As a new councillor you will receive a copy of your council’s constitution, which sets out how the council conducts its business.
The constitution and meetings
As a new councillor you will receive a copy of your council’s constitution, which sets out how the council conducts its business, including:
- who is responsible for making decisions and how decisions are made
- procedural matters (set out in the ‘standing orders’)
- the role of officers
- standards and ethical governance.
It is important to familiarise yourself with these parts of the constitution, in particular the standing orders. These specify the terms of reference of the council’s various member structures, the rules on declarations of interest, the timings and order of business at council meetings and the rules of debate. At the present time the arrangements for undertaking council meetings have been changed in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. For more information on how to be involved in and chair remote council meetings visit our remote meetings hub as well as our suite of e-learning modules, including the one on chairing remote meetings.
- Agendas and minutes
By law the council’s formal meetings must be held in public, although the public and press can be excluded for discussions on some confidential items (known as ‘Part 2’). Councils must give at least five days’ notice of a meeting and must make the agenda available at least five days before the meeting. The minutes should be published on the council’s website and available on request. The council must also publish its forward plan, showing the key decisions to be made in the next four months.
- Defamation and privilege
Councillors can be sued for defamation if they say or write anything that will ‘lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking people’. However, in council meetings they have a qualified privilege to allow freedom of speech. This can protect you against being sued for something you say as part of your duty as a councillor or to defend or support the interests of the council – but it only applies if you can show that you honestly believed what you said and were not motivated by malice