Best Practice Guidance

 

CC BEST PRACTICE

 

 

1

Best Practice in operations for Community Councils

1.1

Community Councils are different. This is the most important thing to remember. Do what works for your Council. As long as you are working as efficiently, fairly and effectively as you can, that is the key to being successful.

1.2

Some Councils can do more, because they have adequate funds and enough members. Other Councils have neither. Your Community Council can be very effective in representing your constituents even within such limits. Here are some examples of best practice every Council should follow...

2

New Members

2.1

Actively welcome new members. Prepare an induction for them, and make sure they completely understand how your Council works. Nominate an experienced Councillor who can objectively help them to integrate and understand how things work. Introduce them to everyone individually. Make sure they get contact details for other members, your constitution and standing orders and any other administrative information you use. Encourage them to take up training as soon as possible.

3

Training

3.1

The assumption that any elected representative knows everything they need to know and has all the skills they will ever need just because they are elected (or because they have "been there, done that") is false and dangerous one. As the representatives of the people, Community Councillors have a duty to ensure they are capable and effective. Everyone can and should learn new skills and improve those they already have. There is no room for ego; any Councillor who says they don't need training on anything is simply wrong.

3.2

Every CC should have within it these basic skills: letter and report writing, finance, computers and email, advocacy and representational ability, negotiating, research, communications and public presentation.

3.3

Avoid training events on a weekday. Prefer evening or Weekends. Make reminder emails or calls to all Councillors encouraging them to attend.

3.4

Every Councillor should undertake some form of training every year. In most cases, this will be provided with support from the Local Authority, but you should choose the topic and be clear about what you want to gain from it. Agree the form, content and expectations with your Authority before the training is organised.

3.5

Consider a skills audit for Councillors. If there is a skill that your Council could use, and no one has it, get trained in it. Look for any suitable local provider, and then see about getting the Authority to pay for it.

4

Correspondence and Papers

4.1

Your Local Authority should be providing a facility to copy and post your Council's papers. Send out your agenda and previous minute seven days before the meeting. Include copies of incoming and outgoing mail (except circulars and bulky documents, which should be left on a table for Councillors to inspect before or after the meeting).

4.2

Use email rather than post wherever possible, but make sure this never marginalises any member, or becomes a barrier to election for those without a computer. Keep them informed by sending paper copies by mail.

4.3

Collectively agree a system for circulating papers so everyone knows what to expect. If the volume of papers is significant, consider an agreed protocol for sieving them based on their relevance to your Council and community.

4.4

There is no rule that says a Secretary has to send or receive all correspondence on behalf of the Council, but they, or someone fulfilling the role, should keep the records of the Council and so they should get copies of all correspondence.

4.5

Keep an archive, in paper if you have to, but digitally if you can, of all the important correspondence and papers of your CC. Keep a backup of digital documents. This is the archive of your Council and is important historically, administratively and legally.

4.6

Have (email) copies of your minutes sent to all local MSPs (constituency and list) and your MP. Also, send them to the leader of your Local Authority and the Chief Executive and each Department Director. They should be available on the authority website immediately after approval - and on your CC website!

5

Meetings

5.1

You should hold a minimum of nine meetings each year. If you think your community has so few issues that less is needed, you are certainly missing something.

5.2

The venue for your meeting is legally required to be in an accessible location. Do not take the assurances of the venue provider at face value, check the access yourself, and if possible and necessary, get an expert opinion. (This needn't be a medical expert - a person with a disability is the greatest expert on the problems they face every day in buildings that are supposed to be "public").

5.3

Your meetings are open to the public. That is the law. The room must have the facility to welcome and seat visitors, and the layout of the room and your tables should enable them to see and hear what is going on. (Single items of business, by majority agreement, can be taken in private; but that does not affect this principle, and should oniy be used in rare and essentia! cases).

5.4

If a visitor attends, the Chair or some other nominated Councillor should welcome them and enquire if they are interested in any particular item on the agenda. A constituent attending a meeting should be treated with great respect and consideration. We work for them.

5.5

Every Community Councillor, not just officers, must have a table space to effectively manage their papers and take notes. The rare practice where some officers sit at a table and other Councillors sit as if in a classroom or auditorium is not acceptable. Every Community Councillor is an elected representative of the people and has equal status; likewise, every Councillor must make the most of the meeting by actively engaging in debate, which is properly done around a communal table.

5.6

Agree and publish your calendar of meetings each year at your AGM. Put the calendar in every public building and anywhere else it will be seen and noted.

6

Officers

6.1

The elected officers of your Council are chosen by you to do a job. They are also in a position to lead by example, but they serve at your pleasure and carry out your instructions. Officers are not managers.  They have no authority to make decisions independently, unless delegated limited authority by the Council collectively. Councils that are dominated by officers are not the most effective, and fail the test of true democracy.  A Local Authority will always note such dominance and it lowers your credibility as representatives. Curb individual officers who repeatedly tell you what they have done after they've done it; they should be asking for permission first. Nor should laziness or inattention among Councillors allow this situation to arise by default.

6.2

All decision making power lies with the Council collectively. An officer should not misuse their position by aggressively advocating their personal opinions or repeatedly trying to sway members to their preference.

6.3

Officers should never speak on behalf of the Council unless authorised to do so. The statement of any one Community Councillor is just that.

6.4

Consider term limits for each office as part of your Constitution. To remain fresh and active, new faces should be seen every so often. The ASCC allows each officer to serve in a single office for no more than three years. They could be elected to another office after that, but only once, and then they take a break. It is bad for your Council for one person to become too associated with a particular position.

6.5

Numbers permitting, a separate contact should be nominated for planning and licensing matters, and in any event, this should never be the secretary, who has enough responsibility and work.


7

Governing Documents

7.1

At least every five years, consider your Constitution and Standing Orders (You should have standing orders). Are they still fit for purpose? Make changes necessary so they become like manuals to effective and proper operations. Remember your Local Authority must approve changes to your Constitution (but not Orders), so be clear on the reason for each change and the expected benefit.

7.2

Post these documents on your website (you should have one!) for constituents to access.

7.3

The ASCC will soon be publishing a model constitution and orders.

8

Eligibility for Membership

8.1

The policy of the ASCC is that every Community Councillor should be a directly elected representative of the people.

8.2

The practice of co-opting members as direct representatives of other organisations or groups should cease. It fundamentally undermines the democratic nature of our Councils. While it is understandable that some Councils seek to maximise membership, every Councillor must be an objective representative, with no personal or external corporate agenda.

8.3

Co-option of individuals to fill vacancies is not affected, but is not a practice to be encouraged.

8.4

The power to nominate an individual for election or co-option to a Council should be held by citizens individually and never by any organisation or group of people.

9

Register of Interests

9.1

Each Council should have a standard form, which should be completed on election and revised whenever a material change occurs. The Constitution should specify the officer responsible for maintaining the Register, but it is suggested this be the Vice Chair to avoid over-burdening the secretary.

9.2

Each form should show the "interests" of that Community Councillor under headings including: Paid Employment, Other Paid Work (or remunerated office), Property or Land Owned, Contracts with the Local Authority or other Public Body, Miscellaneous and Memberships of local groups, associations etc.  The last item is of particular importance. A Community Councillor has an ethical and legal responsibility to act objectively and without regard to personal or affiliated interest membership of a Council is the supreme office, and must come before all other considerations for each Councillor.

9.3

Constitution and/or Standing Orders should specify the requirement on Councillors to declare interests before relevant items of business are transacted. At a minimum, Councillors should not speak or vote in any item where they have a declared interest, whether financial or merely by association.

9.4

For interests of a financial nature (whether personal, or in respect of an organisation to which they affiliate), Councillors should leave the meeting room during discussion.

9.5

All declarations of interest should be noted in the minute of the meeting.

10

Committees

10.1

If your numbers allow, Committees are an excellent way of managing business, and getting work done between meetings.

10.2

Always call these "Committees", you are a Community COUNCIL. A Council has Committees beneath it, a Committee has sub-committees - you get the point.

10.3

The Chair (or Convenor) of the Committee should be a Community Councillor, and only Councillors should have a vote on any Committee. Committees might only need one Councillor, and then co-opt expertise or opinion from the community or elsewhere.

10.4

Set clear mandates, rules and remits for your committees. Show these in the minute of the Council meeting that sets them up. You can devolve certain powers to a committee, e.g. to respond to planning applications on behalf of your Council; when you do, you should have clear policies so committee members know the general feeling of the whole Council on issues they will consider. Include committee reports on the agenda of all Council meetings. A minute, or at least a brief report of business discussed and decisions taken should be made for each committee meeting.

 

 

The document is regarded as a good summary of best practice. It was compiled by the Association of Scottish Community Councils which lost funding in 2013.