Parishes face calls for more openness amid legal-fees row

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The move, called a ‘requête’, will force another parish assembly, where it is also expected that members will vote on whether to stop any further funds being allocated to Mr Taylor to use in his case.

And a States Deputy has said that greater transparency of parish accounts is required as too often decisions are made by a handful of people attending a meeting.

Earlier this week, the JEP revealed that 13 people who attended a rates assembly voted to approve the designation of over £7,000 of St John ratepayers’ money to cover the cost of Mr Taylor’s legal fees. Mr Taylor is due to stand trial in the Magistrate’s Court next month on a charge of dangerous driving. The Constable had said that the parish should pay the legal fee as he had been carrying out his official duties at the time of the alleged offence and that the parish would be able to reclaim the money on insurance.

However, the move prompted a backlash among parishioners and, after concerns were allegedly raised with the Attorney General Mark Temple and Solicitor General Matthew Jowitt, Mr Taylor refunded the parish.

Deputy Mike Higgins is now calling for greater transparency of parish accounts.

Speaking this week, he said: ‘Although we all like the idea of local democracy and parishioners voting on things and getting things through, I have been concerned for quite some time.

‘I agree with the idea of local democracy and local people voting and making decisions on things but if the vast majority of people do not attend those assemblies then a small number of people, in some cases, can get items through parish assemblies with very little scrutiny.’

He added: ‘Perhaps this case has shown that there needs to be more transparency in the information that is given to ratepayers. If it had not have been picked up by the rector, who would have picked this up?’

However, some have spoken in favour of the current system including Deputy Kirsten Morel, who says that it should provide an adequate level of scrutiny, in principal.

‘I can see why people would be concerned about the level of scrutiny of parishes and the decisions made by parishes – but that is only when not enough people get involved,’ he said.

‘The thing with the parish system is that there was a vote [to fund Mr Taylor’s legal expenses] and anyone could have gone and voted and it makes the case that we need people to get involved in the parishes.

‘Theoretically, there should be more than enough scrutiny but, in practice, is there? When you only have 15 people turning up to a parish meeting is that enough scrutiny?’

Deputy Morel added that he did not want the government to begin overseeing parish accounts and it was now up to Constables to make parish affairs more engaging.

‘It is interesting talking through St Lawrence’s accounts – roughly a third of its entire expenditure is on waste collection and another third is on wages and salaries,’ he said.

‘What we need is a way of providing financing to the parishes so they can undertake projects on their own accord – parishes could be delivering affordable housing, if they are given the right incentive to do so and the right incentive to find sites.

‘That would therefore enable the parish to have a larger budget and with that build better community centres and facilities. If you make the parishes more interesting you will find that more people get involved. Waste collection is not that interesting.’

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