As per the PM's address gatherings of more than 2 people from different households will be dispersed. We have been advising for a week or so not to meet unless absolutely necessary. To be clear, you should not meet in person.
There are a number of apps and websites which can be used to host conference calls or virtual meetings.
Web chats are not recommended due to lack of clarity on who is contributing - usernames hide identity.
We would advise where possible to use Zoom. There are time restrictions with the free package, however, it does allow 40 minutes which should be enough time to transact essential business and delegate powers to the Clerk for many of the other activities that might need to be processed.
The two good things about zoom is that links can be provided to residents (or put up on the website) so that there is still transparency and in these times of being at home it might provide a good audience and potential Councillors in the future. Also the meeting can easily be recorded so that there is an unambiguous record of the decisions.
If you are unable to hold meetings like this, then I would recommend decisions via email where the way Councillors have voted can be evidenced.
While it is technically not legal to hold meetings remotely or to make decisions via email. It is felt that with not being able to meet that Government will shortly bring in measure to allow this way of working.
Further details on organising meetings during the current crisis
Top priority is to ensure all that needs to be delegated to the clerk is done so as a matter of urgency – this can be time limited – it will minimise the need for meetings virtual or otherwise.
Subsequent meetings – keep agenda down to essentials
Holding the meetings. If you have enough Councillors that have the technical ability to hold a meeting on Zoom that is probably the best option as it can be recorded and put on your website so the public can witness the discussions and decisions. You could use mixed media – so if some Cllrs can’t use zoom they may be able to send their comments / votes in by email which could also be put on the website. Remember not every Cllr has to participate – just enough to be quorate. NB if there is not a valid reason for the Councillor to participate then their apologies (if sent) should not automatically be accepted.
If the meeting has to be conducted by email, then the Clerk must compile all the responses into a single document with the agenda – ensure that you do not lose which councillor made which response.
There will be a great emphasis on the clerk to ensure that the resolutions to be considered are very clear as it will be much more difficult to remove any ambiguity that is possible in a normal meeting. You need to be sure that each councillor is voting on the same thing rather than their interpretation.
Trying to hold a meeting by telephone – even a conference call - is not advised as there would be little transparency, even if you could record it, as regards who was saying what – it would also be more difficult to share with the public.
As the public will not be able to attend a meeting the clerk should endeavour to have the unapproved minutes of the meeting on the website as quickly as possible and certainly within a week in order to keep the public informed. There must be an obvious note to the public stating that these are unapproved.
An alternate approach would be to send the minutes around the councillors as soon as they are ready and get email confirmation that they approve them before posting them on the website.
These are uncharted waters and new ideas need to be tried!
Getting Started with Zoom Meetings38 minutes (skip to 18 minutes in to jump straight to the hosting meetings section) What is a Zoom Meeting? The basics with Zoom expert. We will cover scheduling, inviting others, host controls.
We expect that due to the restrictions announced last night there will be guidance from government on a delay in the requirement to hold these meetings.
The legislation currently states that you must hold one Parish Meeting (Assembly) in a given period of time but even in normal times it does not prevent additional ones being held at other times, so plan to hold one late in the year when hopefully things will have improved.
These meetings should also be cancelled. We expect that due to the restrictions announced last night there will be guidance from government on a delay in the requirement to hold these meetings or to hold them remotely/virtually.
The Chairman of the Council will stay in post until they resign or a meeting can be held (possibly remotely/virtually)
PKF Littlejohn have just issued a statement (Below) confirming that they will be delaying their instructions about the audit process until later in the year. This should have been sent to every Parish.
Given this I would recommend finishing your year-end processes as you usually would ready for your internal audit. If you have not had that audit do not request it now wait until the restriction on meetings have been lifted – you don’t want to generate unnecessary face to face interactions at the moment. Ensure that last year’s finances are clearly separated from the new year to make it simple for the audit when it is conducted.
2019/20 AGAR - PKF Littlejohn instructions delayed pending clarity over coronavirus implications
We are appointed by Smaller Authorities’ Audit Appointments Ltd (SAAA) as the external auditor of your smaller authority for the 5 financial years from 2017/18 to 2021/22. We would normally write to you as the 2019/20 financial year ends to provide instructions for the completion of the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (AGAR) for 2019/20.
In light of the government’s announcement on 23 March 2020 to introduce stringent lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, our instructions for the completion of the 2019/20 AGAR will not be issued until such time as there is more clarity over the implications for smaller authorities.
We are in close contact with SAAA and the National Audit Office (NAO) who in turn are in close contact with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). MHCLG announced changes to the reporting timetable for the principal authorities on 16 March 2020 and we await any news of any changes for smaller authorities.
As an appointed external auditor, we have no power to amend the existing reporting timetable, as it is governed by existing legislation. We recognise the situation is rapidly changing and have agreed with SAAA that it would be inappropriate for us to do anything else at this time but await further guidance from the government as to the approach to be taken for this year.
In addition, the websites for the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) and the Association of Drainage Authorities (ADA) have specific public pages dedicated to the latest news on coronavirus which are available using the following links:
We apologise for the delay, but it is our view that any other course of action would be inappropriate under the current circumstances. We urge you to follow the governments instructions to limit the spread of coronavirus to keep yourselves, your families and those in your communities safe and well.
We will contact you again as soon as we are able to offer more guidance and appreciate your patience while we await further news.
Kind regards SBA Team For and on behalf of PKF Littlejohn LLP T +44 (0) 20 7516 2200
Staff should be helped to work from home where possible. This mostly happens anyway with the majority of Clerks
Litterpickers/bin collections in parks
From a public safety/cleanliness point of view these staff will need to keep working while the parks are open. However, staff should abide by social distancing requirements and where possible co-ordinate their activities for quieter parts of the day.
If the work is being conducted through a contract ask them to see their policy for dealing with this crisis. In particular hand washing social distancing. The work should be able to continue if they are willing to do it. They should be asked to carry out this work early morning when it is likely to be quiet and they should not get involved in conversations except at a safe distance. If the contractor feels they should stay at home you should respect their decision.
All the hygiene and social distancing procedure would apply to volunteers as well.
ACAS had put together a set of pages on advice for those employers dealing with Co-Vid 19
In a press release the government last week announced: The deadline for local government financial audits will be extended to 30 September 2020
We are waiting for the government to issue further guidance however with the restrictions on meetings and the requirements for internal audit, access for electors to view the accounts and the requirement for signatures on the Annual Return it is likely this will be delayed.
Within your financial regulations permissions should already be in place for the Clerk to undertake emergency expenditure if required,
In addition, there will be a default permission to spend against agreed budgets.
You should have considered any gaps or improvements in your financial processes and tried to incorporate them in the delegated powers that have been given to the clerk during this period.
Online banking and Cheques
We advise that if you are currently undertaking online banking to continue with this
If you are not currently using online banking, we recommend that you look into the possibility of arranging it as restrictions may go on for a long time
If you are unable to arrange online banking, then we would advise to make arrangements for cheques to be signed while adhering to government guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation
WALC would like you to take this opportunity to seriously consider switching to on line banking.
You could consider switching to Unity Trust Bank that already provide banking services to many Parish Councils https://www.unity.co.uk/ They have a very good on line banking option that allows the clerk to raise a payment and two other signatories to authorise the expenditure by logging on from their own emails using a secure password before it is process for payment.
They are based in Birmingham and you can even ring up and speak to someone if you have a problem!
Some of the major high street banks do have a similar service which they do not promote so if you would prefer not to change I would recommend chasing them to see what they can offer.
On line banking will remove the need for cheques to passed between people or worse to physically meet people and from a selfish point of view it will make things much better for WALC with memberships being due in a couple of months and hopefully future training courses!
Signs should be placed up stating that the play areas will be closed per government instructions and that safety checks will not be carried out during this period.
It will be best to take a photo of closing all the play areas, for two reasons, one to post up on social media to make residents aware and secondly to evidence in regard to insurance claims should people violate the closure.
If the play area is in the open (i.e. no fence around it) then tape should be wrapped round the equipment in addition to the signage.
If there is fencing (even if very small) then the gates should be locked (chains and padlock preferably, zip ties if not and tape if no alternative) in addition to the signage. If the fencing is small (i.e. able to be stepped over) then I would advise to also tape the equipment up.
There is a simple example of a poster that could be used to go on the playground – ideally laminate it if you can.
Although not essential I would take photographs (dated if possible) and send them together with notes of other actions you have taken and send them to your insurance company so that you can demonstrate that you have done the right thing.
Cemetery workers, both admin and manual workers, are classed as key workers and will be allowed out to undertake their work. Preparations should be made to continue the work required. We would advise to keep up to date will any changes via the ICCM https://www.iccm-uk.com/iccm/
24/03/2020 A Government spokesperson said:
"We want to ensure that the deceased are treated with the utmost respect and care and, where possible, buried in accordance with their families’ wishes. We are working closely with local authorities to make sure that normal individual burial practices can continue.”
Mass burials do not form part of contingency planning. There is existing capacity already identified by local authorities as part of their longer term planning for future cemetery space. This way, normal burial practices individual can continue.
Classed as essential work local schemes should be progressed if they are distributing food and/or medicines.
These should follow Government guidelines on meetings and social distancing.
We expect further announcements in the coming days from Government and the County Council and Districts. We are working in partnership with these bodies.
Just like Council meetings, try to do as much correspondence and organisation electronically to minimise the risk of infection. Ensure all volunteers have been trained on hygiene measures and risk assessments regarding GDPR regulations have been conducted.
Whilst there have been no official announcements, or word on the British Legion website, we must surely assume that events to mark VE75 on 8 May, and throughout that weekend, will not be able to go ahead. Veterans are, by definition, part of the most vulnerable group and will be in 'shielding' on that date.
Street parties will be banned and likely to be dispersed by the Police and even 'The Nations Toast' will be difficult to deliver with all pubs closed.
For those in civic office to be ahead of this curve, perhaps give thought now, as to how anything planned for May can be re-scheduled as part of VJ75 in mid August.