At the Parish Council meeting on Wednesday August 7th 2013 members of the public expressed their concern that the special Parish Council meeting held on July 18th had been closed to the public. The Council’s answer was that the subject under consideration was finance and included payments to the Clerk. It was said from the floor that the finances of the council and the terms and conditions of the Clerk were in the public domain, and in the absence of information, misinformation, gossip and rumour had circulated in the Parish, which was undesirable.
The council agreed to consider the matter, and in closed session at the end of the August 7th meeting it was agreed that the minutes of the July 18th meeting should be made public.
The meeting had been called following receipt of an unexpectedly high bill of almost £1,000 for the Parish Council election, which together with other calls on funds threatened to put the Council in an unsatisfactory financial position. As a consequence of a decision made by the previous council in April, projected payments to the Clerk equalled 70% of the council’s budget for 2013. It had been agreed that urgent action was required.
The minutes are as follows:
Extraordinary Meeting of Withiel Parish Council
Draft Minutes of the meeting held in the Village Hall
Thursday, 18th July 2013
Present: Cllr Coy, Cllr Harper, Cllr Kirkby, Cllr Malone, Cllr Nott-Bower, Cllr Shearer, Cllr Thomas (Chairman)
The meeting began at 7.15 when the Chairman welcomed all.
1. Members’ declarations of interest. None.
2. Apologies for absence and requests for dispensations. None
3. Invitation to members of the public to address the meeting. There being no members of the public present, this was taken as read.
4. It was resolved to formally exclude members of the public and press from the meeting during subsequent items as they contained confidential information, under the provisions of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960. Proposed Councillor Kirkby, seconded Councillor Coy.
5. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the finances of the Council, and employment of the Clerk. Councillor Kirkby reported that the bill for the election was £993, which was almost £600 more than had been budgeted for by the last council. The claim had been queried and was said to have been so high because of recounts. It represented a significant percentage of the Council’s annual income of £4,750 and when other items of expenditure were taken into account, it put the Council in a serious position.
Councillor Kirkby reported that she had met with the Clerk on the previous Monday to examine the books etc. They were all in order. She said that so far this month the Clerk had worked for 21.5 hours despite having been told to limit her hours to 18. Councillor Kirkby said the Clerk had requested more hours, which had been refused as the issue was to be discussed at this meeting by the full Council. The Clerk had said she would not access the Parish Council emails until she received more hours. We could not afford to employ the Clerk after we had paid her for 21.5 hours at the next meeting.
Figures put before the meeting showed the Clerk had billed the Council £798.97 plus £80.77 expenses for May, June and July. This was the near equivalent of 32 hours per month. Councillor Malone said anything more than 18 hours a month was unsustainable.
Councillor Coy asked why the Council did not hold the Clerk to her original signed contract, which allowed for only 3 hours per week. Councillor Kirkby said that even if she was restricted to that amount of time, that would leave the council with no money until the second half of the precept was received in September. Councillor Nott-Bower said attempting to restrict the Clerk to 12 hours would be unlikely to be more successful than the council’s attempts to restrict her to 18 hours had been.
Councillor Coy said that if action was not taken urgently, some 70 percent of the 2013 Parish Council precept would be spent on the Clerk, which was clearly inappropriate.
Councillor Thomas said there were two options. First, to restrict the Clerk to her original contract, or second, to accept that we could not afford a paid Clerk until the legacy of financial problems faced by the council had been resolved. Councillor Malone said that while the preference would be to retain the Clerk, the Clerk was adamant that the job could not be done in 18 hours, much less 12.
It was unanimously agreed that at present the Council had insufficient funds to support a paid Clerk, and that Councillors should themselves take on the duties of Clerk until the financial situation had been addressed. The Clerk’s contract had therefore to be terminated. Proposed Councillor Coy, seconded Councillor Harper.
Councillor Shearer proposed that the Chairman speak to the Cornwall Association of Local Councils to obtain their advice. This was seconded by Councillor Nott-Bower.
It was unanimously resolved:
“In view of the financial situation of the Council, we are unable to continue to employ a paid clerk. Accordingly, the services of Mrs Wilson as Withiel Parish Clerk are no longer required, and her contract should be terminated with immediate effect. She should be given £100.08 in lieu of four weeks notice.” Proposed Councillor Malone, seconded Councillor Harper.
7. The meeting closed at 8:30 pm with the Chairman thanking those who had attended.