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Apologies for Absence and Substitutions
The Committee is asked to note any apologies for absence and substitutions received from Members.
Apologies for absence were received from Councillor Bucke (with Councillor Scott substituting).
To confirm and sign as a correct record, the minutes of the meeting of the Standards Committee, held on 27 September 2017.
The Monitoring Officer (Lisa Hastings) informed the Committee that the original published draft minutes had stated that Councillor Davis had said in her declaration of interest that she was a ‘friend’ of Councillor Bennison however this was deleted shortly after publication following representations made by Councillor Davis who had denied using the word ‘friend’. The declaration of interest was amended and the draft minutes were re-published.
The Monitoring Officer confirmed that the minutes before the Chairman were the same as those published in the agenda pack and those were the amended re-published minutes.
The minutes of the meeting of the Standards Committee, held on 27 September 2017, were then approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
Declarations of Interest
Councillors are invited to declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or other interest, and the nature of it, in relation to any item on the Agenda.
The Monitoring Officer informed the Committee that she had decided that it was reasonable on this occasion to grant a blanket dispensation to members of the Committee for agenda item 4, as it was reasonable to do so under Section 33 (b) and (e) the Localism Act 2011. The Monitoring Officer considered that without the dispensation the representation of different political groups on the Committee transacting item 4 would be so upset as to alter the likely outcome of any vote relating to the business and therefore, it was appropriate for the dispensation to be granted.
In accordance with the District Council’s Complaints Procedure, the Monitoring Officer is required to report the outcome of an investigation to the Standards Committee, where an informal resolution has been reached, in consultation with the Council’s Independent Person without the need for a hearing.
There was submitted a report (A.1) by the Council’s Monitoring Officer that, in accordance with the District Council’s Complaints Procedure, reported the outcome of an investigation to the Committee, where an informal resolution had been reached, in consultation with the Council’s Independent Person without the need for a hearing.
The Monitoring Officer reported that two separate complaints had been received in October 2017. One had been received from a member of the public, Mr William Hones and the other had been received from District Councillor Baker. Their complaints had been received by the Monitoring Officer under the Members’ Code of Conduct and Complaints Procedure alleging that the actions of District Councillor Anne Davis had breached the Members’ Code of Conduct.
It was alleged in the complaints that Councillor Anne Davis had not had regard for four of the Seven Principles of Public Life namely:
· Selflessness - Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest;
· Integrity - Holders of Public Office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships;
· Objectivity - Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias; and
· Honesty - Holders of public office should be truthful.
Members were informed that although not expressly referring to the Rule, it was also alleged that Councillor Davis’ actions had contravened Paragraph 10 of the Code of Conduct (Effect of Other Pecuniary Interests on participation) by remaining on the Committee after declaring that she had attended court with Councillor Bennison, who was the subject of an agenda item before the Committee on 27 September 2017.
The Monitoring Officer confirmed that on 1 November 2017, she had decided that it was reasonable and appropriate that the complaints merited further investigation and that an external investigator be appointed. All parties had been informed of this decision.
Members were reminded that Section 5 of the Complaints Procedure set out how an investigation was conducted and that under Section 5.6, the investigation report must contain a conclusion as to whether the evidence had supported a finding of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct. Annex E of the Complaints Procedure set out the Investigation Procedure.
The Committee was informed that Mr John Austin had been appointed as the external investigator and that, following a thorough investigation, he had concluded that there was sufficient evidence to show that Councillor Davis had breached Paragraph 10 of the Council’s Code of Conduct, in remaining in the meeting and participating in the way that she had. The investigator had not however considered that this was a deliberate or conscious act.
In response to the allegations the external Investigator had provided a Summary ... view the full minutes text for item 18.
The Monitoring Officer will give a presentation to the Committee on this matter.
The Monitoring Officer provided the Committee with information on external case reviews which included the following:
(1) Case 1 – East Devon District Council Standards Committee v. Town Council;
(2) Case 2 – Suspension still permitted in Wales;
(3) Case 3 – FOI Request of a draft Investigation Report;
(4) Case 4 – Developer launches JR over Councillor’s interest in planning decision;
(5) Case 5 – Challenge to Standards Procedure;
(6) Case 6 – Investigation in leaked report;
(7) Case 7 – Premature Standards Committee decision;
(8) Case 8 – All members of a political group reported to the Monitoring Officer; and
(9) Case 9 – Breach of Code of Conduct 12 times.
Following on from the information provided, Members were given the opportunity to ask questions which were responded to by the Monitoring Officer.
Discussion Topics and/or Updates from the Monitoring Officer
(1) The Monitoring Officer will give a quarterly update on Complaints.
(2) Lack of Sanctions
Two Local Authorities have recently agreed to lobby the Government on the lack of sanctions which Councils have been left with since the introduction of the Localism Act. Tendring District Council recently referred to the lack of sanctions in the consultation document from the DCLG on criminal orders and the eligibility to stand or remain as a Councillor. However, the Committee requested that this item be brought back to this meeting for further consideration.
Quarterly Complaints Update
The Monitoring Officer circulated to the Committee the quarterly schedule, which gave general details of complaints received, without providing any names, and went through them with the Committee.
Requests for Dispensations
The Monitoring Officer informed the Committee that Councillor Bush had requested and had been granted a dispensation which had related to a Local Plan Report, as his land was referred to in the evidence contained within the appendix, but the land was not the subject of any decisions. The declaration had been properly made at the meeting and recorded in the minutes. Details of the dispensation were also included on the Council’s website, as the usual practice.
Lack of Sanctions
At its last meeting the Committee had been informed that two Local Authorities had considered motions to lobby the Government on the lack of sanctions which Councils had been left with since the introduction of the Localism Act 2011. A consultation had also been launched on extending the list of criminal convictions which would restrict an individual standing as a Councillor.
At that meeting, the Monitoring Officer, at the Committee’s request, had agreed to bring this item back to the next meeting of the Committee for further consideration.
The Committee was aware that Tendring District Council had recently referred to the lack of sanctions in the consultation document from the DCLG on criminal orders and the eligibility to stand or remain as a Councillor.
The Committee discussed this issue further.
Following discussion, it was RECOMMENDED to COUNCIL:
That the Government be lobbied directly and via the Local Government Association for a review of the lack of sanctions available to the Standards Committee following criminal convictions of Elected Members.