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Contact: Ian Ford Email: email@example.com or Telephone 01255 686584
Apologies for Absence and Substitutions
The Committee is asked to note any apologies for absence and substitutions received from Members.
An apology for absence was submitted on behalf of Councillor J Henderson.
To confirm and sign as a correct record, the minutes of the meeting of the Standards Committee, held on Wednesday 3 August 2022.
It was moved by Councillor Casey, seconded by Councillor Placey and:-
RESOLVED that the Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on Wednesday 3 August 2022 be approved as a correct record and be signed by the Chairman.
Declarations of Interest
Councillors are invited to declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Personal Interest, and the nature of it, in relation to any item on the agenda.
There were no Declarations of Interest made by Members at this time.
Questions on Notice pursuant to Council Procedure Rule 38
Subject to providing two working days’ notice, a Member of the Committee may ask the Chairman of the Committee a question on any matter in relation to which the Council has powers or duties which affect the Tendring District and which falls within the terms of reference of the Committee.
No Questions on Notice had been submitted by Members pursuant to Council Procedure Rule 38 on this occasion.
To enable the Committee to review and discuss the Monitoring Officer’s Protocol (the Protocol) and suggest any proposed amendments to that Protocol for consideration by Full Council.
The Committee was reminded that, in March 2017, it had reviewed the Monitoring Officer’s Protocol and having considered its contents, it had resolved that it was satisfied and therefore it did not wish to make any amendments at that time.
As part of its work programme for 2022-23, the Standards Committee had agreed to review the Monitoring Officer’s Protocol and, if any changes were felt to be required, to recommend those to Full Council for formal approval and adoption.
Members were aware that the Protocol only covered dealing with matters arising from the Standards Framework relating to Members’ interests and complaints, and did not cover the wider responsibilities of the Council’s Monitoring Officer as detailed within the Constitution.
As highlighted in the overarching principles of the Protocol, the Monitoring Officer was not the legal adviser for, or to, Town and Parish Councils and the role only extended to those councils in relation to the promotion and maintenance of high standards of conduct. If a complaint identified criminal conduct or breach of other regulation by any person, the Monitoring Officer was under an obligation to notify and/or refer the matter to the Police or other regulatory agencies.
The Committee recalled that this Protocol operated in conjunction with the terms of reference of the Standards Committee, its Sub-Committee, the Complaints Procedure and the Independent Person’s Protocol. The Complaints Procedure provided an in depth compulsory process in which alleged breach of Members’ Code of Conduct complaints were dealt with and included a number of actions to be carried out by the Monitoring Officer.
The Complaint Procedure was a staged process and the initial stage of determination of a complaint was delegated to the Monitoring Officer. The Monitoring Officer would then take various factors into consideration, as detailed within the Complaints Procedure including, when reaching a decision in respect of how to progress the complaint, taking account of the following factors where appropriate:-
• Was the Member acting in their official capacity?
• Was the Member in office at the time of the alleged misconduct?
• Is the complaint of a very minor or trivial nature?
• Is the complaint vexatious or malicious?
• Are there historical matters?
• Is there a potential breach of the Code?
• Assessment of public interest?
• Is additional information required prior to making a decision?
Following consideration of a complaint, the Monitoring Officer would issue a Decision Notice setting out the matters taken into account and the reasons for their decision. The Monitoring Officer provided anonymised updates regarding complaints to the Standards Committee at each of its scheduled meetings.
Although, the Protocol referred to the Complaints Procedure and had its own overarching principles, the Monitoring Officer felt that the Protocol could be strengthened, thus further reflecting and supporting the Complaints Procedure, by expanding some of the actions in some instances.
Section 1(j) of the Protocol stated: “The Monitoring Officer will consult with one of the Independent Persons on complaints received and throughout the process in accordance ... view the full minutes text for item 13.
To give the Committee a presentation and guidance update on decisions and actions taken nationally.
The Monitoring Officer presented a guidance update on conduct complaint decisions and actions taken nationally.
The Monitoring Officer’s external case review covered the following:-
“Clear frustration” within Councils on limited powers remaining
· The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) had called upon the Government to reconsider its position on the powers of local authorities to sanction councillors for poor behaviour.
· The Chair of the CSPL, Lord Evans had written to then Levelling Up Secretary of State, Simon Clarke, stating that he was very disappointed that many of its careful recommendations had not been accepted.
· The local government sector had backed the call to strengthen the arrangements in place to support high ethical standards.
Common factors in recent auditor interventions nationally
· Grant Thornton in its update report September “Lessons from Public Interest Reports” had found weaknesses in council cultures (e.g. poor behaviours, lack of transparency); and weaknesses in governance (e.g. a circumvention of governance procedures, poor quality review and decision making).
· Failure to address and resolve relationships difficulties between senior officers and Members.
· Intimidating cultures, culture of secrecy and in some cases, an overuse of confidential or delegated action reports, which reduced openness and trust in leadership and corporate culture.
· Limited understanding of declarations of interest and of gifts and hospitality registers, not being monitored.
· Lack of appreciation of the Nolan principles and the requirements of the Members’ Code of Conduct.
· Lack of understanding in how complaints against Members should be handled.
· Failure to adequately support whistle-blowers also suggested a council that is not open to challenge, Grant Thornton argued.
· Number of recommendations suggested in relation to culture and governance.
Civility and Respect Pledge launched for Local Councils by the NALC
· “There were growing concerns about the impact of bullying, harassment and intimidation on local councils, councillors, clerks and council staff and the effectiveness of local councils. By signing the pledge the relevant Council “agrees that the council will treat councillors, clerks, employees, members of the public, and representatives of partner organisations and volunteers with civility and respect in their roles” … with a package of actions.”
Council meetings & the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II
· National Mourning Guidance
· Did local government legislation prevent councils holding meetings or affect the ability to give notice of meetings?
· The period of public mourning was declared by the Earl Marshall, the Duke of Norfolk
· A day could be declared as a bank holiday, by the King by proclamation, but only the day of the funeral was so declared
· NALC took a different view to the LGA as to the notice period and holding of meetings during the period of National Mourning
Pre-action protocol letter (for a potential Judicial Review) contesting breach finding
· A Councillor alledged that a District Council’s Code of Conduct assessments regarding comments he had made online amounted to a "clear serious breaching" of his human rights.
· Eden Council found that the Councillor had breached the Code of Conduct over posts on Twitter & his blog.
· However, the Councillor had ... view the full minutes text for item 14.
The Committee will receive the Monitoring Officer’s quarterly update regarding standards complaints together with an update on other pertinent matters.
The Committee had before it the Monitoring Officer’s quarterly schedule, which updated it on existing and new conduct complaint cases, along with other matters.
The Committee noted the foregoing.