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Agenda Item No. 8

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Standards Committee: 16th December 2014

 

Report of the Monitoring Officer

 

Guidance on the Code of Conduct for Local Authority Members - Public Interest Test

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To advise Members of the Committee of the proposed introduction by the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales of a public interest test when dealing with complaints relating to breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct.

Recommendations

1.         That the contents of the report be noted.

2.         That Standards Committee offers any views on the document.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To inform Members of the Standards Committee.

2.         To inform the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

Background

2.         In determining whether to investigate a complaint or whether to continue an investigation of a breach of the Code to the stage of referring the matter to the Adjudication Panel for Wales ("the Adjudication Panel") or a Standards Committee, the Ombudsman has, for a number of years, applied the following two stage test.

3.         The first stage which has been applied is to establish whether there is evidence that a breach of the Code actually took place.  The second stage is whether the breach alleged would be likely to lead to a sanction.  When exercising his discretion to investigate or to refer a matter for further consideration, the Ombudsman takes account of previous cases considered by Standards Committees across Wales.

Relevant Issues and Options

4.         Since taking up office the Ombudsman has become increasingly concerned about the number of low level complaints being received.  Whilst the local resolution processes within county or county borough councils appears to have had the effect of resolving many of the low level Member versus Member complaints within those bodies, the Ombudsman remains concerned about the number of frivolous, trivial and vexatious complaints being received from Town and Community Council Members.

5.         The Ombudsman has therefore decided to expand upon the two stage test and also consider whether an investigation or a referral to the Adjudication Panel or a Standards Committee is required in the public interest.

6.         When applying the public interest test the Ombudsman will consider each of the following public interest factors set out below.  These factors are not exhaustive, and not all may be relevant in every case.  The weight to be attached to each of these factors, and the factors identified, will also vary according to the facts and merits of each case.

·           The seriousness of the breach, for example, has the Member brought their Authority seriously into disrepute?  The more serious the breach the more likely investigation and referral for further hearing is required.

·           Has the Member deliberately sought personal gain for himself or another person at the public expense?  If there is evidence of this, the Ombudsman is likely to investigate and refer the matter for further hearing.

·           Are the circumstances of the breach such that a Member has misused a position of trust or authority and caused harm to a person?  If there is evidence of this, the Ombudsman is likely to investigate and refer the matter for further hearing.

·           Was the breach motivated by any form of discrimination against the victim's ethnic or national origin, gender, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity?  If a Member's conduct is motivated by any form of discrimination, the Ombudsman is likely to investigate and refer the matter for further hearing.

·           Is there evidence of previous similar behaviour on the part of the Member?  If so and the matter complained about is serious enough, the Ombudsman is likely to investigate and refer the matter for further hearing.

·           Is the breach such that an investigation or referral to the Adjudication Panel or a Standards Committee is required to maintain public confidence in Elected Members in Wales?  If so, the Ombudsman is likely to investigate and if evidence of a serious breach is found, refer the matter for further hearing.

·           Is investigation or referral to the Adjudication Panel or a Standards Committee a proportionate response?  Namely, would the cost of an investigation or hearing by the Adjudication Panel or a Standards Committee be regarded as excessive when weighed against any likely sanction?

7.         The Ombudsman's role is to investigate serious cases in order to maintain public confidence in standards in public life.  If he is not satisfied that an investigation or referral to the Adjudication Panel or Standards Committee is proportionate in the circumstances, he will decline to investigate or if, having started any investigation this becomes apparent, he will close his investigation.

8.         A copy of the Ombudsman's Note of Guidance regarding the proposed public interest test is attached as Appendix A to this report.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

9.         None.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

10.      None as a direct result of this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

11.      There are no legal implications as a direct result of this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

12.      There are no crime and disorder implications as a direct result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

13.      None as a direct result of this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

14.      None.

Policy Framework and Budget

15.      This report does not affect the Council's Policy Framework and Budget.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

16.      The report does not involve any consultation with other parties.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

17.      None.

Background Papers

None.

 

Contact Officer

Mr. C. Hope, tel: (01446) 709855, e-mail: democratic@valeofglamorgan.gov.uk

 

Officers Consulted

None.

 

Responsible Officer:

Ms. D. Marles, Monitoring Officer