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STANDARDS COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 25th January, 2017.

 

Present:  Mr. A. Lane (Vice-Chairman in the Chair), Mr. J.F. Baker, Mr. D. Carsley, Mrs. M.J. Pearce, Councillor Mrs. A. Moore and M. Cuddy (Town and Community Councillor Representative).

 

 

727     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE -

 

These were received from Mr. A.G. Hallett (Chairman), Councillors K. Hatton and A.C. Williams.

 

 

728     MINUTES -

 

RESOLVED - T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 22nd September, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

729     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST -

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

730     THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES (MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT) (WALES) (AMENDMENT) ORDER 2016: TOWN AND COMMUNITY COUNCILS (MO) -

 

The Monitoring Officer presented the report to apprise committee of the responses received from the Town and Community Councils within the Vale of Glamorgan regarding compliance with the provisions of the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016 and Section 51(6) of the Local Government Act 2000.

 

The Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016 amended existing subordinate legislation made under Part III of the Local Government Act 2000, consequential upon provisions in the Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act 2013 ("the 2013 Act").  The Order came into force on 1st April, 2016.  The Order amended the Model Code of Conduct for Local Government Members. The main amendments were as follows: 

  • The 2013 Act transferred responsibility for maintaining the Register of Interests of Members of Community Councils from the Monitoring Officer of the Principal Local Authority for the area to the 'Proper Officer' of each Community Council with effect from 1st May, 2015.  A number of consequential amendments were made to the Model Code to reflect this change. 
  • The Model Code was also amended to clarify that, in terms of the Register of Members' Interests, any interest disclosed for the first time must be entered in the Register.  This was not a change of policy, but clarifies the original intention.  The exemption for Community Councillors from the requirement to register certain financial and other interests up front is maintained.
  • The obligation on a Member to report a potential breach of the Code of Conduct to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales was now omitted from the Code.  However, it continues to be the obligation to report such matters to the Monitoring Officer. 

The following paragraph was now omitted: 

 

"A member of the public might reasonably perceive a conflict between your role in taking a decision, upon that business, on behalf of your authority as a whole and your role in representing the interests of constituents in your ward or electoral division".

 

This was to overcome unintended difficulties in the practical application of this paragraph in relation to participation in business relating to constituency interests.  Nevertheless, a Member participating in the consideration of a Ward matter is still under an obligation to act objectively and in the wider public interest.   All relevant Authorities must within six months of the Amendment Order adopt a revised Code of Conduct.  The Order was made on 27th January, 2016 and, therefore, the Council had until 26th July, 2016 in which to adopt a revised Code.  However, it was suggested by Welsh Government that it would be sensible for Local Authorities to do so no later than at their 2016 Annual Meeting.

 

To assist with compliance by the Town and Community Councils, the Monitoring Officer had shared with the Clerks to the Town and Community Councils within the Vale of Glamorgan, copies of associated reports submitted to the Standards Committee and the Vale of Glamorgan Council which detailed the relevant legal obligations. 

 

In order to assess the level of compliance by the Town and Community Councils, the Monitoring Officer wrote to the 26 Town and Community Councils within the Vale of Glamorgan on 13th October, 2016 requesting the dates when the following actions were taken by the respective Town or Community Council: 

  • The adoption by your Council of the revised Members’ Code of Conduct.
  • When copies of the revised Members’ Code of Conduct were made available at an office of your Council for inspection by members of the public.
  • When your Council published in one or more newspapers, circulating in the area of your Council a notice stating that the revised Members’ Code of Conduct has been adopted, that copies of the revised Members’ Code of Conduct were available at an office of the Council for inspection by members of the public at such times as had been specified in the notice and specifying the address of the relevant office.
  • When a copy of the revised Members’ Code of Conduct had been sent to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. 

The outcome was as follows: 

  • 12 Town / Community Councils revised their Members' Code of Conduct and published a notice in a newspaper circulating in their area on 20th October, 2016 and thereafter sent a revised copy of their Members' Code of Conduct to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales;
  • Llandough Community Council took all appropriate action with their notice being published on 27th October, 2016;
  • St. Athan Community Council took all appropriate action with their notice being published on 10th November, 2016;
  • 10 further Town / Community Councils took all appropriate action with their notice being published on 19th January, 2017;
  • Feedback is awaited from Sully and Lavernock Community Council and Michaelston le Pit with Leckwith Community Council.  To date both Councils had indicated that the recent joint notice, to be published on 19th January, 2017, was not in a newspaper in the area of their respective Councils.  

Following consideration of the above, Committee

 

RESOLVED -

 

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

 

(2)       T H A T Sully and Lavernock Community Council and Michaelston le Pit with Leckwith Community Council be requested to inform the Standards Committee of the timescale by which they propose to comply with the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016 and Section 51(6) of the Local Government Act 2000.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To note the current position.

 

(2)       To comply with the statutory obligations.

 

 

731     MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT: OMBUDSMAN GUIDELINES (MO) -

 

The Monitoring Officer advised that the purpose of the report was to bring to the Standard Committee’s attention the latest version of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales’ Guidance on the Members’ Code of Conduct for County Councillors and Town and Community Councillors. 

 

The Public Service Ombudsman for Wales (‘the Ombudsman’) issued guidance to Councillors on the Members’ Code of Conduct to assist in understanding the obligations under the Code, the processes applied by the Ombudsman when investigating complaints and examples of cases to assist with interpretation.

 

Attached at Appendix A to the report was the Ombudsman’s latest guidance to Councillors which applied to Vale of Glamorgan Councillors, and attached at Appendix B was the guidance applicable to Town and Community Councillors.

 

Appendix C to the report contained guidance from the Welsh Local Government Association entitled “Social Media: A Guide for Councillors”.  

 

The Members of the Committee complimented the documents and noted them as an excellent “first port of call” resource for Councillors.  The scenario examples within the text they considered were of particular interest and very helpful.

 

The Monitoring Officer added that, with the upcoming local government election, this was an appropriate time for these documents to be circulated via the Standards Committee to emphasise their importance. 

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       That the Public  Services Ombudsman for Wales’ Guidance on the Members’ Code of Conduct for County and Town / Community Councillors attached to the report at Appendices A and B be noted.

 

(2)       That the Monitoring Officer, on behalf of the Standards Committee, forward copies of the relevant guidance to all Vale of Glamorgan Councillors and all Clerks to Town / Community Councils drawing particular attention to the Welsh Local Government guidance on Social Media entitled Social Media: A Guide for Councillors attached at Appendix C and pages 17 and 18 of the Ombudsman’s guidance in respect of the High Court case under the heading bullying and harassment.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To apprise Committee.

 

(2)       To assist Councillors to observe the Members’ Code of Conduct and to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by Councillors.

 

 

732     MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT: TRAINING (MO) -

 

A suite of induction training was to be provided to Members of the Vale of Glamorgan Council following the Local Government Election on 4th May, 2017.  The training format would be interactive and group work based.

 

The training would entail a number of problem solving exercises and would be supplemented by reference to the Council’s Protocol – Standard of Conduct Expected by Members.  The training would also be designed using ‘lessons learnt’ from recent cases.

 

As part of the induction programme, the Monitoring Officer drew attention to an all Member seminar that she would be presenting for Vale of Glamorgan Councillors to be held on 16th and 18th May on the Code of Conduct and Governance Arrangements.  To assist the process the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), in consultation with the All Wales Monitoring Officer Group had compiled a standard presentation that would be utilised and cover the following key themes: 

  • The Ethical Framework (including the 10 principals underpinning the Members’ Code of Conduct);
  • Consequences on non-compliance for Councillors;
  • Councillors’ responsibilities;
  • The key aspects of the Members’ Code of Conduct including the general rules that need to be followed;
  • What to do if you have an interest;
  • Predisposition and predetermination;
  • Bias;
  • How the Code is policed;
  • What happens if you breach the Code? 

Arrangements were also in hand for One Voice Wales to facilitate refresher training on the Members’ Code of Conduct for Clerks to Town and Community Councils with at least two places being allocated per Town / Community Council for respective Members to attend.   The Monitoring Officer reminded Committee that the last Town and Community Council training sessions held had been well received and the attendance of the Committee Chairmen had been appreciated.  The Members of the Committee agreed that continued attendance at the training sessions would help to raise the profile of the Committee.

 

A Member raised a concern about the level of training content to be covered, by Elected Members, and was advised by the Monitoring Officer that the sessions would take the format of interactive sessions which had also been endorsed by input from the WLGA and the All Wales Monitoring Officer Group to enhance participation.  The May training dates were also only the first set of training slots in an induction programme that included mandatory sessions for Councillors.

 

In response to a question as to whether there were any mandatory training sessions scheduled for Town and Community Clerks, the Monitoring Officer informed Committee that it was a matter for each individual Community Council to monitor and agree their training needs over and beyond the training offered by the Monitoring Officer and facilitated by One Voice Wales.  Following which, it was suggested that a letter be sent to all Clerks suggesting that they write to all their Members, advising them to apprise themselves of the Code of Conduct, the obligation to comply with the Code under their acceptance of office and encouraging them to attend the training.

 

A Member of the Committee also suggested that a Member of the Standards Committee attend each training session which would allow the opportunity for any questions about the Standards Committee role to be answered, pass on any advice from previous case studies, and to provide the Monitoring Officer with additional support when facilitating the sessions.

 

In response, the Monitoring Officer thanked the Members for their offer, advising that she would give further thought to how the sessions could be structured which could include:

 

•           A Standards Panel session;

•           A Mini presentation about the Standards Committee and / or

•           A Q&A section. 

 

The Monitoring Officer subsequently advised that the 16th and 18th May dates had been set, however, the Town and Community Council Code of Conduct session dates had not yet been confirmed.  These were to be published as soon as they were known.

 

The Vice-Chairman concluded the discussion by suggesting that all Committee Members be requested to contact the Monitoring Officer individually to advise her of their willingness to attend the sessions and to discuss the level of participation required.  An interactive role rather than just observation was encouraged. 

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the proposed Members’ Code of Conduct training be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T a letter be sent to all Town and Community Council Clerks, following the Local Government Election, advising of future training sessions and encouraging their elected Members to apprise them of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Code of Conduct guidance.

 

(3)       T H A T Standards Committee Members contact the Monitoring Officer advising of their availability to attend the training sessions should they wish to attend.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To apprise the Committee.

 

(2)       Town and Community Clerks are provided with the opportunity to attend training sessions within the Elected Member Induction Programme.

 

(3)       The Standards Committee is represented at training sessions.

 

 

733     COMPOSITION OF CASE TRIBUNALS REFERRED TO THE ADJUDICATION PANEL FOR WALES (MO) -

 

On 22nd September, 2016, the Standards Committee received a report regarding the outcome of a Case Tribunal relating to an alleged breach of the Members' Code of Conduct.

 

Having noted the report, the Standards Committee had regard to the second preliminary issue raised by the Respondent Councillor regarding the composition of the Case Tribunal and more particularly his submission that given the nature of the allegation, he would have preferred at least one male member on the Panel.

 

It was the consensus of the Standards Committee that, for the perception of fairness, all Case Tribunals should have both male and female members.

 

The Committee at that time 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 the Adjudication Panel for Wales to raise this point.  A copy of the Monitoring Officer's letter, dated 22nd November, 2016, was attached at Appendix A of the report.

 

In response to the letter, the Monitoring Officer had received a reply on 28th November, 2016 which was also attached at Appendix B to the report.  The letter of response indicated that recruitment to Panels was carried out through the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), with appointments of members made by the First Minister after consideration of the Commission's recommendations.  It was intended that the Judicial Appointments Commission would be asked to carry out a further recruitment exercise within the next 12 months.  Once details of the recruitment drive had been received, the Monitoring Officer would arrange for a copy of the relevant advertisement to be forwarded to Members (and former Members) of the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Standards Committee.

 

On consideration of the response letter, the Members of the Committee were dissatisfied with the level of recruitment detail contained within the letter of response and following considerable discussion requested that a further letter be sent, from the Monitoring Officer, to the JAC requesting clarification on the recruitment criteria and to reiterate the Committee’s concern of single-sex Adjudication Panels. 

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the content of the report and the letter of response from the Adjudication Panel for Wales, dated 28th November, 2016 and attached at Appendix B, be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Monitoring Officer write to the Judicial Appointments Commission, on behalf of the Standards Committee requesting details of the recruitment criteria for the Adjudication Panel for Wales and reiterating the Committee’s concern as detailed in the letter of 22nd November, 2016.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To apprise the Committee of the response from the Adjudication Panel for Wales.

 

(2)       To inform the Committee of the JAC recruitment criteria and pass on the Committee’s concerns.

 

 

734     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.

 

 

735     APPLICATION FOR THE GRANT OF DISPENSATION (MO) -

(Urgent by reason of the need to consider requests for dispensations to speak and vote prior to the next meeting of the Committee)

 

In presenting the application for dispensation to the Committee, the Monitoring Officer informed the Committee that the Councillor had recently been appointed as a Member of both the Vale Council and Barry Town Council and this was the reason for the application being received at this point in the municipal year.  The urgency for this application was due to the Councillor’s required attendance at a Community Liaison Committee meeting on 1st February, 2017.

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T dispensation be granted to speak and vote at meetings of the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Barry Town Council on matters relating to the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s ‘Reshaping Services Strategy’ until the next Local Government Elections, in compliance with paragraphs (b) and (d) of the Standards Committee (Grant of Dispensations) (Wales) Regulations 2001 which governs a grant of dispensations to speak / speak and vote.

 

(2)       That the Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Chairman or in his/her absence the Vice-Chairman, be granted delegated powers to consider, refuse and approve urgent applications for dispensation on behalf of the Standards Committee, and thereafter report the use of such delegation to the next relevant meeting of the Standards Committee. 

 

(3)       T H A T the delegation referred to in Resolution (2) above be referred to Council for approval.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

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

(2)          In cases where applications for dispensations are required to be considered on an urgent basis .

 

(3)       For Council’s consideration and (if deemed appropriate) approval.

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