Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Monday, 18th December, 2017 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping. View directions

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

Items
No. Item

9.

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 the following substitute Members had been appointed for this meeting:

 

(a)        Cllr H Kane for Cllr N Avey.

10.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 180 KB

(Director of Governance) To confirm the minutes of the last meeting of the  Committee, held on 7 August 2017, as a correct record (attached).

Minutes:

Resolved:

 

(1)      That the minutes of the meeting held on 7 August 2017 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

11.

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.

12.

Audit and Standards Committee - Review of Merger Proposals pdf icon PDF 171 KB

(Deputy Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report (STD-005-2017/18).

Minutes:

The Deputy Monitoring Officer, S Hill, presented a report on a review of the merger proposals for the Audit & Governance and Standards Committees.

 

S Hill reported that, at its meeting on 26 April 2016, the Council did not adopt the proposals to merge the Standards and Audit & Governance Committees, but requested that a further review be undertaken after two years; i.e. before April 2018. In addition, the Council also agreed that the Standards Committee should meet only as and when there was business to be transacted. Since April 2016, the Committee had only met twice previously, and the Committee had only met 5 times in the last three and half years.

 

The Committee was reminded that it had previously accepted the implementation of the Localism Act 2012 had dramatically reduced its workload through new arrangements for dealing with allegations of Member misconduct. However, the Committee were not minded to support the proposals and expressed a number of concerns. The Committee was requested to comment on the review, prior to a report to the Constitution Working Group later in the year.

 

There was considerable support from the Committee for the status quo and maintaining a separate Standards Committee. The Chairman highlighted that the Standards Committee had recently encouraged Members to undertake Code of Conduct training at least once during each term of office, which was very important.

 

The Monitoring Officer, C O’Boyle, emphasised that the Localism Act 2012 abolished the need for a local authority to maintain a formal Standards Committee, they just required a process to deal with complaints made against Members. The proposal was to merge the two Committees, not abolish the Standards Committee. The general view was that the Council held too many Member meetings, and these two Committees were combined at many other local authorities. S Hill added that no Standards issues were ever ignored, and that Officers resolved many issues which Members were not aware of.

 

Cllr Kane stated that he was not against a potential merger provided there was a process in place to deal with issues, the merged Committee would have the ability to co-opt other Members to give it depth, and if it was open to public scrutiny. However, P Adams (Independent Person) felt that 90% of the problem was public perception and any merger could have the effect of hiding Standards issues as the Audit & Governance Committee was very technical. Parish Cllr J Whybrow also had concerns about the lack of Town and Parish Council involvement.

 

The Committee agreed to recommend to the Constitution Working Group that the two Committees not be merged and that the current status quo be maintained.

 

Recommended (to the Constitution Working Group):

 

(1)        That the current status quo of having two separate Committees for Standards issues and Audit & Governance issues be maintained, for the same reasons as outlined in January 2016 (minute 24, 25 January 2016 refers).

13.

Appointment of a Standards Complaints Sub-Committee pdf icon PDF 113 KB

(Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report (STD-004-2017/18).

Minutes:

The Monitoring Officer, C O’Boyle, presented a report on the appointment of a Standards Complaint Sub-Committee.

 

C O’Boyle advised the Committee that there was a need to appoint to and convene a meeting of a Complaints Sub-Committee to conduct a hearing into an allegation that a Member had breached the Council’s Code of Conduct. Article 9 of the Constitution outlined the appointment of, and terms of reference for, a Complaints Sub-Committee. The complaint in this case concerned a District Council Member so there was not a requirement to appoint a Town or Parish Council representative. In addition, Article 9 also delegated authority to the Sub-Committee to determine the case in this instance without further reference to the main Standards Committee. Training would be organised for the Members of the Sub-Committee prior to the hearing of the case, although it was suggested that all Members of the Standards Committee should attend.

 

Given the make-up of the Standards Committee, and the pro-rata requirements, S Hill suggested that the Sub-Committee should consist of three Members, two from the Conservative Group and one from the Loughton Residents Association, with one reserve for each Group. The Committee concurred, and agreed to appoint a Sub-Committee of three members with the suggested make-up.

 

The Chairman made an initial suggestion that the Sub-Committee should comprise himself as Chairman, Cllr Pond from the LRA and Cllr Avey; Cllr Avey informed the Committee that he could not guarantee his attendance during the day and therefore Cllr Rolfe was suggested as a Sub-Committee Member, with Cllr Avey as a substitute for the Conservative Group. Cllr Pond suggested Cllr Roberts as the substitute for the Loughton Residents Association, and this was agreed by the Committee.

 

S Hill informed the Committee that the training would be scheduled during January 2018, with the meeting of the Sub-Committee taking place as soon as possible afterwards. It was also highlighted that this particular case had taken some time to progress through of all of the preceding steps to get to this point.

 

Decision:

 

(1)        That three Members of the Standards Committee be appointed to the Standards Complaints Sub-Committee to hear the current outstanding case;

 

(2)        That the three Members of the Standards Complaints Sub-Committee be comprised of two Members of the Conservative Group and one Member of the Loughton Residents Association, plus a substitute Member for each Group;

 

(3)        That the following Councillors be appointed to the Standards Complaints Sub-Committee:

 

            (a)        Cllr Chambers (CON);

 

            (b)        Cllr Pond (LRA); and

 

            (c)        Cllr Rolfe (CON);

 

(4)        That Cllr Avey (CON) and Cllr Roberts (LRA) be appointed as substitutes for their Groups for the Standards Complaints Sub-Committee;

 

(5)        That Cllr Chambers be appointed as the Chairman of the Standards Complaints Sub-Committee;

 

(6)        That the Terms of Reference for the Standards Complaints Sub-Committee, as set out in Article 9 of the Constitution, be noted; and

 

(7)        That all Members of the Standards Committee be invited to attend the training from the Monitoring Officer for hearing a Standards Complaint, to be  ...  view the full minutes text for item 13.

14.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 46 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 were 2  allegations concerning the conduct of District and Town or Parish Councillors to update the Committee on.

 

The Committee were reminded that, for the first allegation listed, an investigation had been completed and the Monitoring Officer had requested a Standards Complaint Sub-Committee to hear the case, which the Committee had considered earlier in the meeting. For the second allegation listed, the Monitoring Officer had determined that it was not suitable for investigation and therefore no further action should be taken on the matter.

 

S Hill stated that two further complaints had been received this week: for the first, Officers were seeking more information; and for the second, this was a complaint against a Town Councillor and it was in the early stages of being assessed.

 

Resolved:

 

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

15.

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 during the municipal year, 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).

16.

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