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Minutes of the meeting held on 24 September 2018.
(a) Minutes of Meeting held on 24 September 2018
RESOLVED that the Minutes of the Meeting of the Standards Sub-Committee held on 24 September 2018 be confirmed and signed as a correct record.
Declarations of Interests
Members may make any declarations of interest at this point but may also make them at any time during the meeting.
All Councillors present declared a non-pecuniary interest in agenda item 4 ii) (To review the number nature and outcome of complaints received during the civic years 2016/17 – 2019/20) due to the fact that they were all subject to the Code of Conduct.
The Committee gave consideration to a report which informed Members of the review into Local Government Ethical Standards, its findings and recommendations.
During 2018, the CSPL (Committee of Standards in Public Life) undertook a review of local government ethical standards. “The review was not prompted by any specific allegations of misconduct, but rather to assure themselves that the current framework, particularly since the Localism Act 2011, was conducive to promoting and maintaining the standards expected by the public.”
The Localism Act 2011 introduced significant changes to the way that conduct of elected Councillors was handled. It abolished a national framework headed by a regulator and a national Code of Conduct and removed powers to suspend or disqualify Councillors for serious breaches of the Code of Conduct. Instead it placed a duty on Councils: to adopt their own local Code; to put local procedures in place to investigate allegations the Code may have been broken (with principal authorities carrying out that duty for parish councils; and to appoint at least one Independent Person (IP) whose views they had to take into account when considering matters under investigation.
The report summarised theCSPL’sfindings, recommendationsfor legislative change andbest practicerecommendations (which could be introduced without a change in legislation) for each of the areas reviewed. Those areas of best practice previously adopted to date by WLDC and prior to the review, were highlighted green in the tables with the report set out Sections 3 – 9.
It was noted the Government had been expected to respond to the report in September 2019 setting out whether or not it accepted some or all of the recommendations.However some ofthe recommendations– forexample increasedsanctions, orthe abolitionof theDPI criminaloffence, would require new primarylegislation , whilst others will require changes to regulations, therefore the time-line to see this area of work fully concluded was expected to be extensive, and it was doubtful how high up the Government’s agenda this work was.
That being said, a number of the recommendations were considered best practice and could be implemented with immediate effect if desired and of the 14 best practice recommendations detailed within this report, West Lindsey has already adopted 10 as a result of its fundamental review in 2017/2018.
Debate ensued and at the request of Members, Officers outlined which of the remaining best practice recommendations they considered worthy of implementation and which ones, at this stage they would not recommend being adopted. Rationale was offered.
In general, the Committee welcomed the report, however it was unfortunate that those changes which would see the greatest overhaul could not be implemented without a change in legislation and there was a shared concern that the Government would not see this work as priority. The decriminalisation of “interests”, the re-introduction of proper meaningful sanctions and a common code across the board were all welcomed and the Committee requested that Officers continue to lobby in respect of these aspects, ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
Members gave consideration to a report which presented a data analysis of the number nature and outcome of complaints received under the Code of Conduct regime for the civic years 2016/17, to 2019/20 (to-date August).
The report further asked Members to give consideration as to whether the Standards Sub-Committee should undertake any informal proactive to further improve standards and raise the profile of the Committee’s work. .
Section 2 of the report included a number of graphs, including graphs which set out: -
* The total no. of complaints received and whether these related to District or Parish Councillors;
* The nature of complaints received and how these were split between District and Parish Councillors;
* The Outcome of those complaints received; and
* The Actions taken where potential breaches of the Code had been identified
Section 4 of the report summarised some of the evident trends; points which were brought to Members’ attention included: -
* That the number of complaints had fallen sharply following the introduction of the new Code for both Parish and District Councillors. However, in the previous civic year (2018/19) the number of complaints made rose, in particular against District Councillors. Arguably, this could be attributed to the pending election that year.
* The main source of complaints continued to be respect, bullying and intimidation.
* In the run up to election and in recent months social media had been at the centre of a number of complaints
* The majority of complaints still resulted in a “no breach” determination being made at the initial assessment stage. This is primarily as result of them relating to behaviour in a Councillor’s private capacity, or having been deemed to not meet the threshold worthy of investigation.
* The number of complaints falling outside the Code had reduced significantly, but this was directly as a result of the additional provisions being included in the Code from May 2017 onwards.
* During 2018/19 In all cases, except one, where a potential breach was identified they were resolved with a local informal resolution such as meditation or an apology without the need for investigation
* During 2019/20 to-date three cases had been referred for investigation, this was primarily as a result of two of the complaints receiving national press – the outcome of which was awaited.
Finally Section 5 of the report set out a number of suggestions regarding pro-active work the Sub-Committee may wish to consider undertaking.
Debate ensued and Members welcomed the report and the mainly positive trends. The recent blip, unfortunately, was considered “expected” in the run to an election and this was a common trend often seen.
With regard to undertaking pro-active work going forward, Members considered the following would be of assistance: -
* The Monitoring Officer to continue to meet with Group Leaders / Whips on a quarterly basis to discuss any issues in an informal setting prior to complaints being received;
* Training on Standing Orders be built into the Work Programme for ... view the full minutes text for item 4.