31 October 2017

Some Other Town and Parish Councils Break the Law, So Why Can't We?




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.


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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?








11 October 2017

Analysis Of The Secret Ballot Ploy, Part Three: The Law That Will Stop Secret Ballots In New Mills Council Meetings




Correspondents have been in touch, concerned that an attempt by one or more bad councillors could be made to change the standing orders of New Mills town council.

The reason we can describe them as bad councillors is that their attempted change would be to try to insert ‘secret ballot’ as a voting method in town council meetings.

This would be in place of the open, transparent ‘show of hands’ voting method.

This scenario is unlikely, but an attempt at it is possible.

The pro-transparency forces like to plan for every eventuality.  Therefore, those pro-concealment councillors who want to pervert the standing orders of this town’s council need to be aware of the following law of this country.  This law will stop any such 'secret ballot' plot from working.

Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12:
Paragraph 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.

So long as at least one New Mills town councillor uses this legal right in the council chamber, no secret ballot can take place.

More than one councillor has stated that they will immediately use their above legal right under the law if any secret ballot were to be proposed in a town council meeting.

Because this pro-transparency law is contained in a statute, no council policy or standing order can prevent any councillor from using their legal right to a named vote when the new co-options are being voted on in a forthcoming town council meeting.


10 October 2017

Analysis Of The Secret Ballot Ploy. Part Two: The Seven Principles of Public Life





When considering the scheme in New Mills by Conservative Councillor Tony Ashton and Liberal Democrat Councillor Ray Atkins that attempts to sneak secret ballots into town council business, a look at the Seven Principles of Public Life is invaluable.

Truly enlightening in fact.  Seekers of honesty and truth, read on...


The Seven Principles

The Seven Principles of Public Life apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder.  Needless to say, all councillors are public office holders.

1. Selflessness
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

2. Integrity
Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

3. Objectivity
Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

4. Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

5. Openness
Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

6. Honesty
Holders of public office should be truthful.

7. Leadership
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.


Compare and Contrast 

Compare the Seven Principles of Public Life with the murky scheme to sneak secret ballots into New Mills council chamber.

Accountability and Openness are the two Princples of Public Life that would be directly flouted in any attempt at a secret ballot by councillors in the town of New Mills:

Accountability:  holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

Openness:  holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner.


Background

The Seven Principles of Public Life were first published in 1995 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

It is remarkable how the Seven Principles have stood the test of time since their publication in the last century.

For further information on the Seven Principles and the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, visit the Committee’s website and blogsite.

The Seven Principles are viewable direct on the government's official website by following this link.


Analysis Of The Secret Ballot Ploy. Part One: Lawbreaking




This is one of a series of articles that will analyse the deeply troubling attempt by two town councillors to sneak secret ballots into the business of New Mills town council, which is a public body.

This article sets out the law governing the matter.  Other articles in the series will set out:

The Seven Principles of Public Life

Practical obstructions to a secret ballot taking place in the New Mills council chamber

The secret ballot scheme's unintended consequences.

The damage to the public reputation of the council if any secret ballots were to be attempted

Transparency in public life



The law of voting in council meetings

New Mills town council would break the law if it were to attempt a secret ballot during a council meeting.

Here is the law as applied to the facts of this case:

The Local Government Act 1972, Schedule 12, Paragraph 13 (1):

Unless otherwise provided by the council’s standing orders the manner of voting at meetings of a parish council shall be by show of hands.

In the case of New Mills town council, its standing orders do not 'provide otherwise'.  The council's standing orders require that the manner of voting at meetings must be by show of hands.  The relevant council standing order is 3 (q):

“Unless standing orders provide otherwise, voting on a question shall be by a show of hands. At the request of a councillor, the voting on any question shall be recorded so as to show whether each councillor present and voting gave his vote for or against that question…"

To use the language of town and parish council standing orders, LGA 1972 Schedule 12 Paragraph 13(1) above is a ‘mandatory statutory requirement’.

Councillor Ray Atkins has recently claimed that the council’s standing orders “have been changed”.

With all due respect to Cllr Atkins, who is customarily a decent law-abiding councillor, his claim on this matter does not stand up to scrutiny.  Here is the only method the New Mills town council’s standing orders can be changed:

Standing Order 25 (b):
“A motion to add to or vary or revoke one or more of the council’s standing orders, except one that incorporates mandatory statutory requirements, shall be proposed by a special motion, the written notice by at least 6  councillors to be given to the Proper Officer in accordance with standing order 9 above.”

That change to standing orders has not happened.

No special motion to change the standing orders has been proposed by any councillor, let alone by the named six that would be required in advance in the event that any attempt at a secret ballot in the New Mills council chamber were to be tried.

Nor has any written notice of such a thing been received by the council's Proper Officer.