Penistone Council, BMBC, Elections, Etc.

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This page attempts to assess and understand the hierarchy and processes of local, borough and national democracy, along with observations, reports and links to source materials. It is not an exact science and is open to a few unexpected twists and turns.


Penistone Coat of ArmsLinks to Pages on This Website:


The Hierarchy of Democracy
This page starts from the lowest to the highest levels, from the Town Council (15 members) who act in an unpaid, volunteer capacity, through the Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (Penistone East and Penistone West = 6 members) whose members receive a generous annual allowance and its various off-shoots and finally on to Parliament and its local members.

It is pleasing to discover that councillors are generally motivated to 'Put something back into the community' and usually in a selfless way, without much recognition, and little compensation beyond the satisfaction of serving the community. That is not to say that their path is always smooth. It is not uncommon for their good intentions to be thwarted one way or another, by such as excessive delays, recommendations ignored and perhaps with council resolutions watered down, misapplied or disregarded. I would say that there is still a residual 'culture of confidentiality' which can de-rail openness and accountability and does not usually encourage much interest or support from the public. Democracy itself is often 'taken as read' without applying the best or most open procedures. Every level of democracy appears to have ways of averting the public gaze.

2018 News Item - 'Secretive Councils Shut Out Reporters'
This does not (as far as we know) apply to our own area but, according to The Times newspaper, some regional councils (such as Nottingham and in Scotland) are now denying access to news reporters who wish to observe and report on pivotal decisions taken by those councils, by passing those decisions on to 'Working Groups' which are not covered by the regulations. This bypasses HMG regulations on openness in local democracy to avoid unwanted publicity for various cuts and appears to be catching on in other councils. In some cases the decisions have been far-reaching and on a large scale but completely opaque.

According to newspaper reports, significant decisions by councils are supposed to be made under the full scrutiny of press and public. The problem with this is that a secretive procedures can not be challenged until after the event as nobody else would know about them. It is absurdly easy for councils to hide their activities simply by not giving out any information about their meetings. It is unlikely that an ombudsman would take any action either.

See the East Devon Watch article, which is a copy of a Times article from 6th October 2018 and which was also in the leader column of the same Times issue.


1. Penistone Town Council (PTC)
PTCThe Barnsley Borough has 17 Parish and Town Councils, with High Hoyland having a 'Parish Meeting' rather than a Parish Council. Penistone's Town Council (PTC) has 15 members, representing four Parish Wards (See PTC Election page). However, while Oxspring, Dunford Bridge, Thurgoland and Ingbirchworth are in the Penistone area, they have their own Parish Councils and are not represented on Penistone Town Council.

Penistone is to the west of the Barnsley Borough as its most rural area and Penistone Town Council is at the lowest tier of governance, with limited powers and subservient to the parent authority of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (BMBC - see below). Larger towns often have a Town rather than a Parish Council but they have equivalent powers. Town Councils elect a Mayor each year.

By being at grass roots level, a Parish or Town Council is able to work at the community rather than political level. A dynamic Parish or Town Council can innovate as well as administrate. PTC has been known to organise Parades, Galas, Centenaries, Royal Jubilee Events (with commemorative plates) and, in 2016, a Beacon for HM Queen's 90th birthday. These days, perhaps as a result of an aging council profile or other reasons, many of these activities have been passed on to other organisations. Perhaps Penistone needs a lively Community organisation to organise events (as Holmfirth does) and pick up where the Council left off.

1a. The Penistone Parish Wards
These are Penistone Town Council's Parish Wards:

Some PTC Councillors are also elected members of Barnsley Council (BMBC). Unlike BMBC councillors, PTC councillors do not receive payment except for special extra responsibilities (such as Mayor). A Mayor is elected each year by the full council from its members and a councillor can serve as Mayor more than once. The Mayor acts as chairman of the full council meetings, with the Deputy Mayor as standby, and can sit on any sub-committee.

The Mayor attends important local events and will raise funds towards chosen charities for the year. Local events organisers can request a visit by the Mayor via the PTC website. A Mayor's Diary has sporadically appeared on the PTC website.

PTC NoticeboardPTC manages the Town Hall, St John's Community Centre, the unisex Public Toilet, the Bus Shelter, the Royd Moor Viewing Platform and local allotments. PTC has a noticeboard in a 'central, conspicuous place' on the High Street and another in a quiet corner of the Community Centre (mostly official notices). It also has a good, if rather static, Penistone Town Council website with a wealth of interesting local information.

1b. Planning
PTC always looks at local Planning Applications and makes recommendations to BMBC's Planning Review Board, who are supposed to pay some regard to them in their considerations. To the dismay of local councillors, it is not unusual for PTC's recommendations to be 'lost in transit', with PTC's recommendations not being included in BMBC's paperwork. This amounts to a breakdown in the democratic process and could be construed as a corruption of process.

1c. Meetings and Minutes
Full PTC meetings are held 7pm on the third Monday of each month, except August. When the first Monday of a month is a Bank Holiday, the full PTC meeting is sometimes moved on a week. New Year's in 2016 day fell on a Monday and the meeting was moved from Monday 15th to Monday 22nd. It has happened before. Yet in April 2018, Easter Monday fell on the 2nd April but the meeting was scheduled as normal for 16th April. This glitch in the calendar has caught out both the public and the councillors but it is not applied consistently.

Council meetings are 'meetings in public' but not 'public meetings'. Therefore, the public may attend but not participate during the meeting, as the law provides, although full PTC meetings normally allow a short period for questions before the meeting starts. New national rules were introduced in 2014 by HM Government to help the press and public to know about, view or report the work of local government bodies. The 'Press' is defined in the widest terms – including traditional print media, filming crews, hyper-local journalists and bloggers. In my own case, I can fit the description of 'Citizen Journalist', which ought to grant me exactly the same acces to information as, for example, the Barnsley Chronicle reporter. Sometimes the reporter is given more. HMG published HMG Openness Guide 2014 (pdf) in plain English to set out the rights.

As referred to above, the public and press are allowed to observe all PTC meetings and sub-committees, unless required to leave for certain well-defined matters. Public access was the result of a Private Member's Bill in the 1960s, proposed by one Mrs M Thatcher. However, the times, dates and locations of Council subcommittees are not made available to the public except by calling at Council Offices during part-time working hours (9am to 1pm) and upon payment of a small printing charge. A working person would need to take time off work to discover a meeting timetable. As everything is done by computer these days, it is a trifling matter to put all schedules on the website.

When our local council really wants to go 'off the grid' and hold a private meeting (as it has with a local developer), it classes it an 'ad-hoc meeting' with no public notification, its Minutes being also buried in the Minutes for a different meeting. It is possible that such ad-hoc meetings are illegal. There is a legal requirement in HMG guidelines to give five days' clear notice to the public of any unscheduled meetings.

The new transparency rights from HMG in 2014 now allow the public to audio-record, photograph or video council meetings (without needing prior permission) but the public can be excluded under certain, defined circumstances, which might include the discussion of employee conduct, negotiation of contracts or legal matters.

By a PTC Resolution (now included in Standing Orders), a ten-minute 'Public Participation' time of ten minutes is currently allowed before the official start of (and not strictly part of) Council meetings, to allow questions to be put to the Council. Although outside the meeting proper, a further PTC resolution allowed to this section to be included in council Minutes.

1d. Public Information
From the Guide: 'Notice of the meeting specifying the business to be discussed must be placed in a central conspicuous place...' Councils are required to give a minimum of three days' notice for council meetings and seven days' notice for the Annual Meeting. In our case, the Agenda is posted on PTC noticeboards the Friday before Monday meetings and is seen by observers of that meeting. Except for the Annual Meeting, other meetings are not advertised.

The NALC Parish Toolkit recommends early publication of Council Minutes and many councils publish draft minutes in order to inform the public. The following graphic is the NALC recommendations for Parish/Town Councils:

The Role of Minutes

However, PTC took a decision to delay publication until after minutes were approved and signed off at a following meeting. The argument went that the Minutes could not be regarded as 'legal' until they have been read by the council, accepted as a true record and signed off accordingly at a following meeting. However, a counter-argument was not considered that decisions taken at council meeting will always take immediate effect, whether or not they are taken on the basis of good information.

PTC will publish Minutes on their website after a following meeting, which in summer can be more than two months after the actual meeting. This appears to comply with such rules as can readily be understood, although perhaps not in the spirit that those rules were drawn up. In apparent non-compliance of transparency regulations, 'background papers' are not circulated or appended to information that is supposed to be made public but, according to the Government Guide above, the public can make a request to see such papers at the Council Office. The public is unlikely request to see papers that they have no knowledge of.

Interestingly, other PTC Minutes work to different schemes. As an example, the Precept meeting of Monday 1st February 2016 was signed off on Monday 15th February 2016 and Minutes for an ad-hoc Planning Meeting in September 2016 (approving the Laird's Way proposals) apparently went back in time to be appended to July 2016 Minutes. Some Annual Assembly Minutes have never seen the light of day.

According to Council's own Publication Scheme (pdf), Minutes are supposed to be available in Penistone Library and a blue folder in the Library is labelled for that purpose. Yet, except for perhaps twice in five years, the Minutes do not appear. Some of the Agendas do appear, but never before the meeting.

Publication scheme

1e. Historical
The Carnegie Free Library (partially, in 1913) and the Town Hall Building ('Paramount Theatre' and Council Offices, fully in 1914) were built by public subscription (see Town Hall History) by an extra charge put on the rates.

The forerunner to PTC was Penistone Urban District Council (PUDC), set up in 1869. It had many more responsibilities than the current PTC, such as council house maintenance and waste collection and it had many more employees. In 1969, PUDC held its centenary celebrations, with a full programme of local events.

In 1974, BMBC assumed ownership and control of Penistone's assets under 'Local Government Reorganisation Act, 1972' and this had far-reaching effects on local governance and facilities. One of the first things to go was an Employment Exchange in Penistone.

In the noughties, PTC was looking to apply for a 'Quality Council Award' (QCA) and would have been able to meet most of its stringent conditions, the remaining conditions being within grasping distance. From around 2014, it appeared that the quest was abandoned (See the NALC's Local Council Award Scheme, 2016), although most of its principles were said to be already in operation.

1f. Annual Precept Meeting
This appears to be held on the first Monday of February. Although the public has an absolute right to observe this sort of meeting, and particularly so in this case where money is being allocated, the meeting is not normally publicised in a meaningful way. You will find this same grumble in several places. It provides information to BMBC on how the cost of the local precept is calculated. A precept is an additional sum which is added to Council Tax for use by the local council and includes grants to local organisations and projects. It is not usually a large extra cost. The date and time of this annual meeting is not publicised. See the 2016 Precept Minutes (pdf) as an example.

1g. Annual Town Assembly
The 'Annual Town Assembly' is a statutary requirement for all parish and town councils throughout the land. The main point of it is to present the Annual Accounts to the public. We can also expect the retiring Mayor's Report and a summary of Council activity over the year. Residents are able to raise issues at this meeting, usually with responses from whoever is appropriate on the Council. Previous ATA Minutes will be referred to but not shown to the public until after the next Assembly, the following year, which keeps people in the dark while diluting the effectiveness of anyone raising an issue.

All Parish or Town Councils are required to hold an Annual Meeting in April/May (the 'Parish Toolkit' says May) which must be advertised in 'A central, conspicuous place' with at least seven day's notice. The 2016 notice was only to be found on a Community Centre noticeboard but not the Town Centre noticeboard. Only three residents attended.

From the PTC website: 'The purpose of calling this meeting is to enable the council to report on the year. Also electors are given a chance to have their say on anything which they consider is important to the people of the parish of Penistone. The meeting is open to the public, but such persons only as are registered as local government electors for the town will be entitled to vote at the meeting.'

Annual General Meeting - This is held in May each year, as the first full council meeting following the Annual Assembly. The title of 'Mayor of Penistone' is conferred to the new incumbent and the appointment of members to various sub-committees and Boards is arranged, usually nominated by senior members. The new Mayor is likely to be photographed for the occasion by the local press.

1h. PTC Police Precept
Funding for the Police is partly derived from a precept added to Council Tax, applied according to the parish or town district. This appears to be tied to an 'equated average housing Band' for the area concerned, which, in the case of Penistone is Band D. As a rough guide, from around 2017 (not confirmed by research) the number of Band D homes was 4,075 in the Penistone area. Funding derived for the Police for our area was calculated as 4,075 x £149.59 = £572, 904.25 from Council Tax Precept, with HM Government providing around 75% of total Police funding. For the Penistone Town Council area, the total comes to just over £2m at around £2, 292,000.


2. Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (BMBC)

The Mood
Penistone Mug from Hallmark Card ShopThis is the next level above a Parish/Town Council and BMBC is not well-loved in our area. Our town is 7-8 miles away from Barnsley and has its own sense of identity, only weakly connected with that of Barnsley. Unfortunately, the phrase 'Cash Cow' is often repeated by Penistone residents in connection with BMBC.

It is often the habit of the Barnsley authority to refer to Penistone as 'In Barnsley', giving an impression that 'they' are in a Barnsley-centred bubble and do not connect with our district as a separate entity. For the same reason, such initiatives as 'Proud to be Barnsley' feel irrelevant and distant. Evidence of this is might be their annual campaign to celebrate notable Barnsley people does not elicit much response from our district.

From our point of view, it is often remarked that we are: 'A cash cow for the rest of the Borough'. BMBC appears to be autocratic over local matters and has been described as a 'One-party State' by dissenters. A repeated message has for several decades been that: 'Barnsley would do more for Penistone if we voted the same way.' As a threat, it is unproductive and more inclined to make residents 'dig in' rather than co-operate with the distant governing council.

From our side, there is a constant grumble that BMBC encourages the building of executive-style houses in our area which price out the locals and their families. Developers are required to build a proportion of 'affordable houses' but avoid this by paying into 'Section 106 fund' to be spent elsewhere in the Borough. As of 2016, there was palpable anger about this funding leaving our area for all manner of purposes, including a Planning Officer's salary.

Planning is perhaps the thorniest issue, with local objections counting for little or nothing. Our countryside is in danger of serious encroachment by new (executive) housing estates. One is being sited off Chapel Lane which is little better than a cart track but, in spite of vociferous objections, Barnsley steam-rollered through its plans for development. Yours truly attended the Planning Revue meeting in Barnsley Town Hall and can attest to its unprofessional conduct. The chief spokesman appeared to have trouble with the Queen's English and the whole affair went through 'on the nod'. The planners had accepted a road survey commissioned by the developers, while any local person could (and did) explain the weakness of siting a substantial development up a narrow lane with a blind bend.

According to a now-withdrawn document 'The Town and Parish Council Charter', BMBC was supposed to consult smaller councils on such as road-naming and other matters but the mood is that we are ignored. Our own BMBC councillors have said that road-naming is agreed between BMBC and developers and are not interested in trying to remedy the matter. BMBC's roadside notices (for such as highways changes) state where the public may put forward their objections but are not always displayed as required, subverting the public feedback process. They are usually required to be available in Penistone Library but this too is often ignored. On the occasion of the serious re-modelling of the Green Road junction with Mortimer Road, neither the public nor PTC were informed about the changes before they happened.

The Structure
A study of the Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (BMBC) website shows that Six BMBC councillors represent 'Penistone East' and 'Penistone West' BMBC Wards. Each BMBC Ward is represented by three councillors and each BMBC councillor holds office for four years. They do not all come up for election at the same time as there is some overlap.

In 2016, Barnsley Councillors (BMBC) received a Standard Allowance of £10,762 per year (previously £10,426), which does not include Expenses. Special responsibilities attract extra allowances, such as chairmanships and other elevated positions. Allowances are now pensionable like salaries.

BMBC Councillors may receive an annual Travel Allowance for travel on council business within the Borough, calculated on the distance from Barnsley Town Hall postcode to their home address postcode, by the shortest route. 2016 rates:

BMBC councillors can also enjoy perks which can include phones and laptop computers and can claim for official functions and official visits outside the Borough at £0.45 per mile up to 50 miles (current 2016). Above 50 miles, the lesser of car allowance or second class rail fare will be paid. Approved duties, etc., can be found on the BMBC document library website.

Part of BMBC funding comes from Council Tax, which most residents in the UK have to pay, depending on the classification of their house, which is rated from Band A to Band E. The most expensive houses are in Band A. As a large council, BMBC is required by law to abide by the Local Government Transparency Code (2015), which also applies to Parish/Town Councils with a gross annual income or expenditure (whichever is the higher) exceeding £200,000. Of particular interest is the legal requirement for the Council to publish an itemised list each quarter of all spending above £500 (except salaries). See BMBC's Quarterly Spending, which are published in the 'Comma-Separated-Variable' (CSV) spreadsheet format.

See the current Membership and tabulated Election results for Penistone Enot ast and Penistone West Wards on the BMBC Elections page.
BMBC's General Information on Councillors links to: Councillor Expenses 2014-2015 (pdf).


BMBC Noticeboard3. BMBC Area Councils
The role of the Area Council is 'to agree the local priorities for action in your area'. BMBC has set up six 'Area Councils', which consider local matters outside the scope of the Parish and Town Councils. They are well-funded for projects in each area.

These are: 'Central AC', 'South Barnsley AC', 'North AC', 'North East AC', 'Penistone AC' and 'Dearne AC'. Each Chairman receives an allowance of £7,162 from BMBC, except for North AC, where the Chairman receives £8,363.

Penistone Area Council has a meeting each month of the six BMBC councillors who represent the BMBC Penistone East and BMBC Penistone West BMBC Wards. As with any official meeting, residents have a right to observe.
See BMBC PAC for Agendas, Minutes and dates and times of PAC Meetings (the URL rends to change from time to time). A small noticeboard on the Town Hall building (see picture, right) sometimes shows details of meetings held in the building. The PAC publishes a news-sheet from time to time, which can also be downloaded (pdf) and such as the 'Penistone Clean and Tidy Team'. Facebook.

The Chairman of each Area Council receives from BMBC an extra Special Responsibility Allowance of £6,300 per year (current 2016) on top of the BMBC councillor's Standard Allowance of £10,762 per year (current 2016).

Penistone Ward Alliance (aka 'Penistone Area Team')
The six BMBC councillors who represent the Penistone East and Penistone West Wards have formed a large committee of community representatives, by appointment. A small noticeboard outside the former Carnegie Library occasionally shows times of meetings. As with the Area Council, residents have the right to observe meetings and each meeting allows time for public participation, although information about meetings is not usually available.

This is an offshoot of the Penistone Area Council and includes representatives from various community groups. The selection process is somewhat obscure. Colloquially, the 'Penistone Area Team' appears to be the same as the Penistone Ward Alliance. Unusually, it has a Penistone Area Team Facebook newsfeed.

From the document linked below, we can see an outline plan for BMBC Ward Alliances. All members are expected to adopt the Ward Alliance’s purpose, values and ground rules. Each alliance should comprise of a minimum of six community representatives of the Ward, chosen by the Ward councillors. These will be drawn from individuals living or working in the Ward, and those with a vested interest in the effectiveness of the Ward.

Examples of community representatives in a typical Ward Alliance could include:

See also BMBC's 'Ward Alliance Governance Framework' (pdf) linked from their Document Reference site.


4. HMG Parliament
Penistone is represented in Westminster by an elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of 'Penistone and Stocksbridge', allying these disparate communities. Constituency boundaries have changed from time to time and ours has variously been ''Barnsley West and Penistone', plain 'Penistone' and historically 'Holmfirth' for a very short time.

Penistone's current MP is Angela Christine Smith, based in Hillsborough, Sheffield and something of a campaigner for the Labour Party. Although not usually prominent at Penistone events and somewhat distant from local issues (which usually involve Barnsley's Labour-held Council), our MP appears to be generally well-regarded in the Penistone area. See Parliamentary Elections (on this website) for the Parliamentary Constituency of 'Penistone and Stocksbridge', which also lists earlier Penistone MPs.

MPs' Salaries and Expenses
Following the 2009 'MP's Expenses Scandal', published in the Daily Telegraph, Parliament decided to remove decisions on MPs' pay and conditions from the members themselves and set up an 'Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority' (IPSA). After this, members hoped to be removed from accusations of 'feathering the nest' with unacceptable demands for extra money. Nonetheless, IPSA has proved to be very generous, with inflation-busting increases year on year, when other parts of the Public Sector were being held to a maximum 1% per annum pay rise.

As of 2016, the basic annual salary for an MP (back-dated from 8th May 2015) is £74,000. MPs also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London and in their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency. Some are still known to abuse this.


5. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), representing Yorkshire and Humberside.
The European Parliament has elections every five years and is composed of 751 members. It has powers over the entire EU budget.
In the 2014 EU Elections, the top three parties were: UKIP (26.6%), Labour (24.43%) and Conservative (23.05%).

History:
The UK was not a signatory to the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community (EEC = the 'Common Market') in 1957, but applied to join in 1963 and 1967. Both applications were vetoed by the President of France, Charles de Gaulle. After he resigned, the UK tried again and was successful, joining on 1st January 1973. A Referendum was held in 1975 to decide whether to stay in the EEC. The major political parties and the Press urged voters to stay in. The result was 67.2% in favour of staying and 32.8% against, with a turnout of 64.5%.

Following the the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the EEC became the European Union (EU), when the Treaty came into force on 1st November 1993. This led to the creation of the Euro for use in some of the EU membership countries. The Lisbon Treaty reformed the Maastricht Treaty and, among other things, made a Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. It came into force on 1st December 2009. The 55 articles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights enshrine certain political, social, and economic rights for European Union citizens and residents, into EU law. Attempts to draw up a EU Constitution in 2001 were blocked by the majority of French voters.

EU Referendum
A UK Referendum on whether the UK will stay ('Remain') or leave (aka 'Brexit') in the European Union was held on Thursday 23rd June 2016, having been promised in the Conservative Manifesto of the 2015 General Election. The official UK Government line is to support the 'Remain' campaign although many in the Conservative Party disagree. UK homes have received a leaflet (costing about £9m) outlining reasons to 'Remain'. As of early June 2016, opinion polls showing about the same support for each campaign. In the end, Brexit won. See the EU page.


PTC Code of Conduct
The Localism Act 2011 abolished Standards for England, removed the ability of local authorities to suspend members as a sanction for poor behaviour and disbanded local standards committees. It introduced a new offence of failing to declare or register a pecuniary interest. Following amendments to the original Bill during its passage through Parliament it also requires local authorities to develop their own Code of Conduct based on the seven principles of public life (referred to as the Nolan Principles) and subject to new 'Openness and Transparency' regulations.

PTC's own Code of Conduct and other procedural documents are available (in person, by appointment) from PTC Council Offices, Community Centre, Church Street, during part-time working hours. See PTC's 'Publication Scheme' (pdf). This is an old, pre-legislation form dated 2008 and does not include some later categories. See the Localism Act Overview (Nov 2011) to download the Plain English Guide and the HMG Guide for Councillors (Sept 2013) on Openness and Transparency on Personal Interests.

Disqualification of Council Members and Elected Mayors
As of September 2017, HM Government is running a consultation about some disqualification criteria additional to section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972. One can only guess at what had initiated this proposal but, given the often grubby nature of national politics, it might have been aimed someone in particular to prevent them from taking office at a future election. It would not apply retrospectively or to some parts of the London system. That makes you ponder.

Of particular interest is Page 9 of the Consultation Document, which lists the existing criteria. These apply to all levels, including Parish/Town Councils. They also apply to co-opted members. For example, someone who has been bankrupt may not be elected (or co-opted) to a Town or any other council. Under section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972, a person is disqualified from standing as a candidate or being a member of a local authority, if they:

The Nolan Principles
In 1994, the Nolan Committee drew up 'The Seven Principles in Public Life' and made them mandatory, to apply to everyone (MP, Councillor, Clerk, Committee) at every level of the democratic process. These principles are: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.


Officialdom Links
Penistone Mug from Hallmark Card ShopFirst the local stuff:

General:

Planning Resources:

Openness and Transparency:


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