Agenda item

The Localism Act 2011 - The Amended Standards Regime (Agenda item 13)

Report of Michael Wassell, Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services.

Minutes:

The Vice-Chairman presented the report which concerned the arrangements for Standards as required by the Localism Act 2011.

 

The Monitoring Officer had been asked to produce an options report following the previous Cabinet meeting on 27 March 2012.  The report detailed the initial set of recommendations planned for consideration at the Council meeting on 24 May 2012.  The Standards section of the Act would come into force on 1 July 2012; however, the regulations had not, as yet, been published.  It was therefore planned that once the recommendations within the report had been approved the full arrangements documents could be produced for Council’s approval on 5July 2012.

 

Although the aim of the Act was to simplify the Standards regime, whilst retaining high expectations for the standards of conduct and accountability of Members, there were a large number of recommendations within the report that were needed in order to implement the various aspects of Part 1, Chapter 7 of the Act.

 

The full list of recommendations had been set out at Appendix 3 of the report and Members’ attention was drawn to the following key areas:

 

Code of Conduct

 

This draft Code had been based on the LGA model template that had been issued.  The Code could not be finalised until the Regulations were issued and the definitions of Disclosable Pecuniary Interests had been provided.  It was not yet known exactly when the Regulations would be published.  An alternative ‘illustrative text’ had been issued by the DCLG which could be seen on pages 82 and 83 of the report.  The recommended version for basing the Breckland Code of Conduct was the LGA template as it was anticipated that this would be in line with County partners and also South Holland District Council.

 

Independent Person

 

Part of the Act required Council’s to appoint an Independent Person who must be consulted on a number of occasions.  An advert had been placed on the Council’s website and in the local paper and had attracted 22 applications.  Interviews for this post would be taking place on 16 May.  The Independent Person must be appointed by a positive majority of Council (i.e. at least 28 Members must vote in favour of the appointment of the candidate).

 

Complaints

 

The Act no longer required the Council to have a Standards Committee and this report recommended that the majority of complaints be considered by the Monitoring Officer in consultation with the Independent Person.  It had been recognised; however, that there could be occasions when this was not appropriate and there also needed to be somewhere for the Monitoring Officer to report general issues of governance and standards, this report recommended that this became part of the remit of the Audit Committee, although, it was accepted that other committees were equally appropriate for this role and thoughts on this matter would be welcomed.

 

The following questions were asked:

 

  • Standards Committee

 

Section 2.2.1

 

Q – The composition of the Panel will be governed by proportionality; did this mean that the Panel would have to be politically balanced?

A – Yes.

 

  • The Code of Conduct

 

Section 3.2

 

Q – Disposable Pecuniary Interests (DPIs) were these replacing both personal and prejudicial interests?

A – Yes

 

Section 3.3

 

Q – Was the Council adopting a Standing Order requiring Members to withdraw from the meeting if a Member declared a DPI?

A – Yes, this was being recommended.

 

Recommendation 2(b)

 

Q – When the DPI Regulations were published and once the Leader had been consulted will this go before Full Council for approval?

A – Yes, once the Regulations become apparent this would go before Council at its meeting scheduled for 5 July 2012.

 

  • Dealing with Complaints against Councillors under the Code of Conduct

 

Section 4.2

 

Q – Will the decision whether to investigate a complaint go before Full Council?

A – Yes.

 

Section 4.3

 

Q – Where a formal investigation finds no evidence of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, the current requirement was that this would be reported to an Assessment Sub-Committee and the Sub-Committee and would make the decision as to whether any further action should be taken.  Could the consultation be carried out by the Independent Person?

A – There were many other legislation/regulations outside of the Code of Conduct that had to be adhered to and this was one of them.

 

Section 4.5 (iii)

 

Amendment to read: “…(or in the case of non-grouped Members……..).

 

Section 4.5 final paragraph

 

Q – Could the amended Standards regime pre-incorporate Parish and Town Councils?

A – Any matter that involved a Parish Councillor would have to be referred back to the Parish Council.

 

The Chairman stated that Town and Parish Councils needed to be able to put their own house in order and should not need to go up another tier.  Members were informed that within the Act, the local authority was the responsible authority.  A Parish or Town Council did not have to adopt the same Code of Conduct as written in the legislation.  The Executive Member asked if matters such as these could be delegated.  Members were informed that clarification would have to be sought.

 

Recommendation 3 (d)

 

Q – Who would be giving instruction to the Monitoring Officer to close the matter?

A – The wording to this part would be changed to read: the Monitoring Officer would be given the powers to close the matter.

 

Recommendation 3 (f)

 

Q – Would the minimum amount of three Members of the proposed Audit Committee have to be politically balanced?

A – Yes

 

  • Independent Persons

 

Recommendation 4 (a)

 

Q – Would it be possible to appoint two Independent Persons, as a stand-in?

A – Breckland Council would be able to use the Independent Person appointed by South Holland District Council. Both would need to be consulted if two were appointed.

 

Recommendation 4(c)

 

Q – That the appointment of the Independent Person be approved by a positive majority of the Council – what did this mean?

AThe appointment of the Independent Person has to be approved by a positive majority of the Council.  In the case of Breckland Council, this required a positive vote from a minimum of 28 Members of the Council regardless of the number of Members present at the meeting.

 

Following questions, the Executive Support Member for Planning & Environmental Services asked if it was logical for the Council to delegate the role of monitoring Standards issues to the Audit Committee.   Members were informed that other Committees had been considered but the Audit Committee seemed most appropriate.  Training would be provided.

 

Options

 

None provided.

 

Reasons

 

To agree arrangements for Standards as required by the Localism Act 2011.

 

RECOMMEND to Council that subject to the aforementioned amendments the recommendations as listed in Appendix 3 of the report be approved.

Supporting documents: