As previously reported, West Adderbury Residents Association (WARA) have asked Cherwell DC to explain why the Community Governance Review Working Group does not appear to have followed the law and guidance on CGRs in reaching its recommendations.
Cherwell have yet to comment, but in the meantime a West Adderbury resident has raised yet further questions over the failure to follow the legal process.
In an email to Cherwell District Councillors and the Monitoring Officer, this resident points out that if Cherwell has indeed failed to follow the correct process, then the decision taken at the Council meeting on 19 October 2020 to accept the Working Group’s recommendations is potentially invalid:
I am writing to bring to your urgent attention a potential problem with a decision made at the Full Council meeting on 19 October 2020. Under item 11 of the agenda, the Council resolved to accept the recommendation of the Community Governance Review Working Group. The decision appears to be a full and final rejection of the request in the petition and was stated to be such by the Chairman of the Working Group at the meeting. The second round of consultation letter confirms that this is the final decision of the Council.
I wish to bring to your attention the findings of Mr Justice Mitting in the case R(Campbell Park Parish Council) V Milton Keynes Council  EWHC 1204 (Admin).
In Paragraphs 17 to 22, Mr Mitting J holds the decision made by the council was invalid owing to a breach of the requirements under s93(7)(b) of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act (2007). He notes that publication of a report as part of an agenda may satisfy s93(7)(a), but that it is not sufficient to satisfy the requirement in part (b). For your convenience s93(7) states:
“(7)As soon as practicable after making any recommendations, the principal council must—
(a)publish the recommendations; and
(b)take such steps as it considers sufficient to secure that persons who may be interested in the review are informed of those recommendations.”
Cherwell DC has made the same mistake in law as Milton Keynes; it has “published” its recommendation as part of an agenda but has not brought its recommendation to the attention of interested parties. Like Milton Keynes, Cherwell was legally obligated to delay a decision until the requirements of s93(7)(b) were met.
Of course, the Admin Court is not bound by this judgement but would have to treat it as highly persuasive should Cherwell’s decision be judicially reviewed.
The same failing on the part of Cherwell DC also appears to invalidate the second stage of consultation which is premised on the invalid decision taken on 19 October. Could I ask that you take urgent action to remedy this failing, and to avoid unnecessary cost to the public, call an immediate halt to the second stage consultation?”
WARA has also formally asked Cherwell to delay the second stage of the consultation until these issues have been addressed, to avoid spending further tax payers’ money on a process which – if shown not to comply with the law – might need to be restarted.
Unfortunately, Cherwell has refused WARA’s request and intends to proceed with the second stage of the consultation regardless. Second stage consultation letters have already been sent out seeking views on whether Adderbury Parish Council should be “warded”.
Cherwell DC clearly recognises that there are serious issues in the parish of Adderbury. Referring to the “toxic” nature of local politics, several Cherwell councillors expressed disappointment at the nature and tone of some of the comments that were received during the first consultation.
Working Group Chair Councillor Reynolds explicitly referred to the “arguing” that has been ongoing in Adderbury for “10 or 12 years”.
In 2017, Cherwell were forced to bring in external consultants – Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd – to carry out an independent review of the “Governance of Adderbury Parish Council“.
The consultants’ report noted that “The chair of the Council has been chair for seventeen years” and that “Although there have been some disagreements about specific policy issues which have exacerbated matters, essentially they are rooted in differences about how the council should run. This has led broadly to the Council being ‘split down the middle’ between those who support the chair and those who wish to see a change and has meant that the reappointment of the chair has been by a narrow margin and occasionally on the chair’s casting vote”.
Included in the twenty recommendations made in the report were the statements that:
“The Council needs to revisit the process for electing a new chair at its next Annual Meeting” and
“The Council chair and clerk should look to learn from and share best practice with outstanding local councils”.
The report also noted that “A chair needs to be seen as impartial and to be supported by members in applying rules effectively and equitably”.
Hoey Ainscough was also involved in the January 2019 report on “Local Government Ethical Standards – A Review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life“. This report notes that while misconduct in local government was not widespread, there was “a high volume of complaints arising from a small number of town and parish councils“.
The report goes on to say that for parish councils, around 60% of councils had had no complaints, or only one complaint since the Localism Act 2011 came into force, and only around 10% had had four or more complaints. Of councils that had received complaints, 83% said complaints had been made about disrespectful behaviour, 63% about bullying and 31% about disruptive behaviour.
An analysis of survey responses from over 800 parish clerks, undertaken by Hoey Ainscough Associates, suggests that 15% of parish councils experience serious behavioural issues such as bullying and disrespect towards other councillors or the clerk, and 5% of parish councils experience these issues to an extent that they are unable to carry out some or all of their proper functions.
The report also notes that “It is also the case that a large number of seats in parish and town councils … are uncontested. In such circumstances the public are not choosing to exercise their judgment, and as a result there is no opportunity for electoral accountability to influence ethical standards“.
“Democratic representation carries both privileges and responsibilities. The significance of that mandate, and the rights and powers that it gives to councillors, also means that a councillor is rightfully subject to the Seven Principles of Public Life and the obligations under the council’s code of conduct. Councillors’ conduct should reflect the importance of their elected role and their need to act in the public interest“.
The report recommends that “reintroducing a power of suspension for local authorities, which would be applicable to parish councillors, may address some of these problems. Although many parish councillors are not paid, a suspension of six months would nevertheless remove them from decisions and communications for all meetings during that period. It would also send a strong message to the individual member and the community“.
It is our understanding that since 2011, Adderbury Parish Council has received way more than 4 complaints. This already places Adderbury Parish Council in the small percentage (10%) of councils who have had more than 4.
We believe that Adderbury Parish Council may also be considered to fall into the 5% of parish councils who experience “serious behavioural issues such as bullying and disrespect towards other councillors or the clerk” to the extent that they are “unable to carry out some or all of their proper functions“.
We say this based on the statement at section 3.4 of the Hoey Ainscough report into the “Governance of Adderbury Council”, in which one of the key issues is described as:
“a breakdown in working relations between a number of individuals on the Council and the chair in particular and to a lesser extent the clerk, characterised by mistrust, suspicion, disrespectful behaviour and an inability to have any constructive dialogue at some meetings”.
Make no mistake, things are bad in the parish of Adderbury. This is clearly recognised by everyone, except perhaps by the Parish Council itself. which continues to claim that “Parish Council meetings are well run”.
Will “warding”, as recommended by the CGR Working Group, really fix these problems? We fear not. We believe that only significant and fundamental changes in the governance of West Adderbury will resolve the situation, and we continue to hope that Cherwell District Council will recognise this.