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 STANDARDS COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 5th December, 2013.

 

Present:  Councillors Mrs. M. Kelly Owen and Mrs. A.J. Moore; Mr. D. Carsley, Mr. A.G. Hallett, Mr. A. Lane and Town Councillor M. Cuddy.

 

 

650     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Mr. J.F. Baker and Mrs. M.J. Pearce.

 

 

651     APPOINTMENT OF CHAIRMAN –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T Mr. A.G. Hallett be appointed Chairman of the Standards Committee for the remainder of the municipal year.

 

Mr. A.G. Hallett took the Chair.

 

 

652     APPOINTMENT OF VICE-CHAIRMAN –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T Mr. A. Lane be appointed Vice-Chairman of the Standards Committee for the remainder of the municipal year.

 

 

653     MINUTES –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 12th November, 2012 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

654     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

655     APPLICATIONS FOR DISPENSATION (MO) –

 

The Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 permitted Members to apply to the Standards Committee to speak and, if appropriate, to vote on matters concerning which, due to a prejudicial interest, they might not otherwise be able to speak or vote.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the dispensations as set out in the schedule below be granted up to the date of the next Local Government Elections, as indicated, or the applications be refused.

 

[VIEW DISPENSATION APPLICATIONS]

 

Reason for decision

 

To comply with the Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensation) (Wales) Regulation 2001 governing applications for the grant of dispensations to speak / speak and vote.

 

 

656     APPLICATION FOR DISPENSATION FORM –

 

In considering the application forms referred  to in the minute above, Committee noted that some of the applications had been received via e-mail and did not contain original signatures, only typed signatures, with one form having no signature, typed or original. 

 

Following consideration of this, it was agreed that the dispensation form should be amended, with a caveat to be added, stating that if the form was received via e-mail without an original signature, that the form still be accepted as a valid application subject to signature by an officer authorised by the applicant.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T forms received electronically without a signature could be signed by the receiving officer if authorised to do so by the applicant.

 

(2)       T H A T the Dispensation Application Form be amended to reflect Resolution (1) above.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To resolve issues surrounding non-signature of application forms and typed names on application forms received via e-mail.

 

 

657     MATTER WHICH THE CHAIRMAN HAD DECIDED WAS URGENT –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the following matter which the Chairman had decided was urgent for the reason given beneath the minute heading be considered.

 

 

658     APPLICATION FOR GRANT OF DISPENSATION (MO) –

(Urgent by reason of the need to consider request for dispensation to speak/speak and vote received from Cowbridge with Llanblethian Town Councillor Gweneira Baty prior to the next meeting of the Committee)

 

The Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 permitted Members to apply to the Standards Committee to speak and, if appropriate, to vote on matters concerning which, due to a prejudicial interest, they might not otherwise be able to speak or vote.

 

The application had been to speak and vote in any Cowbridge with Llanblethian Town Council meetings/discussions in connection with the LDP save for the Evan Jenkins Charity Candidate Site.  The paragraphs of the Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 under which dispensation was sought were D, F and H.

 

It was

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the request for dispensation received from Cowbridge with Llanblethian Town Councillor Gweneira Baty be refused as having regard to the provisions of the Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) 2001 governing applications for the grant of dispensation to speak / speak and vote, it was the view of the Committee that there were no compelling grounds for the application to be granted, and given the nature of the Applicant’s interest, the Committee were concerned that should the Applicant participate in business to which their interest relates, it would damage public confidence in the conduct of the Town Council’s business.

 

Reason for decision

 

To comply with The Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensation) (Wales) Regulation 2001 governing applications for the grant of dispensations to speak / speak and vote.

 

 

659     NEW WELSH MODEL CONSTITUTION (MO) –

 

The Standards Committee received a report on the draft 'Protocol – Standard of Conduct Expected by Members' and the 'Procedure for Dealing with Allegations Made Against Councillors and Referred to the Standards Committee' which were set out in Appendices A and B of the report.

 

The Council’s existing Constitution was still largely based on the model version issued by the (then) Welsh Assembly Government in 2001, with numerous updates having since been made to the Constitution in respect of specific issues.  However, the former Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (Welsh Branch) (ACSeS), now 'Lawyers in Local Government' commissioned the national law firm, Dickinson Dees (now Bond Dickinson) to produce a new 'Model Welsh Constitution' for local authorities in Wales.  Support for the new Model Welsh Constitution had been received from both the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association. 

 

The Council had agreed that a Working Party comprising seven members be established to look at the various components of the existing, and model Constitutions and draft a revised version for eventual consideration by the Council.

 

Relevant extracts for Standards Committee’s consideration were attached at Appendices A and B. 

 

Part of the role of the Standards Committee was to promote and maintain high standards of conduct amongst Members and to assist them to observe the Members’ Code of Conduct. 

 

The purpose of the Protocol at Appendix A was to establish a benchmark of behaviour which was acceptable between Members.  It was not intended to replace the Members’ Code of Conduct but to sit alongside it and fill the gap between behaviour which possibly in itself was not serious, but created unpleasantness between Council Members, and behaviour that was approaching threshold and serious enough for the Ombudsman to hold an investigation.

 

Gwynedd Council and Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council adopted the Protocol in 2010 and 2011 respectively as part of introducing a local dispute resolution procedure for dealing with complaints concerning Members.  As a result of those Councils’ experiences, Appendix A had been incorporated into the new Welsh Model Constitution for consideration by the remaining 20 Local Authorities in Wales to incorporate into their respective Constitutions.

 

Appendix B was consistent with procedures and guidance previously adopted by this Council’s Standards Committee in 2007 and reflected the current relevant statutory requirements of Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 and related regulations.

 

After consideration of the report it was

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T Appendices A and B of the report be agreed in principle, and recommended to the Council’s New Wales Model Constitution Working Party for incorporation into the Council’s Constitution as part of the ongoing work in reviewing the new Welsh Model Constitution; with the procedure outlined in Appendix B of the report being adopted by the Committee with immediate effect and replacing the pre-existing guidance and procedural note.

 

(2)       T H A T the Monitoring Officer incorporates reference to the use of social media in Appendix A and reports back to the next meeting of the Standards Committee.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To promote and maintain high standards of conduct by Councillors and Co-opted Members and sharing the views of the Standards Committee with the New Welsh Model Constitution Working Party.

 

 

660     LOCAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE (MO) –

 

The Standards Committee received a report regarding the options for an informal dispute resolution procedure to address low level complaints of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct and respond to Welsh Government and Public Services Ombudsman for Wales concerns.

 

In the most recent revision of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales’ guidance on the Code of Conduct for Members of Local Authorities, there was an expectation that Local Authorities throughout Wales would implement a Local Dispute Resolution procedure to deal with low level complaints which are made by a Member against a fellow Member.

 

The Ombudsman indicated that the following would fall within this category:

 

(i)         Failure to show respect and consideration for others contrary to paragraph 4(b) of the Code of Conduct, and

 

(ii)        Duty not to make vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints against other Members under paragraph 6(1)(b) of the Code.

 

Complaints of this type are expressly mentioned by the Ombudsman although other breaches of the Code may also be regarded as low level complaints.

 

The Ombudsman set out the advantages of dealing with such low level complaints as follows:

 

(i)         Speeded up the complaints process permitting a local and quick resolution of lower order issues

 

(ii)        Avoided unnecessary escalation of the situation which might impact on personal relationships within the Authority and damage the Authority’s reputation

 

(iii)       Avoided unnecessary formal complaints and the involvement of the Ombudsman whose resources could be devoted to the investigation of more serious or repeated complaints.

 

To date approximately 13 Councils had introduced some form of Local Dispute Resolution Procedure and a number of other Councils were currently developing models.  The model adopted by some comprises a relatively formal procedure and involved the Standards Committee.  Conversely, the model adopted by others involved adoption of a self-regulatory protocol which incorporated a procedure for dealing with complaints via Group Leaders and only involved participation by an Independent Member of the Standards Committee if the matter could not be resolved at the first stage.

 

Given that the objective was to secure swift resolution of what were deemed low level complaints, Members considered that a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure, which was intended to operate with the full support and commitment of all political groups would be preferable.

 

Attached at Appendices A and B were examples of the two different approaches for consideration, which were appropriate for dealing with Member-on-Member complaints and breaches of the Protocol on Officer / Member relations.

 

After consideration of the report and the options for the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure for the Vale of Glamorgan Council, it was

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the Monitoring Officer draft a proposed Local Dispute Resolution Procedure incorporating elements of both Appendices, but not be confined to these documents, for consideration at the next meeting of the Committee.

 

Reason for decision

 

To address the recommendation of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales to adopt a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure for dealing with low level Member-on-Member complaints.

 

 

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