Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
The Committee received the routine report of the Monitoring Officer (MO) which advised that seven valid Code of Conduct complaints had been made against two Parish Councillors and four District Councillors since the last meeting. In accordance with the wishes of the Committee, as none of the complaints had resulted in an investigation and a finding of fault, they were presented anonymously. The view of the Council’s Independent Persons had been sought and concurred with the Monitoring Officer’s proposed action in each case; details of each case had been provided at Appendix 1 to the report.
In case C19-01, whilst the Subject Member ultimately agreed to the proposed recommended local resolution there was an unnecessary delay of some nine working days, which caused additional administrative work in contacting the Subject Member on more than one occasion and involving their Group Leader.
It was therefore recommended that Subject Members were given five working days to respond to any request from the MO; failure to do so would result in a subsequent report to the Audit and Standards Committee, whether or not the local resolution was agreed to. This requirement could be added to the Arrangements for Dealing with Member Complaints and the MO Protocol procedural documents, which was within the powers of the Audit and Standards Committee to make amendments thereto.
Five non-valid complaints had also been received during this time, against three District Councillors and two Parish Councillors. On four occasions (three District / one Parish) the conduct which gave rise to the complaints was carried out in Councillors’ private lives (the Code only applies when conducting the business of the authority) and the other related to the actions of the Parish Council as a whole and not an individual Parish Councillor.
An anonymous complaint had also been received from a “Mrs Taxpayer” against a District Councillor, which was not entertained in accordance with procedures. There were no outstanding complaints at the current time.
Within the Committee’s functions and delegations was a duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by Members of the Council and a number of standards matters had taken place since the Committee’s last meeting in this respect.
A training session on ethics and probity had taken place on Thursday 25 July; the training was delivered by Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd. The event had received mixed reviews and it was suggested that the training could have been delivered in-house. The advantage of receiving training from external consultants who dealt with standards matters across the country was the ability to provide numerous case studies and talk about real cases without the fear of talking about local cases; if this training was delivered in-house, this ability would be lost.
It was recommended that the requirement to complete a declaration of interest form each time a Member made a declaration at meetings ceased from January 2020, as there was no formal requirement for this form to be completed. The cessation of this process would provide a cost saving in terms of reduction on paper usage and staff administrative time both pre and post meetings. Members would need to ensure therefore that declarations were clearly stated at meetings as there would be no paper form as a back-up.
Interests declared at all meetings were recorded and included within the Minutes and the new committee management software system provided a search facility that allowed a member of the public to search the declarations of interests made by each individual Member.
At the request of Battle Town Council on Tuesday 16 July, the MO provided an information session to Members of Battle Town Council on their Code of Conduct, declarations of interest and the Member Complaints process; this was well received.
As reported at the last meeting, following the influx of new Members to the Parish and Town Councils across the district, the MO advised that there remained one or two outstanding registers of interests for newly elected or co-opted Members which were actively being pursued.
1) the report be noted;
2) the Arrangements for Dealing with Member Complaints and the Monitoring Officer Protocol be amended to include the requirement for Subject Members to respond to suggested local resolution requests within five working days; and
3) the requirement for Members to complete a declaration of interest form for each declaration cease from January 2020.
Publication date: 13/03/2020
Date of decision: 09/12/2019
Decided at meeting: 09/12/2019 - Audit and Standards Committee