Minutes of a meeting held on 23rd November, 2015.
Present: Mr. A.G. Hallett (Chairman), Mr. A. Lane (Vice-Chairman), Mr. J.F. Baker, Mr. D. Carsley, Town Councillor M. Cuddy and Councillor Mrs. A. Moore.
Also present: Community Councillor V. Driscoll (Dinas Powys Community Council), Ms. A. Ginwalla (Investigation and Improvement Officer, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales), Mr. S. Brisley and Ms. L. Green (Observers – Public Services Ombudsman for Wales) (for Agenda Item No. 8).
595 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –
These were received from Councillors K. Hatton and Mrs. M. Kelly Owen.
596 MINUTES –
RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 21st September, 2015 be approved as a correct record.
597 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –
No declarations were received.
598 EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC –
RESOLVED – T H A T under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Part 4 of Schedule 12A (as amended) of the Act, the relevant paragraphs of the Schedule being referred to in brackets after the minute heading.
599 ALLEGATIONS OF FAILURE TO OBSERVE THE MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT MADE AGAINST A COMMUNITY COUNCILLOR (MO) (EXEMPT INFORMATION – PARAGRAPHS 12 AND 13) –
All present introduced themselves.
Committee noted that Councillor X had requested that both the meeting and the Investigation Report be considered under Part II of the Agenda whereas the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Case Officer held a presumption that hearings of this nature should be considered in public unless there were exceptional circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to do so. In this case, the Case Officer considered that there were no exceptional circumstances which would justify the exclusion of the public from the meeting. Furthermore, it was the belief of the Case Officer that the Investigation Report and other relevant documents should not be withheld from the public.
Councillor X was unable to outline any exceptional reasons why the hearing should be considered under Part II of the agenda.
Committee noted that paragraph 10.1 of the Procedure for Dealing with Allegations Made Against Councillors and Referred to the Standards Committee stated:
“The hearing will be held in public unless the Standards Committee is persuaded that there is good reason to exclude the public.”
Committee further noted that the Ombudsman did not intend to make representations to the Standards Committee in respect of the allegations outlined in Paragraphs 5(2) – 5(6) of the Monitoring Officer’s covering report; albeit it was noted that it was open to the Standards Committee to make its own determination on these matters.
Community Councillor X and the members of the Ombudsman’s Office vacated the room in order that the Committee could consider the issues in private.
Having arrived at decisions, all parties were invited to re-enter the room and were advised that the Committee had:
(1) T H A T consideration of the allegations made against Councillor X be conducted under Part I of the Agenda.
(2) T H A T consideration of the Ombudsman’s Investigation Report be conducted under Part I of the Agenda.
(Note: In accordance with the Council’s Procedure Rules and the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended), the item was deferred to the next meeting of the Committee in the interests of transparency.)
(3) T H A T a meeting of the Standards Committee be convened at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 9th December, 2015 in order to consider the allegations made against Councillor X and the Investigation Report of the Ombudsman.
(4) T H A T the Standards Committee on 9th December, 2015 will consider all allegations outlined in Paragraphs 5(1) – 5(9) of the report of the Monitoring Officer.
(5) T H A T, notwithstanding the above decision, the Ombudsman’s Investigation Officer be requested to advise in more detail of the reasons why there was no intention on the part of the Ombudsman to make representations regarding the allegations outlined in Paragraphs 5(2) – 5(6) of the Monitoring Officer’s covering report.
(6) T H A T delegated authority be granted to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Standards Committee to determine whether a hearing and associated documentation pursuant to the Procedure for Dealing with Allegations Made Against Councillors and Referred to the Standards Committee (“The Procedure”) be considered under Part I or Part II of an Agenda having regard to the circumstances of the matter, the Procedure and the provisions of Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972.
Reasons for decisions
(1&2) In the interests of transparency.
(3) To consider allegations made against Community Councillor X.
(4) In accordance with the conclusions of the Ombudsman’s Investigations Officer.
(5) For the information of the Standards Committee.
(6) To streamline the existing Procedure.
Community Councillor X and the Ombudsman’s Investigation Officer confirmed that they would attend the meeting of the Standards Committee to be held on 9th December, 2015.
600 LOCAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE – STAGE 3 HEARING (MO) (EXEMPT INFORMATION – PARAGRAPHS 12 AND 13) –
Committee was informed of the outcome of the hearing held in accordance with Stage 3 of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure for dealing with low level allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct.
RESOLVED – T H A T the contents of the report be noted.
Reason for decision
Having regard to the contents of the report.
601 ADMITTANCE OF PRESS AND PUBLIC –
RESOLVED – T H A T the press and public be permitted to enter the meeting for the following items of business.
602 STATUTORY GUIDANCE – ACCESS TO INFORMATION ON COMMUNITY AND TOWN COUNCILS (MO) –
Committee was advised of the outcome of enquiries to ascertain whether every Town and Community Council in the Vale of Glamorgan had established a website as a result of the publication by the Welsh Government of guidance which placed duties on Community and Town Councils to make certain information available electronically.
Duties had been placed on Community and Town Councils, in part, under Section 55 of the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013. Section 55 placed duties on Local Authorities to make certain information available electronically via their own websites. When carrying out their duties under Section 55, Community and Town Councils had a statutory duty to have regard to the guidance.
Standards Committee, on 6th July 2015, had instigated enquiries to ascertain whether every Town and Community Council in the Vale had established a website and Committee was advised that assurances had been received from all Town and Community Councils with the exception of:
St. Donats Community Council
Ewenny Community Council.
Committee was advised that it had been established that both St. Donats Community Council and Ewenny Community Council had websites and were therefore in compliance with Section 55 of the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013.
A member of the Committee enquired if the reference to St. Donats Community Council should have read Welsh St. Donats Community Council.
Having considered the report, it was
(1) T H A T the contents of the report be noted.
(2) T H A T further enquiries be made to establish if Welsh St. Donat’s and St. Donat’s Community Councils had established websites.
Reasons for decisions
(1) Having regard to the content of the report.
(2) For the information of the Committee.
603 CONSULTATION ON THE DRAFT PUBLIC SERVICES OMBUDSMAN (WALES) BILL (MO) –
It was reported that the Finance Committee of the National Assembly for Wales was calling for evidence on the draft Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill and was seeking views on the draft Bill.
The National Assembly for Wales’ Finance Committee was undertaking an Inquiry to consider extending the powers of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales on the basis that should the evidence support the extension of the Ombudsman’s powers, the Finance Committee may consider the introduction of the Bill.
The Standards Committee, on 26th February, 2015, considered a consultation document issued by the National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee.
The Finance Committee of the National Assembly for Wales had now called for evidence on the draft Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill and consultees were requested to comment.
Responses to the consultation were to be received by the National Assembly for Wales by 18th January, 2016.
Having considered the draft Bill, there was agreement that there were issues that should be raised, namely:
- The Finance Committee referred to the impact on resources.
- The provisions of the draft Bill would entail a great deal of co-operation involving the Ombudsman, the Auditor General and the Future Generations Commissioner.
- The main issue centred on resources.
It was noted that the Vale of Glamorgan Council would be considering the contents of the draft Bill separately, and the above comments would be passed over accordingly.
Members of the Committee noted that the draft Bill would widen the powers of the Ombudsman by:
- Granting powers to launch his / her own investigations without first having received a complaint about an issue.
- Enabling him / her to investigate issues when a patient had received private health care in conjunction with public health care.
Members of the Committee were concerned that should the above extensions to the Ombudsman’s powers be granted, and as available resources declined, there could be pressure on the Ombudsman to:
- Widen the Local Dispute Resolution Process to include Town / Community Councillors. This would lead to capacity issues within Principal Councils.
- Reduce the emphasis to investigate complaints involving Code of Conduct issues.
The Monitoring Officer reminded Committee that the closing date to respond to the consultation was 18th January, 2016, and suggested that should any Member have further comments on the draft Bill, they pass the comments to her in order that the comments could be incorporated within the Council’s response.
RESOLVED – T H A T the Finance Committee of the National Assembly of Wales be informed of this Committee’s views on the draft Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill as outlined above.
Reason for decision
To inform the Finance Committee of the National Assembly of Wales of the views of the Standards Committee.