Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Monday, 12th October, 2015 7.30 pm

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

Contact: Gary Woodhall (The Directorate of Governance)  Tel: 01992 564470 Email:  democraticservices@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

12.

Substitute Members

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

Minutes:

The Committee noted that there had been no substitute Members appointed for this meeting.

13.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 95 KB

(Monitoring Officer) To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 13 July 2015 (as attached).

Minutes:

The Committee noted that the possible merger of the Standards and Audit & Governance Committees was being examined again following the appointment of the Council’s new Chief Internal Auditor.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)       That the minutes of the meeting of the Standards Committee, held on 13 July 2015, be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

14.

Declarations of Interest

(Monitoring Officer) To declare interests in any item on the agenda.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest pursuant to the Council’s Member Code of Conduct.

15.

Terms of Reference

(Monitoring Officer) To note that the terms of reference for the Committee is as follows:

 

(a)        Promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct by Councillors and Co-Opted Members;

 

(b)        Assisting Councillors and Co-Opted Members to observe the Members’ Code of Conduct;

 

(c)        Advising the Council on the adoption or revision of the Members’ Code of Conduct;

 

(d)        Monitoring the operation of the Members’ Code of Conduct;

 

(e)        Advising, training or arranging to train Councillors and Co-Opted Members on matters relating to the Members’ Code of Conduct;

 

(f)         Considering dispensations to Councillors and Co-Opted Members (including Parish and Town Councillors) from requirements relating to interests set out in the Members’ Code of Conduct;

 

(g)        Dealing with any reports referred from or on behalf of the Monitoring Officer on any matter, including investigations relating to Councillor conduct;

 

(h)        The exercise of (a) to (g) above in relation to the Parish Councils wholly or mainly in its area and the members of those Parish Councils either directly or through joint arrangements from time to time agreed; and

 

(i)         Adjudication on complaints regarding the operation of District Council protocols annexed to the Constitution.

Minutes:

The Committee noted its current Terms of Reference.

16.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 42 KB

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

Minutes:

The Monitoring Officer reported that there were two issues currently outstanding in relation to the conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors.

 

The first issue concerned a complaint against a Parish Councillor and an alleged company partnership with an applicant of a planning application. The report of the Investigator had been received finding no breach of the Code of Conduct, but with a recommendation to review the advice regarding non-pecuniary interests. This had been completed and the report was the subject of the subsequent item on the agenda.

 

The second issue concerned the alleged bullying of staff by a Member in a local Council meeting. The assessment had been completed and the Monitoring Officer’s decision had been ‘Other Action’. This had consisted of a meeting with the Councillor concerned, the outcome of which was being awaited. It was hopeful that this issue would be resolved without the need for a formal investigation. The Deputy Monitoring Officer added that the Independent Member, Mr D Cooper, had been of great assistance during the assessment.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)        That the outstanding allegations made about the conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors, and the steps taken in resolving the issues, be noted.

17.

Revisions to the Code of Member Conduct pdf icon PDF 117 KB

(Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report concerning proposals for revisions to the Council’s Code of Member Conduct (STD-001-2015/16).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer presented a report on proposed revisions to the Code of Member Conduct.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer stated that, as part of the full review of the Council’s Constitution, Officers had been considering whether the Member Code of Conduct required any amendment. It was noted that here had been no recent review in the light of operational experience, the Government had published a further report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and there had been a recommendation from a recent Standards Case proposing that the treatment of non-pecuniary interests be revised. Two areas in particular had been highlighted for review:

 

            (i)         dealing with non-pecuniary interests (as stated above); and

 

            (ii)        revisions to the Nolan Principles.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that the current Code of Conduct made no mention of pre-determination for non-pecuniary interests. A later version of the Model Code produced by the Public Legal Partnership had the following provision:

 

Public Perception

 

If you have an interest which a member of the public with knowledge of the relevant facts would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement in the public interest, and you are present at a meeting of the Authority at which such business is to be considered or is being considered, you must:

 

(i)         disclose the existence and nature of the interest; and

 

            (ii)        withdraw from the room or chamber where the meeting considering             the business is being held.

 

It was proposed that this wording be included in the revised Code of Conduct to give guidance on non-pecuniary interests, and deal with the subjective assessment each Councillor had to make on items where accusations of pre-determination could be made against them.

 

In response to questions from the Committee, the Deputy Monitoring Officer affirmed that the Planning Protocol gave advice to ‘Dual Hatted’ Councillors; the Planning Protocol was also being reviewed and would be appended to the Member Code of Conduct, along with the Guidance on Gifts and Hospitality. Pre-Disposition or Pre-Determination was now included as part of the training for Councillors (District and Local) on the Planning Protocol.

 

Cllr Surtees stated that ‘Dual Hatted’ Councillors were both a District and Local Councillor at all times and, when dealing with planning applications, the vast majority of such Councillors usually made a statement at Local Council meetings reserving the right to make a final decision on the application at a later date. Local Cllr Barber added that this was the modus operandi at Epping Upland Parish Council.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer confirmed that it was incumbent on the Councillor to put themselves in the position of a member of the public with reasonable knowledge when assessing whether they were possibly pre-determined. The Monitoring Officer reiterated that any Councillor, Local or District, could and should seek advice if they were unsure about their position for a particular issue.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer advised the Committee that it was not necessary for District Councillors  ...  view the full minutes text for item 17.

18.

Dates of Future Meetings

(Monitoring Officer) The calendar for 2015/16 provides for further meetings of the Committee on 25 January 2016 and 25 April 2016.

Minutes:

The Committee noted that further meetings had been scheduled for 25 January 2016 and 25 April 2016 during the 2015/16 municipal year.

19.

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

Subject

Paragraph No.

10

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 noted that there were no issues arising from the Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors which necessitated the exclusion of the public and press from the meeting.