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STANDARDS COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 7th July, 2016.

 

Present:  Mr. A.G. Hallett, Mr. J.F. Baker Councillor M. Cuddy and Councillor Mrs. A. Moore.

 

 

140     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillors K. Hatton and A.C. Williams and Mr. D. Carsley and Mrs. M.J. Pearce.

 

 

141     ELECTION OF CHAIRMAN –

 

Mr. A.G. Hallett was nominated to be the Chairman of the Standards Committee for the remainder of the Municipal Year and, having been duly seconded, it was

 

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

 

Mr. Hallett took the Chair.

 

 

142     ELECTION OF VICE-CHAIRMAN – 

 

Mr. A. Lane was nominated to be Vice-Chairman of the Standards Committee for the remainder of the Municipal Year and, having been duly seconded, it was

 

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

 

 

143     MINUTES – 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 15th April, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

144     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations were received.

  

           

145     THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES (MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT) (WALES) (AMENDMENT) ORDER 2016 (MO) –

 

Committee was advised of the adoption by the Council of the provisions of the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016. 

 

The Standards Committee and Full Council on 15th and 27th April, 2016 respectively received a report on the provisions of the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016.  The Standards Committee resolved that the provisions of the Order be noted and reported to Council for consideration and incorporation into the Council’s Constitution.  On 27th April, 2016, Council subsequently resolved that the provisions of the Order 2016 be adopted and incorporated within the Members’ Code of Conduct contained in the Council’s Constitution.  A copy of the report approved by Council, together with the revised Code of Conduct (with the amendments shown in bold) was attached to the report before the Committee.

 

Following the last meeting, an e-mail was circulated addressing a number of queries which had arisen at the meeting.  The e-mail was reproduced at Appendix A to the report.  The main amendments were set out in paragraph 3 of the report to Council on 27th April, 2016. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the revised Members’ Code of Conduct, approved by Council on 27th April, 2016, be noted.

 

Reason for decision

 

To apprise the Committee of the amended Members' Code of Conduct.

 

 

146     LOCAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE: PROPOSED AMENDMENTS (MO) –

 

The Committee was advised of suggested changes to the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure, some of which were as recommended by an Independent Member following a recent Stage 3 hearing held under the Procedure, with others having been proposed by the Monitoring Officer in light of experience of the Procedure since its introduction in June 2014.  The proposed changes were shown in bold in the Procedure which was attached at Appendix A to the report.

 

Prior to discussion on this item, the Monitoring Officer tabled representations from Councillors Neil Moore and Lis Burnett, along with comments made by the Independent Member referred to in the accompanying report.

 

On 11th April, 2014, the Standards Committee considered and agreed an informal Local Dispute Resolution Procedure to address low level complaints and breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct (the Code) and Protocol - Standards of Conduct Expected by Members, in response to Welsh Government and the former Public Services Ombudsman for Wales' concerns.  The Public Services Ombudsman, in guidance on the Code of Conduct for Members of Local Authorities, had stated there was an expectation that Local Authorities throughout Wales would implement a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure to deal with low level complaints which were made by a Member against a fellow Member.  At the Full Council meeting on 25th June, 2014, a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure was duly approved and had been incorporated into the Council's Constitution. 

 

The Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedure in summary incorporated a three Stage process as follows: 

  • Stage 1 - determination by Monitoring Officer or Deputy Monitoring Officer of whether the procedure is applicable.
  • Stage 2 - conciliation meeting to be held to attempt to resolve the matter.
  • Stage 3 - hearing before an Independent Member of the Standards Committee, as nominated by the Chair of the Standards Committee, advised by the Monitoring Officer or Deputy Monitoring Officer.
  • The procedure further states that it is possible for the Member submitting the complaint to request the matter to proceed directly to a Stage 3 hearing without it going to a conciliation meeting.  

The procedure also allowed for the Independent Member at a hearing to make recommendations to the Council regarding changing any procedures or taking any further action.  Hearings at Stage 3 would be dealt with in private and publicity was not to be given to the names of the Members involved in the complaint unless it was decided that there was a basis to the complaint and the Member be censured.

 

The report outlined the following suggested changes.

 

Following a hearing held on 29th March, 2016, the Independent Member presiding, recommended to the Standards Committee that the procedure in relation to Stage 2 of the process be amended.  The Independent Member considered that some issues may be able to be resolved at Stage 2, and, as such, in their view this part of the process should be deemed mandatory, prior to the Stage 3 part of the procedure being undertaken. 

 

The Independent Member also recommended that an Independent Member of the Standards Committee should be permitted to be present as an observer at Stage 2 of the procedure.

 

In light of the above, the Committee was asked to consider whether the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should be amended to reflect that the Stage 2 part of the procedure is mandatory and that no matter will proceed directly to a Stage 3 hearing unless Stage 2 had taken place. 

 

The Committee was also asked to consider whether the Procedure should be amended to include that an Independent Member of the Standards Committee (to be appointed by the Chairman of the Standards Committee on a rotational basis) be permitted to sit as an observer at the mandatory Stage 2 part of the process.

 

Furthermore, the Monitoring Officer also considered that it would be beneficial if a specific timescale was inserted into the procedure, clarifying the deadline by which a complaint should be brought to the attention of the Member against whom the complaint had been lodged.  It was recommended that this be within seven working days of the complaint being received by the Monitoring Officer.  In addition, if a Member, in lodging a complaint, had identified a specific witness(es) whom they wish to call to give evidence, details of the complaint and response (redacted if considered necessary) should also be forwarded to the witness(es);  if approved, this would be akin to pleadings being made available in civil proceedings. 

 

There was a general consensus amongst Members present that there was merit in considering whether any revisions to the procedure should be made. 

 

During the discussion, reference was made to the need to distinguish between actual Code of Conduct matters and disputes / disagreements between individual Councillors.  It was suggested that, in the case of the latter, there was merit and potential for agreement being reached through a mediation stage of the procedure. 

 

Should Stage 2 of the process become a mandatory requirement, the Monitoring Officer confirmed that (in the event of a dispute between Members) both Members concerned would be required to decide whether they wished to attend. 

 

As a result of the discussion, the consensus amongst Members was that there was merit in having a restorative/conciliatory element stage in terms of certain levels of issues but that, nevertheless, Stage 2 of the procedure should not become mandatory. 

 

The Monitoring Officer suggested that there may be benefit looking at equivalent practices/procedures in other Local Authorities and bringing a further report on options for change (if considered appropriate) to a future meeting. Members agreed with this approach and also requested that the report include a summary (redacted as appropriate) of the cases/findings to date which had been dealt with under the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure

 

With regard to the proposal that would allow for an Independent Member to be an observer at the Stage 2 part of the process, the Committee was unsure of how this would work in practice and the role of the Independent Members.  The Committee was in agreement for this to be reconsidered in line with the further information to be presented by the Monitoring Officer.

 

In terms of the conclusions that an Independent Member chairing a hearing can decide upon, the Committee considered whether consideration should be given to  the possibility of increasing the scale of powers available, for example by considering granting  the Chairman increased powers, such as full or partial suspension.  Members were mindful that careful consideration would be required before recommending/determining any new powers.

 

Other points raised during the discussion included: 

  • an acknowledgement that the procedure, on occasions, had proved to be somewhat slow
  • whether the existence of internal procedures within political groups was likely to result in a more disciplined approach amongst Members and, consequently, less likelihood of the Code of Conduct or the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure having to come into effect.
  • the need to ensure Members’ “rights” were not prejudiced as a result of any changes to the procedure
  • the need for Members to remain aware of the potential seriousness of breaches of the Members’’ Code of Conduct and of the important role of the Standards Committee
  • whether any scope might exist for strengthening the existing provisions available within the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure in the event of a basis to the complaint being determined ( a censure currently being the ultimate sanction)

The Committee requested the Monitoring Officer to evaluate other Local Dispute Resolutions operating in other local authorities in Wales and for the findings to be reported back to the Committee.

 

Members noted that the Local Dispute Resolution procedure only applied to the Unitary Authority and was not applicable to Town or Community Councils.  However, the Monitoring Office confirmed that the Members’ Code of Conduct did apply to Town and Community Councillors.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T Stage 2 of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should not become mandatory.

 

(2)       T H A T internal procedures relating to the Members’ Code of Conduct be revised to provide that any complaint lodged under the Procedure be brought to the attention of the Member against whom the complaint has been lodged within seven working days of it being received by the Monitoring Officer. Furthermore, if a Member, in lodging a complaint, has identified a specific witness(es) whom they wish to call to give evidence, details of the complaint (redacted if considered necessary) should also be forwarded to the witness(es), the contents of the Guidance be noted.

 

(3)       T H A T a future report be submitted to a future Standards Committee meeting following a review of the Welsh Local Authorities Local Dispute Resolution Procedures.

 

Reasons for decision

 

(1)       To apprise Full Council of the Committee’s view.

 

(2)       To avoid any delay occurring and to clarify points for dispute for witnesses.

 

(3)       To assist in determining whether the existing Procedure is to be revised.

 

 

147     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 item of business on the grounds that it involves 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.

 

 

148     LOCAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE – STAGE 3 HEARING (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

 

To apprise the Committee of the outcome.