This policy sets out a protocol which governs member (councillor) / officer relations..
The policy is overseen by the Full Council and was last updated in January 2023.
1.1 The purpose of this protocol is to guide members (councillors) and officers of the council in their relationships with one another. The intention of this protocol is to build and maintain good working relationships between members and officers as they work together. A strong, constructive, and trusting relationship between councillors and officers is essential to the effective and efficient working of the council.
1.2 The protocol reflects the principles underlying the Code of Conduct which applies to councillors and the employment terms and conditions of officers. The shared objective is to enhance and maintain (real and perceived) integrity in local government.
1.3 This protocol covers
- The respective roles and responsibilities of the member and the officer;
- Relationships between councillors and officers;
- Where/who a member or an officer should go to if they have concerns;
- Who is responsible for making decisions.
The aim is effective and professional working relationships characterised by mutual trust, respect and courtesy. Overly close personal familiarity between members and officers is not recommended as it has the potential to damage this relationship.
1.4 This protocol will be reviewed quadrennially by Full Council.
ROLES OF MEMBERS AND OFFICERS
The appendix contains role descriptions for different member positions.
2.1 Members have four main areas of responsibility:
- To determine council policy and provide community leadership
- To monitor and review council performance in implementing policies and delivering services
- To represent the council externally
- To act as advocates for their residents
2.2 All members have the same rights and obligations in their relationship with the officer, regardless of their status and should be treated equally.
2.3 Members should not involve themselves in the day to day running of the council. This is the officer’s responsibility in accordance with their job description and under the oversight of the relevant committee.
2.4 In line with the Code of Conduct, a member must treat others with respect, must not bully or harass people and must not do anything which compromises, or is likely to compromise, the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the council.
2.5 Officers can expect members:
- to give strategic leadership and direction and to seek to further their agreed policies and objectives with the understanding that members have the right to take the final decision on issues based on advice
- to act within the policies, practices, processes and conventions established by the council
- to work constructively in partnership with officers acknowledging their separate and distinct roles and responsibilities
- to understand and support the respective roles and responsibilities of officers and their associated workloads, pressures and reporting lines
- to treat them fairly and with respect, dignity and courtesy
- to act with integrity, to give support and to respect appropriate confidentiality
- to endeavour to give timely responses to enquiries from officers
- to recognise that officers do not work under the instruction of individual councillors or groups
- not to subject them to bullying, intimidation, harassment, or put them under undue pressure
- to treat all officers, partners (those external people with whom the council works) and members of the public equally, and not discriminate based on any characteristic such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation.
- not to request officers to exercise discretion which involves acting outside the council’s policies and procedures
- not to authorise, initiate, or certify any financial transactions or to enter into any contract, agreement or undertaking on behalf of the council or in their role as a councillor without proper and lawful authority
- not to use their position or relationship with officers to advance their personal interest or those of others or to influence decisions improperly
- to comply at all times with the Code of Conduct, the law, and such other policies, procedures, protocols and conventions agreed by the council
- respect the impartiality of officers and do not undermine their role in carrying out their duties
- not to ask officers to undertake work, or act in a way, which seeks to support or benefit a particular political party or gives rise to an officer being criticised for operating in a party-political manner
- not to ask officers to exceed their authority where that authority is given
2.6 The primary role of officers is to advise, inform and support all members and to implement the agreed policies of the council
2.7 Officers are responsible for day-to-day managerial and operational decisions within the council, including directing and overseeing the work of any more junior officers. Members should avoid inappropriate involvement in such matters.
2.8 In performing their role officers will act professionally, impartially and with neutrality. Whilst officers will respect a member’s view on an issue, the officer should not be influenced or pressured to make comments, or recommendations which are contrary to their professional judgement or views.
2.9 Officers must:
- act with honesty, respect, dignity and courtesy at all times
- implement the lawful decisions of the council and its committees which have been properly approved in accordance with the requirements of the law and are duly recorded. This includes respecting the decisions made, regardless of any different advice given to the council or whether the decision differs from the officer’s view.
- work in partnership with members in an impartial and professional manner
- treat members fairly and with respect, dignity and courtesy
- treat all members, partners and members of the public equally, and not discriminate based on any characteristic such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation
- assist and advise all parts of the council. Officers must always act to the best of their abilities in the best interests of the authority as expressed in the council’s formal decisions
- respond to enquiries and complaints in a timely manner. However, officers should not have unreasonable requests placed on them. Their work priorities are set and managed by the Town Clerk. Members should avoid disrupting officers’ work by imposing their own priorities.
- be alert to issues which are, or are likely to be, contentious or politically sensitive, and be aware of the implications for members, the media or other sections of the public.
- provide support and learning and development opportunities for members to help them in performing their various roles in line with the council’s training and development policy
- not seek to use their relationship with members to advance their personal interests or to influence decisions improperly
- to act within the policies, practices, processes and conventions established by the council
2.10 Officers have the right not to support members in any role other than that of councillor, and not to engage in actions incompatible with this protocol.
2.11 The Town Clerk has the right to present reports and give advice to committees and subcommittees.
2.12 In giving advice to members, and in preparing and presenting reports, it is the responsibility of the officer to express their own professional views and recommendations. An officer may report the views of individual members on an issue, but the recommendation should be the officer’s own. If a member wishes to express a contrary view they should not pressurise the officer to make a recommendation contrary to the officer’s professional view, nor victimise an officer for discharging their responsibilities.
2.13 At some meetings, a resolution may be passed which authorises a named officer to take action between meetings in consultation with the chairman/named members. In these circumstances it is the officer, not the member(s), who takes the action and is responsible for it. A member has no legal power to take decisions on behalf of a council nor should they apply inappropriate pressure on the officer.
2.14 Officers will not attend meetings or contribute to the discussions of party groups but can provide factual information or professional advice to members which inform their discussion at such meetings.
3.1 Members and officers are indispensable to one another. However, their responsibilities are distinct. members are accountable to the public, whereas officers are accountable to the council as a whole.
3.2 At the heart of this protocol is the importance of mutual respect and also of civility. member/officer relationships are to be conducted in a positive and constructive way. Therefore, it is important that any dealings between members and officers should observe standards of courtesy and that neither party should seek to take unfair advantage of their position nor seek to exert undue influence on the other party.
3.3 Individual members should not actively seek to undermine majority decisions of the corporate body, as this could then bring them into conflict with officers who have been charged with promoting and implementing the council’s collectively determined course of action.
3.4 Members should not raise matters relating to the conduct or capability of an officer, or of officers collectively, in a manner that is incompatible with this protocol at meetings held in public or on social media. This is a long-standing tradition in public service. An officer has no means of responding to criticisms like this in public.
3.5 Neither should an officer raise with a member matters relating to the conduct or capability of another member or officer or to the internal management of the council in a manner that is incompatible with the objectives of this protocol.
3.6 Close personal relationships between members and officers can confuse their separate roles and get in the way of the proper conduct of council business, not least by creating a perception in others that a particular councillor or officer is getting preferential treatment. Special relationships with particular individuals are not recommended as it can create suspicion that an employee favours that member above others.
3.7 The Town Clerk is the head of paid services and has a line-management responsibility to all other staff. Communications should be made directly with the Town Clerk, unless it is agreed by the Town Clerk that such communications may take place directly with other officers over a particular matter. Members should not give instructions directly to the Town Clerk’s staff without the express approval of the Town Clerk. The Planning and Facilities Officer deputises for the Town Clerk in their absence.
MEMBERS’ ACCESS TO INFORMATION
4.1 Members are free to approach officers to provide them with such information, explanation and advice as they may reasonably need in order to assist them in discharging their role as members of the council. This can range from a request for general information about some aspect of the council’s activities to a request for specific information on behalf of a constituent. Such approaches should normally be directed to the Town Clerk.
4.2 The legal rights of members to inspect council documents are covered partly by statute and partly by the common law. The common law right of members is based on the principle that any member has a prima facie right to inspect council documents so far as their access to the documents is reasonably necessary to enable the member properly to perform their duties as a member of the council. This principle is commonly referred to as the “need to know” principle.
4.3 The exercise of this common law right depends therefore upon the member’s ability to demonstrate that they have the necessary “need to know”. In this respect a member has no right to “a roving commission” to go and examine documents of the council. Mere curiosity is not sufficient. The crucial question is the determination of the “need to know”. This question must be determined by the officer.
4.4 In some circumstances (e.g. a committee member wishing to inspect documents relating to the functions of that committee) a member’s “need to know” will normally be presumed. In other circumstances (e.g. a member wishing to inspect documents which contain personal information about third parties) a member will normally be expected to justify the request in specific terms. Any council information provided to a member must only be used by the member for the purpose for which it was provided i.e. in connection with the proper performance of the member’s duties as a member of the council.
4.5 For completeness, members have the same right as any other member of the public to make requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
5.1 Correspondence between an individual member and an officer should not be copied to another member by an officer. Where correspondence is copied, this should always be made explicit, i.e. there should be no “blind” copies.
5.2 Official letters or emails on behalf of the council should normally be sent out under the name of the relevant officer, rather than under the name of a member.
5.3 Letters or emails which (for example) create obligations or give instructions on behalf of the council should never be sent out in the name of a member.
5.4 Correspondence to individual members from officers should not be sent or copied to complainants or other third parties if they are marked “confidential”. In doing so, the relevant officer should seek to make clear what is to be treated as being shared with the member in confidence only and why that is so.
See also the council’s Communication and Community Engagement Policy.
6.1 An officer may respond to press enquiries but should confine any comments to the facts of the subject matter and the professional aspects of the function concerned. Officers must not expressly or impliedly make any political opinion, comment or statement.
6.2 Council Press releases will only be issued under the direction of the Town Clerk.
6.3 The chair (or chair of a committee) may act as spokespersons for the council in responding to the press and media and making public statements on behalf of the council but should liaise with the officer on all forms of contact with the press and media. The council may also appoint individual councillors as spokespeople where there is an area of particular expertise but this should only be done with the agreement of the council.
6.4 For more detailed information and guidance regarding the role of councillors in connection with the use of social media, reference should be made to the council’s Social Media Protocol where there is one in place.
INTERPRETATION, COMPLAINTS AND ALLEGATIONS OF BREACHES
7.1 Members or officers with questions about the implementation or interpretation of any part of this protocol should seek guidance of the Town Clerk.
7.2 From time to time the relationship between members and the officer (or other employees) may break down or become strained. It is always preferable to resolve matters informally.
7.3 A member who is unhappy about the actions or conduct an officer should:
- avoid personal attacks on, or abuse of, the officer at all times
- ensure that any criticism is well founded and constructive
- ensure that any criticism is made in private
- take up the concern with the appropriate line manager, the Town Clerk or the Town Mayor
7.4 An officer who is unhappy with the actions or conduct of a member should raise this with their line manager and the Town Clerk who will seek to resolve it informally. Where it is not possible/appropriate to be dealt with informally, it may be raised formally as a grievance or Code of Conduct complaint.
APPENDIX: MEMBER ROLE DESCRIPTIONS
These role descriptions are designed to provide clarity for members and officers as to the expectation for the different roles members fulfil.
THE COUNCILLOR (MEMBER)
The primary role of a member (councillor) is to represent their ward and the residents living within it whilst acting in the interests of the whole of Knutsford. Members should know their wards and strive to be aware of the issues affecting their residents.
Members are expected to be contactable by their residents, responding to their queries, investigating their concerns and representing their views at council meetings.
Where issues are raised with a member about a matter which does not relate to their ward, they should refer it to the councillors for the relevant ward. Where the matter is about a Cheshire East Council issue, members should cc’ Cheshire East Ward Councillors into communications with the borough council.
Members have a responsibility to help develop and inform the council’s policies and priorities and, through the council’s committees, to monitor the implementation of the council’s strategy and the performance of its activities.
Members are expected to attend meetings of Full Council and serve on two/three committees. They should read the agenda and supporting papers for meetings in advance, undertaking appropriate research to enable them to debate issues and make decisions at the meeting.
Members should make time regularly (at least twice per week) to check their council email and respond to any correspondence from the public, officers and other members.
Members should read the weekly briefing email from the Town Clerk and any other information they are sent that is relevant to their role.
Some members will be appointed to serve on external bodies (such as Friends of the Moor). This is to provide a link between the organisations and reporting to Full Council on the work of the group and assisting the group as appropriate.
Members should be prepared to represent the council with external bodies, such as Cheshire East Council or community organisations.
Members may need to meet with officers to further casework or supporting council business and should expect some of these meetings to be within the working day.
Members should undertake training to better understand the role of a councillor and the local council sector
THE TOWN MAYOR
See also the council’s Civic Protocol which contains more detailed guidance for the Town Mayor.
The role of the Town Mayor spans four main areas:
The Town Mayor is the first citizen of Knutsford and should expect to attend around 150 engagements each year. These will include opening new businesses, presenting awards and certificates, attending church services and even helping serve lunch with the Knutsford Lions on Christmas day.
The Town Mayor will lead civic events such as Remembrance Sunday and host a Civic Service.
The Town Mayor will also be the civic figurehead for the town and be expected to demonstrate leadership for the community when issues arise.
Chairman of the Council
As chairman of the council, the Town Mayor will preside over meetings of full council and the Town Meeting. The Town Mayor should meet regularly with the Town Clerk to discuss council business, maintaining an oversight of the council’s activity and working with the Town Clerk to ensure the council operates effectively and legally.
The Town Mayor will also maintain oversight of the behaviour of other members, reminding them of their obligations under council policy and the code of conduct with a view to preventing issues disrupting the effective operation of the council.
The Town Mayor is also the administrative line manager of the Town Clerk; this involves ensuring that the council’s employment obligations for the Town Clerk are met such as providing appraisals, (if necessary) triggering relevant processes through the Personnel Committee/appropriate sub-committee and monitoring their general welfare.
The Town Mayor will usually select local good causes/charities to support in their term of office and, with the support of the Civic Events Officer, host a number of fundraising activities throughout the year to raise funds.
The Town Mayor will represent Knutsford outside the town, at events or engagements where a representative of the Town is required.
THE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
The role of committee chairman is an important responsibility and signifies the trust of fellow councillors. A chairman should have undertaken chairmanship training or should undertake it within three months of assuming a chairmanship.
Except to convene additional committee meetings, the chairman has no additional powers to those of other members, their principal responsibilities are to:
- ensure the effective running of committee meetings
- ensure the effective committee oversight of the services under the committee’s remit
- report on the activity of the committee to meetings of Full Council as necessary
- present/report on the draft budget of the committee at the Finance Committee budget meeting
A committee chairman should be well briefed on the matters/services under the remit of their committee. The chairman will be consulted on the agenda for each meeting.
With the purpose of holding meetings being for the committee to make decisions, the role of the chairman is to facilitate effective decision making. They do this by:
- Ensuring all members have opportunity to input into the debate on topics
- Ensuring debate remains civil and relevant to the matter being discussed
- Ensuring officers have opportunity to present advice and provide guidance
When chairing a meeting, the chairman should:
- be fully briefed on the items under discussion at a meeting and have taken the time to fully prepare for the meeting. Officers will provide any guidance/support needed
- monitor behaviour and interject when members may be overstepping the line between heated discourse and discourtesy
- reinforce the requirement for members to address you when speaking at meetings. If a member is speaking to another member, direct them to speak through the chair.
- require members to raise their hand to obtain your permission to speak. If someone speaks when they have not been invited to do so (e.g. cutting across another member, making comments to other members or muttering) interject and direct them to fall silent.
- require members to use their rights to raise a point of order/information/explanation if they wish to interrupt. A member is entitled to be heard immediately on a point of order/personal explanation but it is at their discretion if they allow a point of information.
THE PERSONNEL COMMITTEE MEMBER
The Town Council as a body corporate is the employer of a team of staff who work to manage the operations of the council. The council appoints a committee to oversee the council’s staffing policy.
The Personnel Committee does not manage any staff and does not direct the work of staff. Its responsibility is to ensure the council is appropriately staffed, determine employment policy and support the Town Clerk in the management of staff.
Through the Personnel Committee, committee members will maintain oversight of the council’s staffing and hold the Town Clerk, as head of paid service, to account for ensuring the council’s staff are properly managed.
The Personnel Committee cannot circumvent line management, any concerns a member has about an employee should be raised with the Town Clerk or the appropriate line manager and members should refer staff to relevant policy for any concerns they have.
Personnel Committee members must undertake training to understand their role and the responsibilities of the council as an employer.
Personnel Committee members are expected to be more engaged with the council’s staffing than other members. To do this they should:
- Welcome new staff to the council (by email, telephone or visiting the office)
- Take informal opportunities to meet and speak with staff to understand the council’s staffing
- Ensure they understand the different roles and responsibilities of council staff
Some Personnel Committee members will serve on recruitment panels or on sub-committees which deal with disciplinary and grievance hearings or appeals.