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STANDARDS COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 28th January, 2016.

 

Present:  Mr. A. Lane (in the Chair), Mr. J.F. Baker, Mrs. M.J. Pearce and Councillor Mrs. A. Moore.

 

 

784     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE -

 

These were received from Mr. A.G. Hallett (Chairman), Mr. D. Carsley and Town Councillor M. Cuddy and Councillors K. Hatton and Mrs. M. Kelly Owen.

 

 

785     MINUTES -

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 9th December, 2015 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

786     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

787     APPLICATIONS FOR DISPENSATION (MO) -

 

The Standards Committees (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 would not otherwise be able to speak or vote on.

 

RESOLVED -

(1)       T H A T dispensation be granted to Vale of Glamorgan Councillor and Llandough Community Councillor P.G. King to speak and vote at meetings of both the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Llandough Community Council on matters connected with the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Corporate Plan 2016-2020 insofar as  the matter relates to the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Reshaping Services Agenda only, in compliance with paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 which govern a grant of dispensation to speak / speak and vote.

 

(2)       T H A T having regard to the request by Vale of Glamorgan Councillor and  Llantwit Major Town Councillor G. John for dispensation to speak and vote at meetings of Llantwit Major Town Council when matters concerning the Corporate Plan are considered, and having regard to Councillor John’s position as Cabinet Member for the Vale of Glamorgan Council, Councillor John be granted dispensation to speak and vote at meetings of Llantwit Major Town Council on the parts of the Corporate Plan that relate to the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Reshaping Services Agenda only, in compliance with paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) of the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 which govern a grant of dispensation to speak / speak and vote.

 

(3)       T H A T dispensation be granted to Vale of Glamorgan Councillor and  Llantwit Major Town Councillor E. Hacker to speak and vote at meetings of the Vale of Glamorgan and Llantwit Major Town Councils where matters concerning the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Corporate Plan and Reshaping Services Programme are discussed, insofar as they relate to the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Reshaping Services Agenda,  in compliance with paragraphs (c) and (d) of the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 which govern a grant of dispensation to speak / speak and vote.

 

(4)       T H A T Vale of Glamorgan Councillor and Barry Town Councillor A.G. Powell be granted dispensation to speak and vote at meetings of the Vale of Glamorgan and Barry Town Councils where matters involving the Council’s Reshaping Services Programme are discussed, in compliance with paragraphs (c) and (d) of the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 which govern a grant of dispensation to speak/speak and vote.

 

(5)       T H A T the above dispensations be granted until the date of the next Local Government Elections.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1-5)    To comply with the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 governing applications for the grant of dispensation to speak/ speak and vote.

 

 

788     STANDARDS CONFERENCE WALES 2015 (MO) -

 

Committee were updated on the Standards Conference Wales 2015 which had been held on 20th October, 2015.

 

In addition to the Monitoring Officer and Deputy Monitoring Officer of each Council in Wales, each Authority had been allocated up to four places at the Conference and the Vale of Glamorgan Standards Committee had been represented by Mr. Hallett and Town Councillor Cuddy. 

 

Committee was provided with copies of papers provided during the Conference Workshops as follows: 

  • Are the Nolan Principles fit for purpose now and in 20 years?
  • Community and Town Councils - Governance and Standards
  • Whistleblowing
  • Local Resolution Process - Practicalities and the RCT Experience - Future Role?
  • Social Media - Staying Out of Trouble.

Committee also received a summary of the conference presentations as produced by Cardiff Council. 

 

Discussions ensued upon the summary of the conference presentations and Members noted that since the introduction of a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure by Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council, no new cases have been received by that Council since April 2013.

 

The view was expressed that the existence of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure process should form part of the training of Councillors.

 

In noting that the title of one of the Workshops was “Are the Nolan Principles fit for purpose in the current climate and for the next 20 years” a Member enquired as to the conclusion reached by the workshop.  The Monitoring Officer advised that she had not attended the workshop session but her understanding from the keynote speech of Nick Bennett was that the Nolan Principles were still relevant and fit for purpose, but no longer sufficient. 

 

The Monitoring Officer reminded Committee that the Nolan Principles had been supplemented by three additional principles.

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the update on the Standards Conference Wales 2015 be noted and the Monitoring Officer thanked for her comprehensive report.

 

Reason for decision

 

Having regard to the contents of the workshop papers.

 

 

789     STATUTORY GUIDANCE - ACCESS TO INFORMATION ON COMMUNITY AND TOWN COUNCILS (MO) -

 

Committee was further advised on the outcome of enquiries instigated on 6th July, 2015 to ascertain whether every Town and Community Council in the Vale 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. 

 

The duties placed on Community and Town Councils had been issued, 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 its own website.

 

The guidance also explained further provisions made in the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 concerning public notices, Council meetings and proceedings and Register of Members’ Interests. 

 

The Standards Committee on 6th July, 2015 had resolved that the Monitoring Officer enquire of every Town and Community Council within the Vale of Glamorgan area as to whether the Town or Community Council had established a website. 

 

The Monitoring Officer had sought assurances from the Clerks of all Town and Community Councils in the Vale of Glamorgan that they were in compliance with their duties under Section 55 of the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013.

 

Standards Committee on 23rd November, 2015 was advised that assurances had been received from all Town and Community Councils with the exception of St. Donat’s Community Council.

 

A Member of the Committee had enquired if the reference to St. Donat’s Community Council should have read Welsh St. Donat’s Community Council and Committee had requested that further enquiries  be made to establish if Welsh St. Donat’s and St. Donat’s Community Councils had established websites.

 

Since that date, it had been established: 

  • that Welsh St. Donat’s Community Council had created a website
  • St. Donat’s Community Council did not have a website.

The Clerk of St. Donat’s Community Council had been approached and had advised that she had recently become Clerk to the Community Council and further advised that significant progress had been made in the establishment of a website.

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the contents of the report be noted and that Committee be further advised of the progress made by St. Donat’s Community Council in establishing its website. 

 

Reason for decision

 

To establish if St. Donat’s Community Council were complying with the duties placed by Section 55 of the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013.

 

 

790     LOCAL GOVERNMENT (WALES) BILL - DRAFT FOR CONSULTATION (MO) -

 

Committee considered that part of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, published by the Welsh Government which related to proposed performance duties of Members and the Standards Committee.

 

Part 4 of the draft Bill would impose duties on Members of a County Council which relate to their performance and makes provision for the enforcement of those duties. 

 

A copy of the relevant Sections of the draft Bill was attached at Appendix 1 to the report.

 

In summary, Chapter 2 of Part 4 of the draft Bill required a Member of a County Council 

  • to attend all relevant meetings (Section 82)
  • to hold a surgery at least four times in every relevant 12 month period (Section 83)
  • to respond to all correspondence sent to his or her official address within 14 days of receipt (Section 84)
  • to complete all compulsory training courses (Section 85)
  • to make a report

        -     about his or her activities as a Member of the Council during the period of 12 months to which the report relates

        -     setting out the result of those activities, if known to the Member (Section 86).

 

A person may make a complaint about a possible breach by a Member of a County Council of the above requirements to the Monitoring Officer of that Council (Section 87).  The Monitoring Officer must refer the matter to the Chairman of the Standards Committee and they must together consider whether the matter should be investigated (Section 88).

 

Following an investigation, the Monitoring Officer must provide the Standards Committee with a report on the investigation and made recommendations to the Standards Committee that the Monitoring Officer considers appropriate (Section 91).  Investigating obligations also were highlighted in Section 90 in respect of a potential breach of a Section 86.

 

Section 98 of the draft Bill provides that a Leader of a political group of a Council must take reasonable steps to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by the Members of the Group. 

 

The provisions in Section 109 of the draft Bill place a duty on a Standards Committee to make an annual report which will include the Committee's assessment of the extent to which Leaders of political groups on the Council have complied with their duties.

 

A copy of an extract from the draft Explanatory Memorandum issued by the Welsh Government was attached at Appendix 2 to the report for the information of the Committee.

 

Comments on the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill are to be submitted by 15th February, 2016 at the latest. The Explanatory Memorandum published with the draft Bill specifically invited (but not exclusively) answers to the following questions: 

  • Do you have any comments on any of the provisions in Part 4 of the draft Bill?
  • Do you have any comments on the proposed duty on Leaders of political groups or the monitoring and reporting roles of the Standards Committee?

To assist in its deliberations, Committee's attention was drawn to the meeting of the Standards Committee held on 26th February, 2015 at which a consultation document published by the Welsh Government entitled “Reforming Local Government: Power to Local People” was considered.

 

The consultation document had included matters relating to Standards Committees and a copy of the minute of the meeting of the Standards Committee held on 26th February, 2015 was attached at Appendix 3 to the report for Members' information.

 

The Monitoring Officer advised that a recent seminar of Welsh Monitoring Officers and WAG officials had discussed Part 4 of the draft Bill and a summary of the debate was provided.   

 

Having considered the report and the contents of Chapter 2 of Part 4 of the draft Bill, Members of the Standards Committee were invited for their comments, and the following points were raised:

 

-       Concerns were expressed about the potentially excessive level of complaints that could arise as a result of the provisions of Section 87 of the draft Bill.  The question was asked if it was a proper role of the Standards Committee to deal with such details.  The Welsh Government would not be administering the provisions of the draft Bill – this role would fall on Monitoring Officers, the Standards Committee and in some instances, the Chairman of the Standards Committee and a concern was expressed that the Welsh Government did not fully understand how Councils operated – it was felt that the provisions of the draft Bill were unworkable and did not represent a good use of resources.  There were grave concerns that there would be a large amount of work as a result of the provisions of the draft Bill with no additional resources.

 

Additional points that arose from discussions included:

 

-       The possibility of exception reporting should be considered

-       There were currently provisions within the Members’ Code of Conduct that would deal with some of the issues in the draft Bill i.e. “lack of respect”.  Furthermore, the Council had established a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure

-       The view was expressed that the provisions of the draft Bill appeared to be a mechanism to divert pressure from the Ombudsman’s Office.

-       Concern was expressed that individuals may submit complaints about other Members as part of a political agenda.

-       In determining whether to pursue a complaint, Section 88 of the draft Bill required a Monitoring Officer to consult with the Chairman of the Standards Committee to determine if a matter was to be investigated – the draft Bill required an investigation to take place if either the Monitoring Officer or the Chair of the Standards Committee considered that a matter should be investigated.  A Member expressed the view that either the Chairman of the Standards Committee or the Monitoring Officer could be accused of being biased when making a determination. 

-       The preparation of an Annual Report by the Standards Committee was welcomed. 

-       In noting the provisions of Section 82 of the draft Bill and in the absence of regulations defining “good reason” (Members required to attend all relevant meetings), Members spoke of the following:

  • Members can be taken ill and thus be unavailable to attend meetings
  • Not all meetings are diarised well in advance.  A Member may not be available for a meeting called at short notice.
  • Members simply cannot attend every meeting, although the majority of Members attend the majority of meetings.
  • The provisions of the draft Bill do not mention how many absences it would take to generate a complaint.
  • Some Members sit on outside bodies, i.e. school governing bodies, which may meet at the same time as Council convened meetings.
  • The provisions of the draft Bill should contain provisions for further “authorised absences”.
  • Under the provisions of the draft Bill, it may be possible that a Member would have to rush from the completion of one meeting to another meeting of which they were a member if the second meeting was still progressing.

Members enquired when the draft Bill was to be enacted and were advised: 

-      Consultation feedback was to be with the Welsh Government by 15th February, 2016.

-      Some elements of the Bill would be implemented two months following Royal Assent.

-      The Bill would not progress until the National Assembly for Wales elections had been held in May 2016.

 

Following the conclusion of discussions, it was

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the Welsh Government be advised of the comments / observations above.

 

Reason for decision

 

To respond to consultation on the provisions of the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill by the deadline for receipt of comments.

 

 

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