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STANDARDS COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 22nd September, 2016.

 

Present:  Mr. A.G. Hallett (Chairman); Mr. A. Lane (Vice-Chairman); Mr. J.F. Baker, Mr. D. Carsley, Mrs. M.J. Pearce and Councillor A.C. Williams.

 

 

359     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillors K. Hatton and Mrs. A. Moore and Town Councillor M. Cuddy.

 

 

360     MINUTES – 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 7th July, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

361     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

362     APPLICATIONS FOR DISPENSATION – LLANDOUGH COMMUNITY COUNCIL (MO) –

 

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

 

In order to deal with the applications as quickly as possible it was necessary for the Standards Committee to receive full information of the interests involved and why, in the Member's opinion, dispensation should be given.  The relevant applications were set out in the proforma attached to the report.

 

The Standards Committee, on 6th July, 2015, resolved "that dispensation be granted to Llandough Community Councillors R.F. Collier, Ms. P.A. Carreyett, B.C.F. Hill, M.D. Edwards and Dr. M.C. Misra to speak and vote on matters concerning the Llandough and Leckwith War Memorial Institute, with the exception of financial matters involving the Institute, in view of there being five Councillors with a personal interest in this matter.  The dispensations were granted for the Council year ending 30th April, 2016.”

 

At its subsequent meeting on 21st September, 2015, the Standards Committee was informed that the Clerk to Llandough Community Council had e-mailed the Monitoring Officer explaining the difficulties the above granting of dispensations to the five Councillors would create given that, in the main, matters relating to the Institute primarily related to requests for financial grants.  Llandough Community Council had ten Members, one of whom at the time was subject to an approved absence and was unlikely to be attending meetings for some months.  The Clerk had also indicated that the Community Council also had a Member who, due to ill health, was not able to attend all Council meetings.  It was stated that that meant that, should a financial grant application be included on the agenda for the Council meeting, it was very unlikely, as things stood at the time, that a quorum would exist, with five Members unable to engage with the discussion or voting on the matter.

 

The Clerk to the Community Council further advised that, at the Community Council meeting on 6th August, 2015, a financial grant application had been received from the Institute and the five Members declared a personal and prejudicial interest which left only two Members to consider the matter, which they were unable to do as the quorum for the meeting was four Members.

 

On 6th August, 2015, the Community Council had resolved to ask the Standards Committee to re-examine this matter on an urgent basis so as to ensure that the Community Council could give consideration to financial grant applications from the Institute. 

 

At the Standards Committee on 21st September, 2015 Members of the Committee expressed their unease at granting the requests for dispensation in view of the Members of the Community Council having a clear prejudicial interest in this matter as a result of their being Trustees of the Llandough and Leckwith War Memorial Institute.

 

Whilst recognising that it was entirely a matter for the Community Council to determine upon, Members of the Standards Committee felt that the Community Council might wish to consider alternative governance arrangements regarding the Llandough and Leckwith War Memorial Institute which would overcome any potential issues surrounding the quorum.

 

Alternative governance arrangements could include:

 

  • a reduction in the number of Llandough Community Councillors acting as Trustees on the Llandough and Leckwith War Memorial Institute
  • the replacement of Council Trustees on the Llandough and Leckwith War Memorial Institute with Independent Trustees.

Following the discussion, it was resolved that the decision of the Standards Committee of 6th July, 2015 remain unchanged.

 

In terms of the current application, it could be seen from the attached proforma that the (same) five Members of Llandough Community Council alluded to above had now submitted a new application for a dispensation in respect of the same matter.  Given the Committee's previous decisions on this matter, Members were asked to note that the request did not exclude financial matters. 

 

Having considered the application for dispensation, the Committee re-emphasised its previous advice of alternative governance arrangements regarding the Llandough and Leckwith War Memorial Institute.  The Committee agreed that its decision made on 6th July, 2015 still stood.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the decision of the Standards Committee of 6th July, 2015 remain unchanged.

 

Reason for decision

 

In accordance with the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001.

 

 

363     APPLICATION FOR DISPENSATION (MO) –

 

The Committee considered an application from Vale of Glamorgan and Barry Town Councillor H.C. Hamilton to speak and vote on the Vale of Glamorgan Council's Reshaping Services Programme when discussed.

 

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

 

A copy of the relevant application was attached to the report.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T dispensation be granted to Vale of Glamorgan Councillor and Barry Town Councillor H.C. Hamilton to speak and vote at meetings of the Vale of Glamorgan and Barry Town Councils where matters concerning the Vale of Glamorgan Council's Reshaping Services Programme are under discussion, 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.

 

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

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To comply with the Standards Committees (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 governing applications for the grant of dispensation to speak/ speak and vote.

  

 

364     OUTCOME OF REFERENCE TO THE ADJUDICATION PANEL FOR WALES (MO) –

 

Pursuant to Section 69 of the Local Government Act 2000, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales ('the Ombudsman') might conduct an investigation into whether a Member or co-opted member of a “relevant authority” had failed, or may have failed to comply with the Authority’s, Members’ Code of Conduct.

 

In a letter dated 22nd February, 2016, the Adjudication Panel for Wales received a referral from the Ombudsman following an investigation in relation to allegations relating to Councillor Rob Curtis, who, at the time, was both a Member of the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Barry Town Council.

 

The allegations were that Councillor Curtis had breached paragraph 6.1 (a) of the Vale of Glamorgan Council's Code of Conduct and paragraph 6, bullet point 1, of the Barry Town Council Code of Conduct.  Details relating to the allegations and the case were set out in the Adjudication Panel for Wales' Notice of Decision and Decision Report attached at Appendices A and B to the report.

 

The referral was considered by a case tribunal of the Adjudication Panel for Wales by way of written representations on 25th July, 2016.

 

The Case Tribunal found that Councillor Curtis had breached paragraph 6.1(a) of the Vale of Glamorgan's Code of Conduct, which stated that you must not conduct yourself in a manner which could be reasonably regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.  The Tribunal also found that, as a Town Councillor, Councillor Curtis had breached paragraph 6, bullet point 1, of the Barry Town Council's Code of Conduct, which provided that Members must not conduct themselves in a manner which could be regarded as bringing the office of Member or the Authority into disrepute.

 

The Case Tribunal found that the conduct of Councillor Curtis was unacceptable and concluded that he had brought his office into disrepute and suspended him from acting as a Member of the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Barry Town Council for a period of three months.

 

The Adjudication Panel for Wales, in line with Section 79 of the Local Government Act 2000, had notified the appropriate parties and published the notice of the Case Tribunal's decision in a local newspaper.

 

The Committee noted that Councillor Rob Curtis had resigned from the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Barry Town Council.

 

The Committee discussed a preliminary issue raised by Councillor Curtis, which related to the composition of the Case Tribunal.  Councillor Curtis had submitted that given the nature of the allegation he would have preferred if at least one member of the panel was male.  It was the consensus of the Committee that, for the perception of fairness, all Case Tribunals should have both male and female members.  The Committee recognised the difficulties that the Adjudication Panel for Wales may be having in recruiting male members and agreed that the Monitoring Officer write a letter to Adjudication Panel for Wales to raise this point.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the report be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Monitoring Officer, on behalf of the Standards Committee, writes to the Adjudication Panel for Wales, to highlight the Committee’s views in relation to the makeup of Case Tribunals.

 

Reason for decision

 

(1)       Having regard to the contents of the report.

 

(2)       In order to inform the Adjudication Panel for Wales of the Committee’s views.

 

 

365     LOCAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE (MO) –

 

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' wishes.  The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales ('the 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 ('the Procedure') was duly approved and had been incorporated into the Council's Constitution.  For ease of reference a copy of the Council's current Procedure was attached at Appendix A to the report.

 

The 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 permitted the Member submitting the complaint to request the matter to proceed directly to a Stage 3 hearing without a conciliation meeting being held.

 

The Procedure also allowed for the Independent Member at a hearing to make recommendations to Council regarding changing any procedures or taking any further action.  Hearings at Stage 3 were 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 was censured.

 

Following consideration by the Standards Committee on 7th July, 2016 of a number of suggested amendments to the Council's Procedure it was resolved:

 

"(1) THAT Stage 2 of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should not become mandatory.

 

(2) THAT 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) THAT a future report be submitted to a future Standards Committee meeting following a review of the Welsh Local Authorities Local Dispute Resolution Procedures."

 

As with the Constitution generally, the Procedure was subject to review and changes could be proposed if considered appropriate (either by the Monitoring Officer or the Standards Committee itself).

 

At the Committee meeting on 7th July, 2016 comments relating to the Procedure which had been received from Members were considered. These included: 

  • Delay in dealing with complaints under the Procedure and bringing the same to the attention of the Member complained about;

-       this had been addressed by of the Resolutions of the Standards Committee on 7th July, 2016.

  • Witnesses at Stage 3 hearings not having an awareness of the nature of the complaint;

-       this had been addressed by the Resolutions of the Standards Committee on 7th July, 2016.

  • Delay in progressing with Stage 2 of the Procedure.
  • A call for Stage 2 of the Procedure to be rescinded.
  • Overall timescales within the Procedure to be tightened up.
  • An increased role for the Monitoring Officer in the Procedure when "personal attacks" occurred with regard to officers.
  • Process to be streamlined.
  • Some support for a mandatory conciliation stage within the Procedure to settle disagreement and conflict between elected Members, but not in cases of potential breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct.
  • Introduction of an independent investigation role to assess whether there was a case to answer in instances of alleged breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct.
  • Standards Committee to consider matters at Stage 3.
  • Consideration to be given to the Procedure being extended to allow employees and members of the public to use the Procedure.

The views of the Standards Committee on 7th July, 2016 were detailed in the minutes of that meeting, which in summary were: 

  • There was merit in considering whether any revisions to the Procedure should be made.
  • Reference was made to the need to distinguish between actual Members' Code of Conduct complaints and disputes / disagreements between individual Councillors; and that there was merit and potential for agreement being reached through mediation in the case of the latter.
  • That Stage 2 of the Procedure should not become mandatory.
  • There was some hesitation with regards to the suggestion that an independent member should observe at Stage 2 of the Procedure, and that this would be reconsidered in line with the further information to be presented to the Standards Committee.
  • Consideration be given to increasing the existing sanctions under the Procedure.
  • 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 a 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).

In line with the Committee's request, the Monitoring Officer had liaised with all Welsh Monitoring Officers and requested sight of their individual Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedures.  Out of the 21 Welsh Local Authorities, responses were received from the following 13 Councils:

 

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council,

Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council,

Flintshire County Council,

Powys County Council,

Gwynedd Council,

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council,

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council,

Monmouthshire County Council,

Torfaen County Borough Council,

Isle of Anglesey County Council,

Ceredigion County Council,

Conwy County Borough Council; and

Pembrokeshire County Council.

 

Copies of 12 of those Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedures were attached at Appendix B to the report (save for Pembrokeshire's which was currently under review), together with a summary of the key points relating to the same and how they differed from this Council's Procedure.

 

As requested, a summary of the cases / findings to date pursuant to the Procedure was set out under Part II of this agenda, given that not all cases had resulted in a censure, and, therefore, the details relating to the same were not in the public domain.

 

The Monitoring Officer advised of the key differences highlighted by the responses from the 13 Local Authorities, which were: 

  • Referral to the Ombudsman if it was considered that a Councillor may have breached the Code of Conduct.
  • A hearing before the Standards Committee as opposed to an Independent Member.
  • Use of a Local Resolution Panel comprising 3 members, including Independent and Elected Members.
  • Strict timescales around swift mediation and reconciliation, such as those used by the Isle of Anglesey.
  • Mediation and resolution through significant input of Group Leaders.
  • The appointment of a mediator.
  • A time limit in which to resolve the complaint.
  • The undertaking of a preliminary investigation to establish facts and areas of dispute.
  • The powers to remove Members from Committees or outside bodies in cases of persistent breaches.
  • The ability to make recommendations to the Standards Committee regarding training and changes to any procedures.

In discussing the responses received, the Committee noted the various approaches that had been adopted.  It was suggested that consideration be given in using aspects from each Authority in order to provide a wide range of options, that would allow the Council  to ‘pick and choose’ which ones were most relevant to each individual case.  The Committee, in discussing this suggestion, felt that determination of the relevant processes and mechanisms could be something that was considered at Stage 1.

 

The Committee also discussed if there was a need to look at how the hearings were conducted and whether there was a need to increase the number of members.  The Committee considered the merits of cases being heard by a panel of 2 or more members or for a hearing before the full Standards Committee.  The Committee also considered the pros and cons of Group Leaders being present.  Subsequently, it was the Committee’s view that the current practice of choosing one independent member from the Committee to hear each individual case was working well.

 

The Monitoring Officer, in referring to the main areas in which the Vale’s Local Dispute Resolution Procedure could be strengthened, highlighted: 

  • extended to include complaints brought by a Council employee;
  • the tightening up of timescales; and
  • reviewing the powers to sanction Councillors who had been found to have breached the Members’ Code of Conduct.

In considering Stage 2 - conciliation meeting, the Committee noted that this would be of particular importance in cases involving complaints made by Council employees.  The Monitoring Officer outlined that the Council’s Constitution contained a section on how Councillors and the staff should interact, but there was no formal mechanism in which officer complaints could be dealt with internally, with the only option being a referral to the Ombudsman. 

 

With regard to improving timeliness, some Local Authorities had set strict timescales that had to be adhered to.  The Monitoring Officer advised that she considered that cases should be dealt with more swiftly and that, in some instances, the Stage 2 process had ‘drifted’.  The Monitoring Officer advised that there may also be merit in including an investigating officer role, in which, the Monitoring Officer or Legal/Deputy Monitoring Officer would present a report to the Independent Member dealing with stage 3.  The Committee considered that an investigatory role was something that could be explored further.

 

Turning to increased powers to sanction Councillors found to have breached the Code of Conduct, the Monitoring Officer raised the need to factor in Councillors offering an apology and consideration of the approach adopted in Ceredigion and Conwy Councils, where their Local Dispute Resolution Procedure has a sanction which removes Councillors from sitting on committees or an outside body.  The Committee also highlighted that in some Authorities, cases could be referred on to the full Standards Committee.  The Committee noted that guidance would be devised if it was decided to increase powers of sanction.

 

In terms of going forward, the Monitoring Officer advised that a further report would be provided at a future meeting, with particular emphasis on improving timescales and conciliation.  The Committee was also advised that the views of the Group Leaders would be sought.

 

RESOLVED – T H A T a further report be submitted to a future Standards Committee.

 

Reason for decision

 

In order to progress the Committee’s review of the Council’s Local Dispute Resolution Procedure.

 

 

366     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.

 

 

367     LOCAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEDURE (MO) (EXEMPT INFORMATION – PARAGRAPHS 12 AND 13) –

 

The Committee received a breakdown of the outcome of Local Dispute Resolution hearings held between 23rd June, 2014 and 22nd September, 2016. 

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the contents of the report be noted.

 

Reason for decision

 

Having regard to the contents of the report.