Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Monday, 23rd January, 2017 7.30 pm

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

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

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To be announced at the meeting.

Minutes:

The Committee noted that the Monitoring Officer had also given her apologies for the meeting.

2.

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.

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 72 KB

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 25 January 2016 (attached).

Minutes:

The Assistant Director of Governance (Governance & Performance Management) informed the Committee that, following its discussion and recommendation to the Council on the proposed merger of the Audit & Governance and Standards Committees (minute 24 refers), the Council had supported the Committee’s view that there should not be a merger between the two Committees.

 

The Assistant Director added that the Council had increased the membership of the Audit & Governance Committee from 3 to 5 elected Members, and had decided that the Standards Committee should not have quarterly meetings scheduled but should only meet as and when there was business to be transacted. It was highlighted that there would be a further review of the current arrangements in 2018.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)      That the minutes of the meeting held on 25 January 2016 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

4.

Declarations of Interest

(Deputy 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.

5.

Standards Complaints - Revisions to Assessment Criteria pdf icon PDF 61 KB

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) During the course of considering the most recently received complaints, Officers have looked at the Assessment Criteria with a fresh eye. The criteria was last reviewed in 2010 and still refers to the Standards Board for England. Officers are suggesting a revision to the criteria that removes that section and also seeks to tidy up the wording to reflect current practice.

 

The only substantive change proposed is the shortening of the timescale for complaints to be received after the alleged misconduct. It is considered that the current period of 1 year is too long. It is suggested that this be six months but could be a shorter period. This change would have two advantages:

 

            (i)         it would mean complaints would be made much closer to the alleged           misconduct; and

 

            (ii)        complaint handling would be less protracted.

 

The changes proposed for discussion are highlighted in the attached document.

 

Recommendation:

 

(1)        To consider and approve the proposed changes to the criteria used to assess complaints made to the Monitoring Officer.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer presented a report on the proposed revisions to the assessment criteria for standards complaints.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer stated that, during the course of considering the most recently received complaints, the assessment criteria had been reviewed as this had not been performed since 2010 and still referred to the Standards Board for England in places. The only substantive proposed amendment was the shortening of the timescale for complaints to be received after the alleged misconduct, as the current period of one year was considered too long. Thus, it was proposed to shorten this period to six months as it would mean that complaints would be made much closer to the alleged misconduct, and complaint handling would be less protracted. It was also proposed to remove the section concerning the referral of cases to the Standards Board for England, as that body was now defunct, plus a number of small, mainly typographical changes. The Committee was requested to consider and approve the revised assessment criteria.

 

The Committee felt that a shorter timescale for the receipt of complaints would be reasonable, and Cllr Stallan proposed that this period should be shortened to three months. It was highlighted that the timescale should not be made too short as newly elected Councillors might be initially unaware of the procedure and some time should be allowed to elapse to provide evidence of patterns of behaviour, but it was generally felt that three months was a sensible period of time for complaints to be made.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer admitted that he did not know the timescale for making complaints about members of staff within the Council, and emphasised that the procedure was primarily concerned with public complaints against Councillors; although the same procedure would be used for any complaints against Councillors raised by other Councillors. The timescale within other authorities varied between three months and one year.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)        That the proposed changes to the criteria used to assess complaints made to the Monitoring Officer be approved, subject to no more than three months having passed since the alleged conduct occurred.

6.

Code of Conduct Training

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) The Chairman of the Standards Committee has requested that an item be placed on the agenda to discuss Member training, and specifically how many Councillors have attended and what actions we could do to promote training further. A review of Member training records shows the following profile of attendance:

 

Year

Attendance

Pre 2010

19 (i.e. not attended since at least that year)

2011

5

2012

1

2013

0 (not an EFDC election year)

2014

7

2015

9

2016

16

Total

57 (1 vacancy)

 

A table of attendances is available.

 

Those that have not attended Code of Conduct training recently are mostly members with significant Council experience or have missed opportunities to attend training recently. It is the view of Officers that Code of Conduct Training should be attended at least once during each term of office. The Committee may wish to advise how to encourage attendance at training and the desired frequency of refreshers.

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer informed the Committee that the Chairman had requested a discussion on Member Code of Conduct training, and specifically how many Councillors had attended and what actions the Council could take to promote greater attendance. A review of the Member training records had shown the last occasion when each of the 57 Members had attended Code of Conduct Training:

·                  Prior to 2010   19;

·                  2011                5;

·                  2012                1;

·                  2014                7;

·                  2015                9; and

·                  2016                16.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that those who had not attended Code of Conduct training recently were mostly members with significant Council experience or had missed opportunities to attend training recently. Attendance by Local Councillors at Code of Conduct training was also very poor, but Officers could organise training sessions at Town or Parish Councils if requested. It was the view of Officers that every Member should be attend Code of Conduct training at least once during each term of office, but the Committee was requested to advise on the desired frequency of attendance and any measures that could be implemented to encourage greater attendance at training.

 

The Committee felt strongly that it was very important for Code of Conduct training to be undertaken regularly by all Members, and that such training should be listed as mandatory for all Members. It was deemed that attendance once per each term of Office was sensible, unless there were changes to the Code in which case all Councillors should attend further training. In addition, it was felt that Group Leaders should be encouraging all of the Members in their Group to attend Code of Conduct training on a regular basis.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer added that Councillors could not be prevented from attending meetings if they had not attended Code of Conduct training, but that recent attendance at such training was a factor which was considered when assessing any complaints against a particular Councillor.

 

Cllr J H Whitehouse highlighted that e-training modules on their Code of Conduct was available at Essex County Council, and it was genuinely mandatory for all Councillors to work through them; Officers were very strict on following up and reminding those Councillors who had not completed the training modules. The Deputy Monitoring Officer pointed out that the Code of Conduct training at Essex County Council would be different to that required at this Council; and there was also neither the time nor expertise currently available to develop an on-line version of the training currently provided. The Chairman commented that this could be an option to explore for implementation in the future.

 

The Independent Person, Mr P Adams, enquired whether Code of Conduct training could be included as an element of each Councillor’s Declaration of Acceptance of Office, and opined that perhaps the priority should be to concentrate Code of Conduct training on Town and Parish Councillors in order to reduce the number of complaints that were received and had to be assessed. The Deputy Monitoring Officer undertook to investigate whether such training  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Update on Adoption of New Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 49 KB

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To receive an update on the adoption of the New Code of Conduct by Town and Parish Councils.

Minutes:

The Committee received an update on the adoption of the new Code of Conduct by Town and Parish Councils.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that, following the publication of the agenda, a further seven Town and Parish Councils had adopted the new Code of Conduct, and that only the following eight Local Councils had yet to do so:

 

(i)         Epping Upland Parish Council;

 

(ii)        Nazeing Parish Council;

 

(iii)       Roydon Parish Council;

 

(iv)       Stanford Rivers Parish Council;

 

(v)        Stapleford Tawney Parish Council;

 

(vi)       Theydon Bois Parish Council;

 

(vii)      Theydon Garnish Parish Council; and

 

(viii)     Theydon Mount Parish Council.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)        That the current position regarding the adoption of the new Code of Conduct by Town and Parish Councils be noted.

8.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 54 KB

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

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer informed the Committee that there had been six allegations concerning the conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors received since 1 June 2016.

 

The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that two cases had been resolved, with the Parish and Town Councillors concerned instructed to attend the next available Local Council Code of Conduct training session. Of the remaining four cases, initial assessments had been completed for three of the cases and were with the Independent Person for review, whilst the initial assessment had yet to be completed for the fourth and final case. The Committee was informed that there were three other potential cases that the Monitoring Officer was aware of but no official complaints had yet been received in relation to any of these incidents.

 

The Committee offered their thanks to the Monitoring Officer, Deputy Monitoring Officer and Independent Persons for their efforts in assessing the cases in a timely manner.

 

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.

9.

Dates of Future Meetings

(Monitoring Officer) Following the decision of the Council that the Standards Committee be convened to meet only when there was business to be transacted (Council 26 April 2016, minute 12 refers), there are no formal meetings arranged for the remainder of the municipal year. However, further meetings can be arranged as and when required by the Committee.

Minutes:

The Committee noted that there had been no formal meetings of the Standards Committee scheduled, following the decision of the Council that the Standards Committee should only meet as and when there was business to be transacted (Council 26 April 2016, minute 12 refers).

 

The Chairman opined that he was keen to have a minimum of two meetings per year, with the next meeting to be held by September 2017 at the latest. The Assistant Director of Governance (Governance & Performance Management) added that the revised Planning Protocol could be considered at the next meeting by the Committee, although it was not currently known when this would be available. The Committee felt that another meeting in June or July 2017 would be beneficial.

10.

Exclusion of Public and Press

Exclusion

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

Paragraph Number

11

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

1

 

Background Papers

Article 17 of the Constitution (Access to Information) 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 and does not include published works or those which disclose exempt or confidential information and in respect of executive reports, the advice of any political advisor.

 

The Council will make available for public inspection one copy of each of the documents on the list of background papers for four years after the date of the meeting. Inspection of background papers can be arranged by contacting either the Responsible Officer or the Democratic Services Officer for the particular 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.