Fringe Box



You Will Still Be Invited to Civic Events – Council Tells Honorary Freemen and Aldermen

Published on: 10 Oct, 2012
Updated on: 13 Oct, 2012

Honorary Alderman in procession in their red gowns, earlier this year – Photo Mary Ellen Foley

Guildford Borough Council have been at pains this week to quash rumours that Honorary Freemen and Aldermen of the Borough would no longer be invited to civic functions such as the Mayor Making, held in May, and the Service for the Judiciary, due to take place on Friday (October 12th).

Concerns had culminated in a letter from the universally respected Freeman of the Borough, Bill Bellerby, who wrote on Sunday to express his concern: “As we are no longer [considered to be] members of the council we are not now able to participate in civic events… It is rather sad. As Honorary Freeman we have always considered it our duty to attend.”

Bill and Doreen Bellerby lead the small group of three Honorary Freemen of the Borough dressed in black robes with blue borders – Photo Mary Ellen Foley

But in a response from a council officer, it was stated that there had been a misunderstanding: “I am writing to confirm that there is absolutely no intention at all to exclude Honorary Freemen or Honorary Aldermen from attending either Council meetings or civic events or ceremonies. We shall, of course, be very pleased to see you all at any of our meetings or civic events in the future.

“A misunderstanding has occurred following a decision taken by the then Interim Head of Legal and Democratic Services back in May 2012 to no longer record in the minutes the attendance of Honorary Freemen and Honorary Aldermen at Council meetings or any apologies for absence submitted by them on the basis that Honorary Freemen and Honorary Aldermen have no legal status in local government meetings.  We should have, as a matter of courtesy, informed you of this decision and I apologise for this oversight.”

A spokesperson commented further today: “Historically, we have noted in the Council minutes their [the Freemen and Aldermen’s] attendance or apologies at Council meetings, but as there is no legal requirement to do so we stopped doing this around five months ago.  Honorary Freemen and Honorary Aldermen continue to be welcome at all Council meetings, and will continue to be personally invited to civic events.”

Some have suspected that the change has been triggered by annoyance in some quarters with Honorary Aldermen speaking out on current issues at Guildford Borough Council. In the past, the custom has been for ex-councillors given the honorary title of Alderman to no longer engage in public debate but there is no rule to prevent them doing so. In fact, one Alderman and former Mayor, Angela Gunning, decided to stand again as a councillor, which she now is for Stoke Ward.

The council’s explanation has not satisfied everyone.  Hon. Aldermen Bernard Parke said: “This [recording the attendance of Honorary Freemen and Honorary Aldermen in council meeting minutes] has been the practice for over forty years. Why change now ? To not give notice of this action is unforgivable. It has upset two of our most venerated citizens … who have given their whole life work to the people of Guildford. Is this such a great thing to just record attendances?”

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