Clerks/RFOs of town and parish councils in England are reminded that Sections 1 and 2 of the Annual Governance and Accountability Return (‘AGAR’), and the Certificate of Exemption from external audit (if applicable), must be considered and approved at a duly convened Full Council meeting. ‘Approval’ by phone or email or WhatsApp or by a committee or working group is not lawful. At present a Full Council meeting must be held virtually in accordance with the Regulations (with the public being given the opportunity to observe and perhaps to participate). The business of a virtual Full Council meeting can be restricted to the absolute formal minimum; many councils have already established informal ways of discussing matters that do not require a formal decision by the council.
If the council fails to approve the AGAR (and Certificate of Exemption, if applicable) at a duly convened Full Council meeting then there is a risk that the external auditors will charge the council for sending a ‘chasing’ letter and also that they will issue a public interest report for failure to comply with the legislation. Members should be aware of this. There is also a quite separate risk that members will lose their seats if they fail to attend a duly convened meeting for a period of six months (most members probably last attended a meeting in March).
The government acknowledged the challenges in meeting the audit deadlines this year and so agreed a revised deadline of 31 August 2020. As at the end of July, only 50% of local councils had submitted and 25% of parish meetings.