WEB SITES CONSULTATION

CONSULTATION – SUGGESTED RESPONSES AT END OF PAPER – FOR DISCUSSION AT JULY 2014 MEETING

WELSH GOVERNMENT GUIDANCE

ACCESS TO INFORMATION ON COMMUNITY

AND TOWN 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 tohave 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, gained 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 (“the

1972 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 Act

2000).

 

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 memberrepresents 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 desirablefor 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 requirement 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 principal

council.

 

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 maintaina 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 accepts the guidance in principle and supports progress

towards the electronic age, however any removal of the right to receive information

in paper form should be resisted at this stage.

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 Are you content with the proposed draft guidance for access to information on

Town and Community Councils ?

The Association is in principle in favour but it should be borne in mind that many

Town and Community Councils do not have the resources to provide the level of

information suggested and maybe an extended period to bring web sites up to date

should be considered.

 

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

to take into account?

The issue of ability and cost should be considered. Many Town and Community Councils

do not have the ongoing expertise to operate web sites and keep them up to date.

This will incur cost if another has to meet the regulations.

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

please let us know via the online response form

 The Association has no other specific issues other than the rules with regard to

archives, it is not proved at this time that archives can be safely kept electronically

and should be kept in paper form until technology has improved. 

The issue of the Welsh Language and translation needs to be considered,

if a web site requirement is to be totally bi lingual the cost will be prohibitive.

Web site requirements should only be to have a home page in Welsh with all

other documents available in Welsh upon request.  If a total bi lingual site is

required the Association feels the Town and Community Councils will not be

able to meet the requirements and the scheme will fail.  If the Welsh Government

wishes to impose the Welsh Language on the web site provision then it should

consider seriously funding such.

The Association discussed the paper with the Membership present and all

had a chance to have an input before any submission was made.

The Association represents approx 35 larger Town and Community

Councils in Mid and North Wales.

R A Robinson FRICS AILCM
Secretary