Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Thursday, 28th March, 2013 7.30 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping

Contact: G Lunnun (The Office of the Chief Executive)  Tel: 01992 564244 Email:  glunnun@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

31.

Substitute Members

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To report the attendance of any substitute members for the meeting.

Minutes:

There were no substitute members present at the meeting.

32.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 44 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 13 December 2012 (attached).

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

 

            That the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 13 December 2012 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

33.

Declarations of Interest

To declare interests in any item on the agenda.

Minutes:

No declarations of interest were made pursuant to the Council’s Code of Conduct for Members.

34.

Town and Parish Council Representation

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To receive an oral report on the position concerning the nomination by the six Parish/Town Councils which have chosen to join this Committee of three non-voting representatives to serve on this Committee.

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that the six Town/Parish Councils which had chosen to join this Committee had found it difficult to reach agreement on the nomination of three non-voting representatives to represent them on the Committee for the remainder of the current municipal year.  He advised that whilst two of the Parish Councils had reached agreement on one nomination, three of the Parish Councils had each nominated one of their own members and a reply had still not been received from the sixth Parish Council.  As a result there were currently four nominations for the three places.

 

The Committee considered whether to increase the number of Town/Parish Council representatives on the Committee but determined, having regard to the number of District Councillors and Independent Persons already on the Committee, that there should be only three Town/Parish Council representatives.  Members acknowledged that in the event of other Town/Parish Councils affiliating to the Committee in the future, the representation from local councils would need to be reviewed. Members also acknowledged that as meetings of the Committee were open to the public, members of Town/Parish Councils other than the three nominated members could attend as observers.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That the two Parish Councils which have nominated one councillor to represent them on the Committee be thanked for their co-operation;

 

            (2)        That the Monitoring Officer approach again the Clerks of the other four Parish Councils requesting that they reach agreement on the two further nominations required with no more than one member nominated from any one authority; and

 

            (3)        That pending agreement on the three nominations the Town/Parish Councils remain unrepresented on the Committee.

35.

Issues and Options Raised at the Independent Persons' Workshop pdf icon PDF 32 KB

To consider the attached report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee was advised that at its last meeting it had requested the submission of a report to this meeting to facilitate a discussion on the issues and options raised at the Independent Persons’ Workshop attended by Roger Pratt on 15 November 2012.

 

The Committee discussed the main issues which had arisen at the Workshop together with comments thereon of the Monitoring Officer.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            Filtering of Initial Allegations

 

            (1)        That as the Monitoring Officer proposes to consult an Independent Person on all initial allegations, the concerns expressed at the Workshop about a Monitoring Officer having discretion in this matter do not need to be addressed;

 

            Decision Letters

 

            (2)        That the practice adopted by the Monitoring Officer of including a statement within decision letters advising that the views of an Independent Person had been sought but not getting decision letters signed by an Independent Person be continued;

 

            Role Post Filtering

 

            (3)        That the Monitoring Officer be authorised to determine whether to involve an Independent Person in informal resolution or mediation in the event of all parties to a complaint expressing a willingness to resolve an issue in this way;

 

            Multiple Roles or One Per Case

 

            (4)        That the Monitoring Officer continue to select Independent Persons to use on a case by case basis, undertaking different roles, if necessary, eg one supporting the subject member/one supporting the complainant or investigator;

 

            Giving Views

 

            (5)        That the views of Independent Persons on complaints always be expressed in writing to the Monitoring Officer and/or her staff, normally by e-mail, in a note form with no requirement for a detailed report;

 

            (6)        That in giving views to the Monitoring Officer or the Standards Committee or Sub-Committee considering a complaint, Independent Persons be conscious of the need not to risk being seen as putting themselves in place of an investigator or becoming too heavily involved in a case;

 

            (7)        That in relation to Independent Persons giving views to a subject member, contact should only take place where it has been agreed in advance (via the Monitoring Officer) and that any views expressed be made available in writing to all the relevant parties;

 

            (8)        That access to an Independent Person for a complainant be managed by the Monitoring Officer in the same way to that for a subject member;

 

            Maintaining Independence and Ensuring Fairness

 

            (8)        That Independent Persons note the ability to approach the Council’s Chief Executive, Group Leaders or full Council in order to escalate concerns about the way in which a matter is being handled;

 

            (9)        That all media contact be dealt with by Council officers and not Independent Persons;

 

            Promoting and Maintaining High Standards

 

            (10)      That Independent Persons be encouraged to participate fully at meetings of the Standards Committee including items aimed at promoting and maintaining high standards generally, eg reviews of the Code of Conduct, a new planning protocol;

 

            (11)      That Independent Persons wishing to place items on the agenda of a Standards Committee provide details to the Monitoring Officer and/or her staff for  ...  view the full minutes text for item 35.

36.

Town and Parish Councils - Adoption of Codes of Conduct and Complaints Procedures

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) At the last meeting the Committee was advised that replies still awaited from four parish councils about the Codes of Conduct and Complaints Procedures they are required to adopt in accordance with provisions of the Localism Act 2011.

 

Since that meeting, the Clerk of Fyfield Parish Council has advised that the Parish Council has decided to affiliate to the Joint Parish Standards Committee  and has adopted the Public Law Partnership Code of Conduct and Complaints Procedure.

 

An oral report will be made at the meeting on the position of the remaining three parish councils.

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer advised that at the last meeting the Committee had been informed that replies were still awaited from four Parish Councils about the Codes of Conduct and Complaints Procedures which they were required to adopt in accordance with the provisions of the Localism Act 2011.

 

He advised that since the last meeting, the Clerk of Fyfield Parish Council had advised that the Parish Council had decided to affiliate to the Joint Parish Standards Committee and had adopted the Public Law Partnership Code of Conduct and Complaints Procedure.  The Committee noted that replies were still outstanding from the other three Parish Councils.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That a further letter be sent to the Clerks of the three Parish Councils in respect of which replies are awaited emphasising that the Parish Council is in breach of legal requirements by not adopting a Code of Conduct and a Complaints Procedure and is therefore open to challenge; and

 

            (2)        That copies of the letters be sent to the District Council Ward Members for the areas covered by the three Parish Councils together with a request that they also encourage the Parish Councils to comply with the legislation.

37.

Planning Protocol - Site Visits pdf icon PDF 71 KB

To consider the attached report which is due to be discussed at District Development Control Committee meeting on 27 March 2013. The comments of that Committee will be reported orally.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee discussed a report which had been considered by the District Development Control Committee the previous evening.

 

The Committee noted that the report and the draft guidance notes for Councillors and applicants, agents and interested parties had arisen as a result of concerns expressed by some Councillors about the procedures for undertaking planning site visits.

 

Members noted that the draft guidance notes had been adopted by the District Development Control Committee subject to some minor amendments and after consideration by this Committee an item would be placed on each future Planning Committee agenda to reiterate the process for future site visits.  The Committee was informed that the guidance notes would also be sent to Councillors, applicants and objectors (if known) when a site visit was organised.

 

In addition the guidance would be published on the Council’s website.

 

The Committee discussed the planning process generally and, in particular the need for site visits.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That the guidance on undertaking planning site visits as amended by the District Development Control Committee be agreed for inclusion as supplementary information in the Council’s Planning Protocol;

 

            (2)        That, subject to the approval of the Chairman of the District Development Control Committee, Independent Persons be invited to attend a forthcoming site visit in order to gain a better understanding of the process; and

 

            (3)        That when finalised, Independent Persons be sent a copy of the full member training programme for 2013/14 together with an invitation to attend any training courses which they wish and, in particular, courses relating to planning issues.

38.

Joint Parish Standards Committee - Progress Report

There has not been a meeting of the Joint Parish Standards Committee since the inaugural meeting held on 31 October 2012, the minutes of which were reported to the last meeting of the Standards Committee.

 

There has been a meeting of a Panel convened to consider a complaint, further details of which are included in agenda item 10.

Minutes:

The Committee noted that there had not been a meeting of the Joint Parish Standards Committee since the inaugural meeting held on 31 October 2012, the minutes of which had been reported to the last meeting of the Standards Committee.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that there had been a meeting of a Panel convened to consider a complaint and that both he and the Monitoring Officer had been in attendance.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported the receipt of a letter from one of the Parish Councils affiliated to the Joint Parish Standards Committee expressing concern about the arrangements for the recharge of expenses of an investigation authorised by the Monitoring Officer to the local council whose member was the subject of an investigation.  The Committee was advised that the letter appeared to have been sent as a result of a misunderstanding of the agreed arrangements.  The Committee was advised that a reply had been sent to the Parish Council pointing out that only investigations carried out by external investigators in respect of members from Parish Councils that had affiliated to the Joint Standards Committee would be subject to the recovery of costs.  If an investigation was carried out by District Council officers there would be no charge to the Parish Council concerned.  The letter had also drawn attention to the steps taken before a complaint investigation took place.  It had also been pointed out that it was the Joint Standards Committee Constitution which included reference to the recovery of investigation costs.  The Committee noted that a response had not been received from the Parish Council to the Monitoring Officer’s letter.

39.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 29 KB

(Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached schedule showing the current position of active cases.

Minutes:

The Committee received a schedule regarding current allegations made about the conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors.

 

In relation to Case EFDC 8/2012 members were informed that the investigating officer’s final report had been received and the views of Independent Persons would be sought on whether the matter should proceed to a hearing.

 

In relation to Case EFDC 2/2013, following consideration of the views of Independent Persons other action had been agreed.  As a result the relevant Parish Council had been directed to write to all of the residents in the vicinity explaining the position with the wording to be agreed by the Monitoring Officer and an item had been included on the relevant Parish Council agenda.

40.

Dates of Future Meetings

(Monitoring Officer) The Council’s adopted calendar for 2013/14 provides for meetings on 13 June 2013, 12 September 2013, 12 December 2013 and 13 March 2014.

 

Additional meetings can be arranged as and when required by the Committee.

Minutes:

The Committee noted that the Council’s adopted calendar for 2013/14 provided for meetings on 13 June 2013, 12 September 2013, 12 December 2013 and 13 March 2014.

 

The Committee noted that additional meetings could be arranged as and when required.

41.

Exclusion of Public and Press

To consider whether, under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press should be excluded from the meeting for the items of business set out below on grounds that they will involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the paragraph(s) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act indicated:

 

 

Agenda Item No

Subject

Exempt Information Paragraph Number

13

Allegations Made About the conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors – Issues Arising

1

To resolve that the press and public be excluded from the meeting during the consideration of the following items which are confidential under Section 100(A)(2) of the Local Government Act 1972:

 

Agenda Item No

Subject

Nil

Nil

 

Paragraph 9 of the Council Procedure Rules contained in the Constitution require:

 

(1)       All business of the Council requiring to be transacted in the presence of the press and public to be completed by 10.00 p.m. at the latest.

 

(2)       At the time appointed under (1) above, the Chairman shall permit the completion of debate on any item still under consideration, and at his or her discretion, any other remaining business whereupon the Council shall proceed to exclude the public and press.

 

(3)       Any public business remaining to be dealt with shall be deferred until after the completion of the private part of the meeting, including items submitted for report rather than decision.

 

Background Papers:  Paragraph 8 of the Access to Information Procedure Rules of the Constitution define background papers as being documents relating to the subject matter of the report which in the Proper Officer's opinion:

 

(a)       disclose any facts or matters on which the report or an important part of the report is based;  and

 

(b)       have been relied on to a material extent in preparing the report does not include published works or those which disclose exempt or confidential information (as defined in Rule 10) and in respect of executive reports, the advice of any political advisor.

 

Inspection of background papers may be arranged by contacting the officer responsible for the item.

 

Minutes:

The Committee agreed that there were no issues arising from the active cases reported and accordingly it was not necessary to move into private session.