Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Thursday, 12th September, 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

12.

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.

13.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 36 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 13 June 2013 (attached).

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

 

That the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 13 June 2013 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

14.

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.

15.

Complaints Procedure pdf icon PDF 44 KB

Recommendation:

 

To review the Complaints Procedures adopted in June 2012

 

(Monitoring Officer) The attached complaints procedures developed by the Public Law Partnership were adopted by the District Council in June 2012, subject to review after 12 months.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee gave initial consideration to a review of the Complaints Procedure developed by the Public Law Partnership which had been adopted by the District Council in June 2012, subject to review after 12 months.  The Committee took account of comments (tabled) submitted by Peter Adams, Independent Person, unable to be present at this meeting.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That the suggestions of Peter Adams be incorporated into a revised Complaints Procedure, subject to inclusion about reference to the views of an Independent Person being sought on a final investigation report before the Monitoring Officer determines what action to take but not on a draft investigation report received by the Monitoring Officer;

 

            (2)        That the Monitoring Officer seek views from the following about possible revisions to the Complaints Procedure:

 

            (a)        all District Councillors;

            (b)        Independent Persons;

            (c)        parish councils affiliated to this Committee;

            (d)       the Joint Parish Standards Committee;

            (e)        the public via the Council’s website; and

            (f)         councillors and members of the public who have been directly involved in the process during the past year;

 

            (3)        That the views of the Public Law Partnership be sought on possible revisions to the Complaints Procedure so as to ensure as far as possible continued consistency with other authorities in the Partnership; and

 

            (4)        That the Monitoring Officer submit to the next meeting of this Committee a report on the outcome of the consultation exercise and a proposed revised Complaints Procedure for consideration and recommendation to the District Council for adoption.

16.

Members' Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 81 KB

(Monitoring Officer) Arising from the discussion on the previous item, members are invited to review the existing Code and Conduct.

Minutes:

The Committee gave initial consideration to a review of the Members’ Code of Conduct.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That the Code of Conduct be revised in order to clarify the distinction between, and requirements in relation to, disclosable pecuniary interests, other pecuniary interests and non-pecuniary interests;

 

            (2)        That as part of the Introduction and Interpretation Section of the Code, reference be made to the availability to members of advice from the Monitoring Officer and her staff on possible interests and on the way in which that advice should be sought;

 

            (3)        That the Monitoring Officer seek the views of the following on possible revisions to the Code of Conduct:

 

            (a)        all District Councillors;

            (b)        Independent Persons;

            (c)        parish and town councils in the District which have adopted the Code of Conduct developed by the Public Law Partnership;

            (d)        the public via the Council’s website;

 

            (4)        That the Public Law Partnership be consulted on possible revisions to the Code of Conduct; and

 

            (5)        That the Monitoring Officer submit to the next meeting of this Committee a report on the outcome of the consultation exercise and a proposed revised Members’ Code of Conduct for consideration and recommendation to the District Council for adoption.

17.

Planning Protocol pdf icon PDF 246 KB

(Monitoring Officer) Officers will shortly be undertaking a review of the attached Planning Protocol. The Committee is invited to express initial views for incorporation into a revised draft document which will be submitted to a future meeting.

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer referred to the Local Government Association/Planning Advisory Service document considered at the last meeting as a basis for a new Planning Protocol.  He advised that officers would shortly be undertaking a review of the Council’s current Planning Protocol and invited the Committee to express initial views for incorporation into a revised draft document.

 

The Committee noted that the existing Planning Protocol had been drawn up with the principal aim of protecting members from potential conflicts of interest.  The Deputy Monitoring Officer advised that whilst this aspect still needed to be addressed in the protocol the main aim of the protocol now should be to protect the Council’s planning decisions from challenge.  He also drew attention to the need for the protocol to reflect the requirements of the Localism Act 2011 in relation to predisposition, predetermination or bias.  Attention was drawn to the Council’s recently adopted procedure for site visits which needed to be incorporated into the protocol.

 

The Committee considered the need for the section on Cabinet Members - Conflicts of Interest on Planning Matters to cover the issue of Cabinet members and ward members involved in the identification of sites for the Council’s House Building Programme.  Consideration was also given to the need to cover the position of Portfolio Holder Assistants.

 

The Committee considered the need for a similar protocol in relation to the Council’s Licensing functions.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That the initial views of the Committee be incorporated into a revised Planning Protocol;

 

            (2)        That the Monitoring Officer seek views from the following on possible revisions to the Planning Protocol:

 

            (a)        all District Councillors;

            (b)        Independent Persons;

            (c)        all parish and town councils within the District;

            (d)        the public via the Council’s website;

            (e)        planning agents;

           

            (3)        That the Monitoring Officer submit to the next meeting of the Committee a report on the outcome of the consultation exercise and a proposed revised Planning Protocol for consideration and recommendation to the District Council for adoption; and

 

            (4)        That a report be submitted to a future meeting on a proposed protocol in relation to the Council’s Licensing functions.

18.

Town and Parish Councils - Affiliation to a Standards Committee and Adoption of Codes of Conduct and Complaints Procedures

(Monitoring Officer) An oral update will be given at the meeting on the current position regarding (a) the affiliation of parish/town councils to a Standards Committee and (b) the adoption by parish/town councils of Codes of Conduct and Complaints Procedures required under the provisions of the Localism Act 2011.

 

 

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that there was now only one parish council yet to make decisions regarding (a) affiliation to a Standards Committee and (b) adoption of a Code of Conduct and a Complaints Procedure.  He reported that the Clerk of that parish council had stated that decisions in relation to these matters would be taken at the next meeting of the parish council.

19.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 20 KB

(Monitoring Officer)

 

(a)  To consider the attached schedule showing the current position of active cases; and

 

(b)  To consider the following requests from a Joint Parish Standards Committee Panel hearing:

 

(i) inclusion of the following statement in the EFDC Bulletin, sent to all  Parish Councils in the District, and passed to the Essex Association of Local Councils to be formally disseminated:

 

“Councillors should remember when taking Office as Councillor, they are acting in a public office and publicly representing their parishioners.  As such, they should consider their actions and words, and how they may be perceived by other members of the public before making statements or comments that may be taken out of context or before clear facts are known”.

 

           ( Note: As the District Council Bulletin is not sent to Parish and Town Councils, a letter has been sent to those councils and the issue was reported to the Local Councils’ Liaison Committee);

 

(ii) consideration should be given to including a section in the Code of Conduct suggesting members should be extremely careful about ensuring they are fully briefed on any specific issue / document before making public comment, and if a councillor is unclear he/she should seek clarification before making public comment;

 

(iii) the Panel would like it noted they were concerned regarding the following two issues, and ask that the Monitoring Officer addresses these issues in future:

 

 - there was no formal statement from the Clerk in the documentation regarding these cases, despite the fact that reference was made by the investigating officer that he had spoken with the Clerk.  The Panel feel that a formal statement should  have been made by the Clerk;

 

- none of the statements was signed by the relevant party making the statement.  A signature would enhance the probity of such documents.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

(a)        Schedule Showing the Current Position of Active Cases

 

The Committee received an updated schedule (tabled) regarding allegations made about the conduct of district councillors.

 

The Committee noted that in relation to case reference EFDC 3/2003 the complaint had been considered by the Monitoring Officer and an Independent Person who had agreed that an investigation would not serve a useful purpose.  The Independent Person had requested that the member concerned should meet officers to discuss the matter and such a meeting had now taken place.

 

In relation to case EFDC 4/2013, following assessment and Independent Person consideration “other action” had been implemented with one member issuing an apology statement at a public meeting, issuing an apology letter and being required to attend the next Code of Conduct training and the other member issuing a letter of apology.

 

The Committee noted that with the conclusion of those two complaints there were currently no outstanding formal complaints.

 

(b)       Joint Parish Standards Committee Panel Hearing

 

The Committee noted that a Joint Parish Standards Committee Panel hearing had requested the inclusion of a statement in the District Council’s Bulletin and sent to all parish councils in the District and passed to the Essex Association of Local Councils for dissemination.  However, as the District Council Bulletin was not sent to parish and town councils, the statement had been incorporated into a letter sent to parish and town councils and the matter had been reported to the Local Councils’ Liaison Committee. 

 

Members noted that the statement had related to the need for councillors to remember when taking office as a councillor they were acting in a public office and publicly representing their parishioners.  As such they should carefully consider their actions and words, and how those might be perceived by other members of the public, before making statements or comments that could be taken out of context or before clear facts were known.

 

The Committee noted that the Joint Parish Standards Committee had also requested that consideration be given to including a section in the Code of Conduct suggesting that members should be extremely careful about ensuring that they were fully briefed on any specific issue/document before making public comment, and that if a councillor was unclear he/she should seek clarification before making public comment.

 

The Committee was informed thatr the Panel hearing also had expressed concern about two issues and had asked the Monitoring Officer to address these matters in future:

 

(a)        there had been no formal statement from the Clerk of the Parish Council concerned in the documentation regarding the case despite the fact that weight had been given by the Investigating Officer to a discussion with that Clerk; and

 

(b)        it had not been clear from the statements presented to the Panel that they had been signed by the relevant parties.

 

            RESOLVED:

 

            (1)        That the action taken in relation to the request of the Joint Parish Standards Committee to disseminate a statement be noted;

 

            (2)        That appropriate wording be included in the revised  ...  view the full minutes text for item 19.

20.

Dates of Future Meetings and Training Session

(Monitoring Officer) The calendar for 2013/14 provides for meetings of the Committee on 12 December 2013 and 13 March 2014.

 

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

Minutes:

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

 

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

 

The Committee further noted that the revised date for member training concerning the Code of Conduct, Development Control and Planning and the Planning Protocol was Friday 15 November 2013 at which consideration would be given to revisions to the current Code of Conduct and the Planning Protocol.

21.

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

12

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 which necessitated moving into private session.