Agenda and minutes

Standards
Thursday 3rd December 2020 6.00 pm

Venue: Blue & Pink - Blue & Pink. View directions

Contact: Jane Fulton 

Items
No. Item

352.

Welcome

Minutes:

The Chairman welcomed Members, Independent Persons of the Committee and Officers to what was the second virtual meeting of the Standards Committee.

 

Having explained, the virtual meeting procedure rules in place, the following introductions were made by the Committee Services Manager:

 

Mr N Bennett – Previous Acting Monitoring Officer

Mr S Agutu – Interim Monitoring Officer

Mr P Hoey – Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd

 

 

353.

Apologies for Absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence had been received from Councillors Edwards (Chairman), Blanchard-Cooper, and Coster.

 

354.

Declarations of Interest

Members and Officers are invited to make any declarations of pecuniary, personal and/or prejudicial interests that they may have in relation to items on this agenda, and are reminded that they should re-declare their interest before consideration of the item or as soon as the interest becomes apparent.

 

Members and Officers should make their declaration by stating:

 

a)            the item that they the interest in

b)            whether it is a pecuniary, personal and/or prejudicial interest

c)            the nature of the interest

 

Minutes:

            There were no Declarations of Interest made.

355.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 123 KB

To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 24 September 2020, which are attached.

Minutes:

The Minutes of the meeting held on 24 September 2020 were approved by the Committee as a correct record and would be signed by the Chairman as soon as possible following the Council’s resumption of normal working.

 

 

 

356.

Local Government Association - Model Member Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 154 KB

This report updates the Committee on progress with the Local Government Association (LGA) Draft Model Code of Conduct.

 

 

Minutes:

Mr Hoey explained his connection with the Council in terms of being responsible for managing Code of Conduct complaints and his work being commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) to draw up a new Model Code of Conduct. 

 

The Committee was advised by Mr Hoey that further work had progressed on the LGA’s Model Code and that a final submission had been presented to the LGA Board earlier in the day meaning that a final Code would be published imminently.

 

Mr Hoey suggested that the Code, when published, be presented to the Committee at its next meeting in February 2021 so that the Committee could consider whether to recommend it onto Full Council for adoption in March 2021.

 

            Following some discussion,

 

The Committee

 

                                    RESOLVED - That

 

1)            To note progress with the Draft Model Code; and

2)            Instruct the Monitoring Officer to bring a further report to the Standards Committee once the final version of the Model Code is published.

 

357.

Standards Recommendations pending New Model Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 199 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee was advised that the Council had received a request from the Local Government Association (LGA) to advise on its progress against the 15 recommendations that emerged from the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s (CSPL) recent review of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards.  It was recognised that some of these recommendations would need some legislative changes, which the CSPL were working on.

 

            The majority of the 15 recommendations of best practice were mostly being complied with, and some were awaiting issue of new Model Code  or needed the Committee to decide whether current reporting arrangements were sufficient at this Council.  Mr Hoey advised the Committee that most of the recommendations would be incorporated into the anticipated Model Code of Conduct.

 

            In discussing the 15 recommendations, some points of clarification were raised with regard to Recommendations 1 and 15.  In relation to Recommendation 1, it was felt that a clear definition of bullying and harassment was required otherwise this could be confused with vigorous debate.  Mr Bennett reminded Members of information recently issued to all Councillors following behaviour at recent Full Council meetings and stated that he understood that there would be further defining of the terms.  Mr Hoey explained that consideration had been given to the length and detail of a Model Code, looking at other examples across the country.  In considering this, the decision was to keep to a shorter version to make it easier to manage and using the ACAS definition of ‘bullying’.  The LGA was looking to provide some supporting guidance to be issued alongside of the Code which would provide further detail – this was anticipated to be released in March 2021.

 

            Clarification was sought on the Council’s process and the reporting of concerns about conduct as suggested at Recommendation 15 regarding senior officers discussing complaints with Group Leaders.  Mr Bennett advised that his understanding, from a discussion with the Chief Executive, was that there would be some reporting mechanism in place in the future.

 

            Returning to the concerns raised with regard to the definition of bullying at Recommendation 1, as this was recognised as an issue currently present within the Council, there was concern expressed that, potentially, there could be a large time delay between the Model Code being published and subsequently being adopted.  Mr Bennett responded that there was commonly gaps between publication and adoption, and also decisions had to feed into agreed calendars of meetings.  This, however, would not prevent continued oversight of complaints.  The Committee Services Manager provided reassurance to Members by confirming that the Minutes and any recommendations from 18 February meeting of the Committee would be presented to the Full Council meeting on 17 March 2021 and so would be addressed quickly.

 

 

 

            Returning to the concerns raised in relation to Recommendation 15, Mr Agutu commented that the Council already had a strong mechanism in place reporting concerns via its Standards Committee, attended by Senior Officers and Independent Persons, and so did not see the need for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 357.

358.

Review of Local Assessment Procedure pdf icon PDF 192 KB

A review has been requested of the Local Assessment Procedure for complaints against Councillors under the Code of Conduct.  This report seeks the Committee’s views on the proposed changes and next steps for the review.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

At its meeting held on 24 September 2020, the Committee asked Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd to return to this meeting with a review of the Local Assessment Procedure to enable the Committee to fully consider any recommendations for amendments, following the identification of some anomalies within the existing Procedure.

 

Mr Hoey explained that the Council’s existing Procedure was broadly in line with that of other local authorities, but that the work of Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd was to improve the process and address any legal compliance.

 

Mr Hoey was asked to address the recommendations in his report, for the benefit of the Committee.  Most recommendations related to best practice, but some were necessary to bring the Procedure in line with current legislation.

 

In discussing the recommendations (a) to (l) set out in the appendix to the report, a steer was required from the Committee in relation to the following recommendations as set out below:

 

(h) That the Committee consider whether political proportionality should apply to a Hearings Panel; and

(k) That the Committee consider whether it wishes to retain an appeals mechanism on a Panel’s decision

 

Most Members of the Committee agreed that the right for Panels to have political proportionality should be waived. It was explained further by Mr Hoey that, by law, Committees were required to adhere to political proportionality, but if the Committee wished to abandon this requirement for a Hearings Panel, it should be formally written into the process.  Mr Hoey also added that Independent Persons were legally forbidden to cast votes and take part in decisions, only to offer independence advice, therefore should not be included in a Panel’s private deliberations when deciding on the outcome of a complaint Hearing.  This was accepted.

 

Turning debate to Recommendation (K), the majority of Councillors agreed that the Local Assessment Procedure should not retain an appeals mechanism on Panel’s decisions and that this, if approved, by the Committee should be written into the revised procedures to be considered at the Committee’s next meeting.

 

The Chairman confirmed that he wished to take a separate vote on each of the Recommendations (h) and (k) – which were:

 

For Recommendation (h) that political balance be waived for Hearings Panels.  On this being put to the vote it was declared CARRIED.

 

For Recommendation (k) that an appeals mechanism be removed from the Procedure.  On this being put to the vote it was declared CARRIED.

 

 

Having had both recommendations approved, it was explained that these would be implemented into a new Arun Local Assessment Procedure for new complaints coming forward and still needed to be approved when the whole procedure would be presented to the next meeting of the Committee.

 

The Chairman then returned to the substantive recommendations and the Committee

 

            RESOLVED – That

 

(1)          The proposed amendments to the Local Assessment Procedure, as reported by Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd and as amended at the meeting in respect of Recommendations (h) and (k) be approved; and

 

(2)          Hoey Ainscough Associates be instructed to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 358.

359.

Social Media Guidance for Councillors pdf icon PDF 203 KB

This report seeks further views of the Standards Committee relating to a new Social Media Guidance document for Councillors.  It is open to Standards Committee to recommend that Cabinet endorse the Guidance in whole, or with amendments.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

A draft Guidance document had been considered at the last meeting of the Committee on 24 September 2020 and recommendations to adopt a revised Social Media Guidance for Councillors had been made to Cabinet on 19 October 2020, replacing the previous version endorsed by Cabinet on 31 May 2016. 

 

Although Cabinet had broadly supported the guidance, non-Cabinet Councillors raised some concerns about the content of the document.  Cabinet then resolved to refer the Guidance back to this meeting of the Standards Committee for further discussion.

 

Mr Hoey referred to the list of “do’s and don’ts” in the draft Guidance document, which had been lifted from the existing Guidance document.  This was the element that had been mostly challenged at Cabinet.  It was the view of some Councillors that this may lead to debate being disadvantaged and would prefer not to have this entire list included in the document.

 

Committee questioned the item relating to criticism of Councillors and Officers.  Mr Hoey referred to a definition supported by the LGA, as follows “Do not misquote, misrepresent or make personal criticisms of Councillors and Officers” which could be incorporated into the Guidance, which was then broadly supported by the Committee. 

 

With regard to the ‘do not’ point regarding securing a benefit, Mr Hoey suggested replicating the words used in the Code of Conduct so that this line would now read “do not try to secure an improper benefit for yourself or disadvantage others improperly”.  

 

Further discussion took place as to whether another ‘Do Not’ item should be added to cover ‘matters that had not been concluded at meetings, in view of the current situation with the recent Full Council meeting having taken place over three separate dates and as it had still not concluded all of its business. Comments were then made regarding inflammatory comments and concerns expressed that this could be subjective.  Mr Hoey emphasised that this document was only guidance and had no legal weight. 

 

Following further debate, the Committee agreed to have the wording altered to the penultimate Do Not item to read as follows “do not try to secure an improper benefit for yourself or disadvantage others improperly”. 

 

The Committee then, as it was content with all other parts of the guidance,

 

            RECOMMEND TO CABINET – that

 

1)            The new Social Media Guidance for Councillors, as amended at the meeting, be endorsed, replacing the previous version endorsed by Cabinet on 31 May 2016; and

 

2)         To authorise the Acting Monitoring Officer to make any consequential changes arising from the adoption of a new Members Code of Conduct.

 

360.

Register of Complaints pdf icon PDF 117 KB

This report updates the Committee on the complaints against Councillors received since the last report.  The Committee is responsible for maintaining high standards of conduct by Members of the District and Town & Parish Councils, for monitoring operation of the Code of Conduct, and for considering the outcome of investigations in the event of breaches of the Code.

 

Minutes:

In presenting this report, the Committee were advised of any updates on Code of Conduct complaints received or completed since the last meeting.

 

            The Committee then

 

RESOLVED

 

That the Register of Complaints against Councillors and progress of any outstanding complaints be noted.

 

361.

Exempt Information

The Committee is asked to consider passing the following resolution:-

                                                                                                                                                                         That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and accredited representatives of newspapers be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it may involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Part 1 and Part 5 of Schedule 12A of the Act by virtue of the paragraph specified against the item.

 

Minutes:

The Committee

 

RESOLVED

 

That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and accredited representatives of newspapers be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it may involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act by virtue of the paragraph specified against the item.

 

362.

Register of Assessments of Complaints Against Councillors [Exempt - Paragraph 1 - Information Relating to any Individual]

The Committee is asked to consider the attached further report and Appendix to Item 9.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillors English and Bower declared Personal Interests at the commencement of this item due to them both being complainants involved in complaint cases.

 

            Councillor English briefed the Committee on his experience with a request for a review of an Assessment Panel decision.  Having made his statement, Councillor English then left the meeting for the remainder of this item and did not take part in any debate or vote on this item. Councillor Bower then left the meeting having declared his interest in this item.

 

Mr Bennett presented this report and also provided verbal updates on a number of the cases included in the register.

 

            Following a brief discussion, the Committee

 

RESOLVED

 

That the Register of Complaints against Councillors be noted