Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council and Hayfield Parish Council.
Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council
Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council has fiddled with the National Association of Local Council’s Model Standing Orders and altered them to include secret ballots as a voting method during its meetings.
This tampering means that Chapel parish council flouts the Seven Principles of Public Life, which include Openness and Accountability. Chapel’s parish councillors also contravene the Good Councillors Guide containing the same values of Openness and Accountability.
If Chapel parish councillors contravene the Good Councillors Guide, which they have done, then are they bad councillors? By definition, yes they are. By flouting the Good Councillors Guide, Chapel parish councillors are bad councillors. Until they come back into line with the best practice set out in that Guide and amend the council’s current dodgy standing orders back to the good model.
Any Chapel-en-le-Frith parish councillor who in future exercises his or her legal right to a named vote - on any agenda question that other councillors were planning to be a secret ballot - defeats the secret ballot method of voting. Self-evidently, that councillor is then no longer in the bad councillor category.
Hayfield Parish Council
The documentation sent to HPT relating to Hayfield Parish Council reveals that council also contravenes the Good Councillor Guide and the Seven Principles of Public Life.
Even more seriously, Hayfield Parish Council broke the law while doing so.
Hayfield Parish Council has not fiddled with its standing orders in respect of the voting method in council meetings. In Hayfield council’s standing orders, the manner of voting at council meetings is required to be by a show of hands.
But contrary to its standing orders a recent Hayfield parish council meeting used a secret ballot when voting. The law prohibits this. Hayfield Parish Council broke the law, in this case the Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, Paragraph 13(1).
Hayfield parish council has already been told off by DALC for trying to do co-options in Part Two of council meetings during which the public are excluded. Doing co-options in that part of a parish council meeting breaks the law.
A question for all the good people who care for the reputation of the town of Hayfield:
Are the lawbreakers going to persist with their offences in future Hayfield parish council meetings?
Or will they come in from the cold and be lawful, transparent and accountable in their method of voting in future council meetings?