Mr Paul Baxter is a Parish Councillor elected in 2015. He is currently circulating a document to residents wrongly alleging that Publow with Pensford Parish Council is not working in the best interests of parishioners, operating outside of government and legal guidelines and advising residents to vote to replace all existing members of the Parish Council.
Many of our existing Parish councillors have served voluntarily for many years and have given commendable service to the Parish. Apart from Mr Baxter, there are ten other Parish Councillors on the Parish Council from all walks of life and from all parts of the village. We all have differing views but it is insulting and libellous to suggest that we are somehow involved in illegal activities and not working in the best interests of parishioners.
Furthermore, it is offensive to suggest that the Parish Clerk formulates decisions and resolutions in private and agrees them with the Chair and Vice Chair without consultation with other Councillors. This is untrue and any interaction is no more than required for the Parish Clerk to carry out her proper role.
Having read Mr Baxter’s document his allegations feel like a personal vendetta. I and many other Councillors have serious concerns about his motives. Therefore, on behalf of the existing Parish Councillors (with the exception of Mr Baxter), I am issuing this formal rebuttal in the interests of factual accuracy.
Allegation 1: High Costs for Clerk Result in Minimal Funds Available for Local Projects
The clerk’s salary is not discretionary. The clerk receives a salary set in accordance with the recommendations of the National Joint Council for Local Government Services.
Mr. Baxter expressed concerns in 2016 about the Clerk’s salary. Consequently, the Parish Council asked Avon Local Council’s Association to independently examine this. Their findings were relayed to ALL Parish Councillors as follows:
‘I would estimate the salary of the Clerk to Publow with Pensford Parish Council to be in the region of SCP 24-28. ‘Our clerk who has since achieved further qualifications is SCP 27.
‘For a council the size of PwP I would recommend that it would need between 10-15 hours per week, even for an experienced clerk depending on external issues such as busy roads.’
Our clerk currently works 14 hours a week with the option to work more hours at busy times i.e. Pensford Hill & Neighbourhood Plan minute taking/writing.
In effect, Mr Baxter is advocating in public that we should sack the Parish Clerk for no good reason. This would be the only way we could reduce her current salary, which is in accordance with the national scale. I would stress that there is no good reason to sack the Parish Clerk to achieve cost savings. To do so would be illegal, as we have no good reason for summary dismissal.
Employment law protects the Parish Clerk in terms of such matters as pay, conditions, annual leave, sick pay, maternity leave; bullying; harassment and discrimination, etc.
The relationship of the Parish Clerk with the Parish Council is one of employer/employee and, as such, the employee has a right to privacy.
The Parish Council delegates management of the Parish Clerk to a Staffing Panel. This is in accordance with “Being a Good Employer a Guide for Parish and Town Councillors National Training Strategy for Town and Parish Councils” P 30.
The clerk has undertaken Local Council Administrative training and it is inappropriate to discuss any aspect of her personal performance in public at any time.
As the Clerk is an employee, not an elected officer, it is highly inappropriate to raise her personal performance as an election issue.
For privacy reasons, (in common with all other employers) personal dealings between the Staffing Panel and any employee must necessarily remain confidential and not be made public.
There is an agreed grievance procedure to ensure that the Parish Council handle complaints raised by individual employees properly if they occur. (The Good Councillors Guide Para 6 Rules for Employers). Were the Parish Clerk to feel that she has suffered public bullying/harassment by a councillor or councillors she would be at liberty to pursue an action against the Parish Council or the councillor/s concerned as individuals.
Allegation 2: The Parish Council appear evasive when confronted
The Parish Council set up the Staffing Panel following discussions and recommendations from Avon Local Councils Association. The Staffing Panel has to act with discretion and confidentiality at all times. It meets as and when required and it deals with Job Descriptions, Staff Appraisals, Performance Reviews and Grievances etc.
A majority vote of all Parish Councillors decides who sits on the Staffing Panel. The Panel works independently and comprises three councillors. All other Councillors (including the Parish Council’s Chairman) do not sit on the Staffing Panel and are not entitled to receive confidential information regarding employees or to determine the outcome of any of the above procedures.
There is a good reason why Mr. Baxter is unable to sit on the Staff Panel. This was not due to a decision by Parish Councillors alone. The decision was after written advice received from Avon Local Council’s Association, for reasons, which we cannot divulge to the public for reasons of staff confidentiality.
Councillors do not have a “need to know” in respect of all aspects of council business. Councillors cannot claim an automatic right to see all council documentation and information. If a councillor is not a member of a particular committee/panel, he has to demonstrate why sight of the documents/or receipt of the information in question is necessary to enable him to perform his duties as a councillor”. (This is a NALC guideline; LTN 1 “Council’s Powers to Discharge Their Functions” April 2018 para 26.)
Allegation 3: Precept for Publow with Pensford Parish Council is too high
We dispute this allegation. Independent opinion for 2016/17 received from Avon Local Councils Association in February 2019 is as follows:
‘These are 2016/17 figures but they give you a good idea of the level precept demands in similar sized populations in comparison to your own parish. Publow is a low precepting parish.’
Blue is South Gloucestershire
Green is North Somerset
Red is Bath & North East Somerset
Allegation 4: Playground/ It is the Parish Councils responsibility that it delivers value to its parish
The Parish Council supported a playground but the Council (as a majority) considered that the proposal submitted was not good use of community money. The proposals did not benefit a sufficiently wide section of the community but only provided facilities for small children and nothing for teenagers.
Allegation 5: Planning applications Suspicious Behaviour
It is untrue that a ‘sub group’ approves Planning Applications in private. It is standard (and permissible) practice to delegate planning applications to a sub-group. This group carries out an initial examination, (for the sake of expediency). The full Parish Council then considers their conclusion in a Parish Council meeting that is open to the public and they have the opportunity to comment and vote on them. In any case, Bath and North East Somerset Council do not have to accept the Parish Council’s decision and they are the final arbiter in all planning applications. Bath & North East Somerset Council will often overrule planning decisions made by our Parish Council for reasons of their own.
Planning Application for Further Development at Garage Site
The reason the majority of Parish Councillors voted to agree to allow the new housing on the former Pensford Garage site was to improve an already developed area of the village. The former garage on this site was, at one time, a useful village amenity but the site had latterly become a scruffy used car showroom, which created an unpleasant approach into the village. The majority of councillors considered the site to be an eyesore. It was becoming dilapidated and run-down and there was no real prospect of improvement as a commercial operation. The majority of councillors considered that a small number of new houses on this plot would be a significant enhancement for the village. It is relevant that the Parish Council took a similar decision in the mid-1980s, when it considered an application to improve the site of the old station goods yard for new housing (Station Approach).
Publow with Pensford Parish Council