Annual Meeting of the Council or Annual Parish Meeting
What are the meetings that must be held in spring of each year?
There are two quite different meetings that must be held at this time.
Firstly, like any other organisation or company, the Council needs to hold an annual meeting to carry out those things that only need doing once a year. These include:
* Electing a Chairman
* Electing a Vice-Chairman (if the council wants to have one)
* Appointing committees
* Appointing representatives to other bodies (e.g. the Village Hall Committee, or School Governing Body)
* Agreeing to subscribe to such bodies as (we hope) the Lincolnshire Association of Local Councils
* Reviewing policy documents such as risk assessment, Standing Orders, Financial Regulations, etc.
Companies, and organisations, usually call their Annual Meeting “the Annual General Meeting”. Some councils do, but this can cause confusion with the second meeting, described next. The Association, and this Guidance Note, will refer to this Annual Meeting as “The Annual Meeting of the Council”.
Secondly, there is the Annual Parish Meeting *.
* This is, in legal terms, a quite separate body from the Council, but it is invariably the Council that arranges it (simply because it is unlikely that anyone else will do so). Its decisions are not binding on the Council, though a wise Council will normally want to take heed of what is said at the meeting.
* It may help you to remember the difference between the two meetings if I explain that the Annual Parish Meeting is a legacy from the Middle Ages, when Local Councils did not exist, and all local decision making was carried out by meetings of the whole community, taking place in the church vestry.
* The Annual Parish Meeting is open to all electors of your Town or Parish, who have the right not only to attend but also to speak on any matter of local interest. This is in contrast to a Council meeting, where electors who are not Councillors have no automatic right to speak (though many councils do, of course, have a set time before or after the Council meeting when electors can raise matters of concern to them).
* This meeting of all the electors is sometimes called locally “the Annual General Meeting” but this causes confusion with the Annual Meeting of the Council, described above. Some communities refer to it as the “local assembly” or by other titles. The Association, and this Guidance Note, will refer to this meeting of all the electors as “the Annual Parish Meeting” though in Towns, of course, the meeting will normally be called “the Annual Town Meeting”.
* This meeting has its own minutes, which should be kept separately from the Council minutes, and these minutes can only be approved by the next Annual Parish Meeting which will, of course, not be held until the following year. It is however, good practice to bring the draft minutes of the Annual Parish Meeting to the next convenient meeting of the Local Council, since otherwise matters are unlikely to get progressed. But it is important that the Council does not actually approve these minutes, as they do not belong to the Council.
What are the timetables for these two Meetings?
* In an election year, the “old Council” retires on the Monday following the day of elections, when the new Council comes into being. The new Council must hold its Annual (and first) Meeting within a fortnight from that Monday.
* In any other year, the Council must hold its Annual Meeting on any day in May.
* The Annual Parish Meeting must be held each year between March 1st and June 1st. Because this is a meeting of a body separate from the Parish Council (see above) the date is not affected by the Parish Council election cycle, though practical considerations may mean that you arrange it on a different date in an election year.
Parishes without a Local Council
Where a parish has no Local Council – because it has fewer than 200 electors and does not wish to have a Council – it must hold an Annual Parish Meeting in exactly the same way as for a parish with a Council, and in addition it must hold a second Parish Meeting at some stage during the year.
Some practical points to remember:
Who chairs the Annual Parish Meeting?
* In a parish with a Local Council, the Chairman of the Council must, if s/he is present, take the chair – even if s/he is not an elector for the parish. If the Chairman is not present, the Vice-chairman of the Council must preside. If the Vice-Chairman is not present, then the Meeting must elect a Chairman, for this meeting only, from amongst the local electors present.
* In a parish without a Local Council, the Annual Parish Meeting must elect a Chairman each year. That person chairs all Parish Meetings during the year following his/her election. It is helpful, but not compulsory, for the Meeting to elect a Vice-chairman to chair meetings if the Chairman is absent.
Note: it is not good practice to allow one person to soldier on as Chairman for year after year. The position of Chairman must be the subject of an election every year, even if the same person ends up being elected. It is good practice to have a change of Chairman every few years, though it is accepted that this may be very difficult in the smallest parishes.
* Voting – remember that only local electors have a vote at the Annual Parish Meeting, not interested members of the public from outside the parish.
What makes a good Annual Parish Meeting?
Lots of councils complain that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to get a good turnout at the Annual Parish Meeting. There are no easy solutions to this problem, and it is sometimes tempting to feel that people will only turn out if a good local row is brewing. Some things that might help include the following:
* Do an invitation, distributed door-to-door, to each household in the parish
* Invite representatives of every organisation or group in the parish to give a short report about their work
* Include a period for informal socializing, and serve simple refreshments
* Invite a speaker to give talk on a topic of local or topical interest
* Ensure that the meeting and agenda are well-publicized in the local newsletter, the shop, post office, church.
* Send invitations to all local organisations and groups to come along
Lincolnshire Association of Local Councils
* Make people feel welcome from the moment they come through the door – if they feel they have gate-crashed some sort of private gathering, they won’t come again
* It is an ideal opportunity to publicize some of the work that the local Council has done during the year, to talk about the money that the Council has spent on behalf of the community, and (usually!) the extremely modest cost and good value of the Local Council’s services
* Through good Chairmanship, try and avoid the meeting becoming monopolized by one individual or interest group
Can we merge the two meetings and hold them together?
In one word – NO!!
As explained above, in legal terms the two meetings are quite separate and are accountable to two separate bodies – the Annual Meeting of the Council is accountable to the Council, and the Annual Parish Meeting is accountable to the electors as a whole. Some councils hold both on the same night, and whilst not best practice, so long as there is a clear distinction between the two, and each meeting is formally opened and closed so that everyone present knows which meeting is taking place at any given time, this is acceptable. If you are going to do this, we would suggest that:
it may be better to hold the Annual Parish Meeting first, so the electors present who are not Councillors can, if they wish, leave when it is finished
* make it very clear to any non-councillors that they can take part in the Annual Parish Meeting but not (unless your council has a public session) in the annual Meeting of the Council.
A word about Parish Polls
The Local Government Act 1972 provides that “a poll (i.e. a referendum) may be demanded before the conclusion of a parish meeting on any question arising at the meeting”. This must be held (a) if it is demanded by not less than 10 electors, or one-third of those present, whichever is the less; or (b) if the person chairing the Meeting consents. The subsequent referendum is organized by the District Council, but the costs fall on the Parish Council (unless the District Council agrees to foot the bill).
What this means is that a very small group of electors can force a referendum on a local or national issue about which a Local Council may be able to do absolutely nothing. The Lincolnshire Association of Local Councils has been urging the National Association of Local Councils for several years for a change in the law, by making the number of electors required a much larger proportion of both the Parish Meeting and of the community. But at present there is no sign of any change.
If you become aware that a group of electors is planning such a demand, there is unfortunately not much you can do about it. You can, of course point out that the costs fall entirely on the local community; that the outcome of such a referendum does not in any way bind the Council – or any other authority – to actually do anything; and that for a small group to act in this way is likely to alienate the community rather than drum up support.
There is some division of opinion amongst District Council Returning Officers as to whether the demand (for a referendum) must always be met or whether there is some leeway whereby a referendum can be refused. Most Districts in Lincolnshire where this has arisen take the view that there is no leeway – because the law makes no reference to a demand being refused – but this is something you may wish to discuss with your District Council Returning Officer if this becomes a live issue for your Council.