Under the Freedom of Information Act (“the Act”) it is the duty of every public authority to adopt and maintain a publication scheme.

  • This includes town and parish councils as well as parish meetings.
  • A parish meeting is a parish council without elected councillors – decisions are made at meetings of all electors in the parish.

 

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The Legal Duty

Requirement to Publish

Where a parish council does not have a website

Where a parish council has a website

Must our Town or Parish Council have a website?

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How must Freedom of Information requests be handled by Councils?

Parish councillors personal emails and the Freedom of Information Act

What your council should be publishing...

 

The Legal Duty

  • Town, parish, community councils as well as parish meetings are part of government.
  • As such they are all covered by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
  • All councils must have a publicly available FOI Act publication scheme.
  • It is important to note that a publication scheme simply sets out the information that is routinely available.
  • Information that is not listed in the guide to information can still be requested and should be made available unless it can be legitimately withheld.
  • The FOI (Freedom Of Information Act) has been changed to a generic model which should be adopted and operated by all public authorities from 1 January 2009.
  • A local council will breach the Act if it has not adopted the model scheme and/or is not publishing in accordance with it by this date.
  • A council which fails to abide by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act may be held in contempt of court.

 

Requirement to Publish

  • All councils must have a Freedom of Information Act publication scheme.
  • If the parish council has not adopted or published a scheme the default model scheme may be deemed to apply
  • Councils are legally required publish this information by Information Commissioner's Office.
  • The Act commits a public authority (including town and Parish Councils) to...

“produce and publish the method by which the specific information will be available so that is can be easily identified and accessed by members of the public”

 

  • Councils must make sure that they have systems in place to make the listed information available to the public as easily as possible.
  • If they maintain a website, a large part of the information should be provided there.
  • Otherwise the council must make sure that they can immediately provide the information listed in the guide as part of their normal duties.
  • All public authorities are expected to provide paper copies of information about their core activities.
  • In exceptional circumstances local councils may need to provide information through other means as well, such as by visiting council offices.
  • In these circumstances people should be made aware of how to make the appropriate arrangements.

 

Where a parish council does not have a website

  • The model scheme document and the guide to information should be made as accessible as possible, eg on local notice boards.
  • Most information will be made available by hard copy by contacting the council (which must provide appropriate contact details).
  • Smaller councils MUST now publish information on a website.

 

Where a parish council has a website

  • The model scheme document and the guide to information should be made available on the website and a large part of the information also made available online.
  • The guide to information can be typed or scanned to publish online.
  • If required information should also be available in hard copy.

 

Must our Town or Parish Council have a website?

  • The law is now inconsistent as to whether town, parish and local councils must have a website.
  • It seems government is intent on creating 3 levels of town and parish councils.
  • Those “with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000” those with “a gross annual income or expenditure (whichever is higher) exceeding £200,000” and of course those caught in the between these thresholds. Source DCLG
  • The new transparency code requires all smaller authorities (“with an annual turnover not exceeding £25,000”) to publish a lot of information on a website.

 

Much more detailed information is required to be published. A few examples of the changes are...

  • The draft minutes of all Council, Committee and Sub Committee meetings should be published no more than 1 month after the relevant meeting. The draft minutes should be approved at the following relevant meeting
  • Agendas and full working papers for all Council, Committee and Sub Committee meetings should be published at least 3 clear days before the relevant meeting
  • The signed internal audit report contained in the Annual Return should be published. Where problems are reported within the internal audit report these should be explained in full
  • Where parts of the Council's system of internal control have been reported as "not covered" the audit work done should be reported together with a statement as to when the areas not audited are planned to be audited
  • All items of spending greater than £100 together with more details about the expenditure
  • The year end bank reconciliation
  • Publication of Annual Governance statement by 1st of July each year
  • Names of all Councillors and Committees and Sub Committees of which they are members
  • Details of land and buildings including where the council is a custodial trustee
  • Compliance with the new regulations will be required.

Source DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government)

 

The code includes the statement that...

"The data and information specified in this Code must be published on a website which is publicly accessible free of charge. For example, one way that this requirement could be achieved could be by publishing the data on the smaller authority’s website or that of the billing authority in its area (district or London borough or unitary council)."

Source DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government)

 

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