Web Sites and Information on Town & Community Councils

WELSH GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE ACCESS TO INFORMATION ON

COMMUNITY AND TOWN COUNCILS

 

DRAFT SUGGESTED RESPONSE

 

RESPONSE from The North and Mid Wales Association of Local Councils

 

STATUS AND APPLICATION

This guidance applies to Community and Town Councils in Wales.

It is issued, in part under section 55(1) of the Local Government

(Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013.When carrying out their duties

under section 55(1) of this Act Community and Town Councils

have a statutory duty to have regard to this guidance. This guidance

also applies to the provision made in the Act concerning public

notices, council meetings and proceedings and registers of members’

interests.

 

Background

1.The Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013, referred to as

“the Act” throughout this guidance, gain ed Royal Assent on 30 July 2013.

Its primary purpose was to reform the constitution and functions of what

is now known as the Local Democracy and Boundary Commission.

The Act, however, introduced various other provisions connected with

local government.

 

2. Sections 55 to 58 of the Act are concerned with access to information,

and most particularly, access to information about Community Councils.

(For the purposes of this guidance, any reference to a Community Council

or Councils includes any Community, Town or City Council which serves

a community or grouped community and was established in accord with

Part II of the Local Government Act 1972 (“the1972 Act”).

 

3. In summary, the Act requires Community Councils to have

websites; to publish notices and papers electronically; and to

publish their register of members’ interests electronically (those

maintained under section 81 of the Local Government Act2000)

 

What the legislation requires

4. Section 55 of The Act requires Community Councils to publish

electronically information about how to contact it and, if different, its

clerk. The information which must be available electronically includes

a telephone number, a postal address and an email address.

 

5. In addition, the council must publish electronically information about

each of its members, including a list of the councils members, each

member’s name, their contact details, political affiliation (if any) and

any office held or committee they belong to within the council. If the

community concerned is divided into community wards, the ward

each member represents must be shown.

 

6. The Community Council must also publish electronically the minutes

of its meetings and, so far as reasonably practicable, documents referred

to at those meetings. They must also publish their annual audited

accounts electronically. In both these cases, councils are only required

to publish material produced after the date when section 55 came into

force. Community Councils are not required to publish any information

they are prevented from disclosing by any other legislation.

 

7. In carrying out its duties under Section 55, Community Councils must have regard to this guidance.

 

8. Under existing legislation Community Councils are required to post any public notices in one or more conspicuous places within their area, and anywhere else which appears to be desirable for giving publicity to the notice (section 232 of the 1972 Act). The Act places an additional requirement on Community Councils to publish any such notice electronically.

 

9. Existing legislation requires Community Councils to give notice of forthcoming council meetings three clear days before the meeting is to be held by displaying a notice in a conspicuous place in the community. The Act places an additional requirement for such notices to be published electronically. This must be done three clear days before the meeting. There is also a require ment to publish electronically, so far as is reasonably practicable, any documents relating to the business to be transacted at the meeting. This requirement does not apply where the documents relate to business which, in the opinion of the council, is likely to be transacted in private or where the disclosure of such documents would be contrary to any other legislation.

 

10. Under Schedule 12 to the Act a group of local government electors

may call a community meeting. Where a meeting has been convened

those convening the meeting must give notice to the Community Council

(if there is no Community Council established in the area notice must be

given to the principal council in whose area the community lies). Under the

new provisions, notice may be given to the Community Council either in writing

or electronically. Where it is given in electronic form the notice must comply

with the technical requirements set by the principalcouncil.

 

11.Community Councils and Principal Councils must provide a facility for

notices to be given electronically and public notice of the community meeting

must be published electronically as well as through traditional mediums.

 

12. Finally, the Act contains new requirements relating to the registration

of members’ interest. Section 81 of the Local Government Act 2000 requires

a Community Council (as well as other authorities) to maintain a register of

members’ financial and other interests as are specified in the model code of

conduct. Up until now, the register only needed to be available for inspection

at council offices. Provision made by the Act requires it also needs to be

published and available to access electronically.

 

Guidance

 

13. It is a decision for each Community Council to take as to whether they

will operate their own, independent website, or whether they decide to link

up with other Community Councils in their area, or the principal council,

or some other body which is happy to host their site. It is, however, a requirement

there is a regularly updated website providing the public with the ability to

access the information described above.

 

14. The Welsh Government intends to improve public engagement with

local government generally and Community Councils in particular.  We feel

it necessary for all local authorities to be contactable electronically and have

published information on the Internet. Local residents would expect to be

able to have this facility in this era.

 

15. The majority of Community Councils in Wales already have a presence

online and publish information electronically. Community Councils are urged

to seek assistance from One Voice Wales, their Principal Council or other reliable

sources if they need it to develop their web presence.

 

16. Under section 55, the Council must publish electronically its telephone number,

postal address and e-mail address on the website. The information must also be

available for the Council’s clerk if it is different to the Council’s contact details,

although a generic e-mail address which a member, perhaps the Chair, to the

council, could also use, would be advantageous. In some cases, the Community

Council will have its own, or a share of, offices and the telephone number,

postal address and e-mail address for these premises would be appropriate.

Councils will be expected, however, to have arrangements to ensure messages

are regularly retrieved and responded to.

 

17. It is not obligatory for individual members to have e-mail addresses. In a

Principal Council this would be expected because the Council itself can usually

provide e-mail addresses on the council’s site. However, the members’ names

must be listed and details of how they may be contacted must be available online.

Some councils will wish to place photographs of each member but this is a decision

for them.

 

18. The Act requires the political affiliation of the members of the council is published.

Some Community Councils choose not to do this at present. However, the

public has a right to know the political persuasions of those in elected office

or whether they are independent of any group. It is unacceptable for a member

to hide their political affiliation if they have been elected on a political ticket,

unless they have clearly breached with their political group since election.

 

19. If the Community Council is divided into community wards, the ward the member

represents must be published. If they hold office of some sort in the council or

belong to a council committee of some sort, it must be published on the site.

 

 

20. It is not necessary to delineate those members who were elected and those

subsequently co-opted to fill vacancies. Co-opted members are full members

of the council.

 

21. Paragraphs 4 to 12 above describe the documents which need to be posted

on the website. Councils should develop procedures for keeping their site in

good order, with past documents archived for a reasonable period, but easily accessible from the front page.

 

22. The Act provisions should be viewed as outlining the minimum requirements.

Many councils will want to place far more information than this on their webpages

and are encouraged to do so. Councils will need to have regard to the Code of

Recommended Practice for Local Authority Publicity when considering the

appropriateness of what they may wish to publish.

 

Questions

1.Do you agree that the draft Guidance is in keeping with the provisions of the

Local Government Democracy (Wales) Act 2013?

The Association agrees with the proposals in principle. 

 

2. Are you content with the proposed draft guidance for access to information

on Town and Community

Councils ?

The Association agrees with the proposals in principle.  However, many small

Town and Community Councils do not have the expertise to provide a web site

with updated information as proposed. This will have a cost implication to those

Councils and the Welsh Assembly should seriously consider awarding grant

aid to help where it is needed.  The cost of such web sites of the type now required is often in excess of £3,000 and there also the cost of the time needed to keep it up to date.

 

3. Are there any issues not mentioned which you would like the Welsh

Government to take into account?

The provision of the information required to meet the requirements is beyond

what was originally proposed. The Association feels that name, contact details,

agenda, minutes and statutory documents should be the only legal requirement

for the web site provision.  A list of Councillors should also be provided where

possible. The full requirements for the web site as proposed should only become

law after an extended period of time.

 

The Association does not support any move to publish notices on the Web Site

in place of notice boards & in the press, both are as important.

 

4. Should you have any related issues which we have not specifically addressed,

please let us know via the online response form

 

The Association would not support any proposal which seeks to remove the right

of members to receive their information in the traditional paper form. However,

the Association does support the right of members to receive their information

electronically.

 

 

The Association would only support bi-lingual sites in full if the Welsh Assembly

made finance available to Local Councils to support such a requirement. The

Association would support a requirement to have such information available in

Welsh upon request.

 

The Association represents over 30 larger Town and Community Councils in

Mid and North Wales. The consultation was discussed in full at a meeting of

the membership and the responses reflect the views of the membership.

 

DRAFT ONLY – 21.6.2014