Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Monday, 7th August, 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 2, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping. View directions

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

Items
No. Item

1.

Substitute Members

(Director of Governance) To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting in accordance with Council Rule S1 in the Constitution (Part 4 “The Rules” refers).

Minutes:

The Committee noted that the following substitute Members had been appoionted for this meeting:

 

(a)        Cllr Surtees for Cllr J H Whitehouse; and

 

(b)        Parish Cllr K Williamson for Parish Cllr S Watson.

2.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 139 KB

(Director of Governance) To confirm the minutes of the last meeting of the Committee, held on 23 January 2017, as a correct record (attached).

Minutes:

In respect of minute item 6, resolution 5, Parish Cllr Whybrow stated that the proposed letter to the Chairman of each Town and Parish Council, advising their Members to attend the next scheduled Code of Conduct training session, had not been received. The Chairman explained that the letter referred to in resolution 4 of that minute item to each Member of the District Council had been sent, and that the proposed letter to each Town and Parish Council was the next stage of the process.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)      That the minutes of the meeting held on 23 January 2017 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

3.

Declarations of Interest

(Director of Governance) 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.

4.

New Planning Code of Practice pdf icon PDF 90 KB

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report (STD-001-2017/18).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer, S Hill, presented a report on the new Planning Code of Practice.

 

S Hill reported that the Planning Protocol was last reviewed in 2007, and the advent of the Localism Act in 2011 had provided further clarification on the role of Members, interests in planning matters and the types of interests that were now required to be disclosed. The Council had been advised by Counsel that there was a minimum of 18 areas that the Council’s new Protocol should cover, and this had formed the basic structure of the revised Code before the Committee. It was also highlighted that there could be possible changes to the structure of the Council’s Planning (Sub-)Committees in future to meet the expected demand from publication of the Council’s Local Plan. The paragraphs within the proposed Code would also be numbered prior to publication in the Council’s Constitution.

 

S Hill stated that the draft Code of Planning Practice, attached as an Appendix to the report, would replace the current Planning Protocol. Complaints related to Planning was, by far, the most numerous and therefore it was important that clear advice was provided to Members. The Committee was requested to consider and comment on the Code prior to its review by the Constitution Working Group on 28 September 2017 and approval by the Council on 2 November 2017.

 

The Monitoring Officer, C O’Boyle, advised the Committee that District Councillors who took a public stand on certain sites as a Town or Parish Councillor did not necessarily have to declare a prejudicial/pecuniary interest at District Council Planning meetings. The Localism Act 2011 permitted Councillors to hold a view about a particular site prior to taking a planning decision on it. Councillors could attend open evenings on applications organised by the Applicant, but they would need to conduct themselves appropriately, such as asking pertinent questions on the application. Where possible, Members should request that a Planning Officer accompany them to such meetings, but at the very least they should inform Planning Officers prior to attending such meetings. It would also be good practice to make notes of the meeting afterwards, highlighting comments made and actions taken. S Hill added that Members should make it clear when they attend such meetings that they were there to ask questions and gather information only.

 

The Independent Member, D Cooper, could not perceive any benefit from Councillors attending these types of meetings, as public perception was necessarily different from legal advice. Parish Cllr Williamson added that the location was also relevant, e.g. a five-star Hotel would look worse for such a meeting than a Town or Village Hall. S Hill reminded the Committee that the Code was, out of necessity, a broad framework but Members could always get advice regarding particular circumstances from either the Monitoring or Deputy Monitoring Officer.

 

The Committee acknowledged that there was a difference between a public meeting on a particular planning application and a private meeting with a developer. C O’Boyle advised that a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Member Code of Conduct Training Update pdf icon PDF 84 KB

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report (STD-002-2017/18).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer, S Hill, presented an update on Member Code of Conduct Training.

 

S Hill reminded the Committee that it had decided at its last meeting that all Councillors should attend Code of Conduct training at least once during their term of office, or more frequently if the Code was changed substantially. Since then, the Chairman of the Committee had written to all Members of the District Council regarding the importance of such training. Two Code of Conduct training sessions had been held on 23 May 2017 and 13 June 2017; a further session was planned for 2 October 2017 for those Councillors who had yet to attend such training during their current term of office and the majority of those Members had indicated that they would attend this session. Following this session, there would be only three Councillors who had not attended any such training.

 

In response to questions from the Committee, S Hill stated that Officers had run training sessions at Town and Parish Councils, and that Town and Parish Councils would be invited to the session planned for 2 October; this session could also be webcast for subsequent viewing. Town and Parish Councils had been informed of the previous Code of Conduct training sessions by the Member Support Officer and further sessions could be scheduled for the local Councils if required. However, the Monitoring Officer, C O’Boyle, cautioned that if further such sessions was organised then it was essential to have a good attendance from Local Councillors as such training was very time intensive for Officers to organise.

 

S Hill added that there were a number of interesting courses coming up and Officers had had a positive response from writing to the Members individually on this issue. The Committee made two suggestions for further consideration: investigate the possibility of providing e-learning courses for Members in the future; and providing targeted training to the Chairmen of Town and Parish Council Planning Committees.

 

Resolved:

 

(1)        That the updated position statement on Code of Conduct Training, as attached at Appendix 1 of the report and reported at the meeting, be noted.

6.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 49 KB

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

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer, S Hill, informed the Committee that there had been 5 allegations concerning the conduct of District and Town or Parish Councillors received during 2017. Of these five cases, only two were still currently active.

 

S Hill reported that a draft report had been issued for the first case listed and the Monitoring Officer would liaise further with the Independent Member before a decision on any action was taken. For the third case listed, the Member being complained about had not actually been in attendance at the Area Planning Sub-Committee in question. For the fifth and final case listed on the schedule, the complainant had asked for anonymity and therefore the case was currently in abeyance as Officers were not completely satisfied with the reasons given for maintaining anonymity by the complainant.

 

The Committee was somewhat sceptical about the complainant’s request for anonymity in case number five on the schedule, and felt that complainants should be willing to put their name to any allegation against a public figure. S Hill clarified that the majority of allegations regarding the conduct of District and Town or Parish Councillors arose from issues at Planning meetings.

 

The Committee offered their thanks to the Monitoring Officer, Deputy Monitoring Officer and the Independent Members for their efforts in assessing the cases presented.

 

Resolved:

 

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

7.

Dates of Future Meetings

(Director of Governance) Following the decision of the Council that the Standards Committee be convened to meet only when there is 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 of the Committee can be arranged if required.

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).

 

S Hill informed the Committee of a recent development concerning the potential role of Independent Members on Staff Disciplinary cases. A pool of Independent Members willing to sit on panels for Staff Disciplinary Cases across Essex was being investigated, and S Hill would report any further developments to the Committee at a future meeting. C O’Boyle highlighted that it would be up to each individual Independent Member to decide if they wanted any involvement in such cases.

8.

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

Exempt Information Paragraph Number

10

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 or Parish Councillors which necessitated the exclusion of the public and press from the meeting.