The Localism Act - The Amended Standards Regime (Agenda Item 9)
Report of the Deputy Chief Executive.
The Executive Member for Finance & Democratic Services presented the report.
The Localism Act made fundamental changes to the system of regulation of standards of conduct for elected and co-opted Councillors. The regulations had yet to be published and therefore a final arrangements document would be brought back to Council once they were available.
The recommendations within the report were listed in full at Appendix 3 on page 49 of the Agenda.
Members’ attention was drawn to recommendation 4c concerning the appointment of an Independent Person. Interviews had taken place and an additional paper had been tabled which detailed the recommendations of the interview panel. The appointment of the Independent Person had to be made by a positive majority of Council.
An amendment to recommendation 3f was noted. It should read “such actions might include”. Subject to that amendment, and the proposal to appoint Fiona Anthony as the Independent Person, Members were encouraged to support the recommendations.
The Leader of the Labour Group was concerned that the Audit Committee already had sufficient workload. It was a considerable undertaking to review complaints which would still incur costs.
The Executive Member advised that the Chairman of the Audit Committee had confirmed that they were able to take on the work.
The Leader of the Labour Group remained sceptical about the arrangements but said that he had been invited to attend the interviews for the Independent Person and he was happy to endorse that recommendation.
A Member of the Standards Committee said that she was concerned that there was no appeal panel. She felt that the new proposals were not sufficiently robust enough to support Members.
Members voted on the amended recommendations en-bloc. With regard to recommendation 4c there was a show of hands. 40 Members voted in favour of the appointment of Fiona Anthony as the Council’s Independent Person. Mrs Matthews and Lady Fisher abstained.
1) a. That the Council delegates to the Audit Committee, the role of monitoring Standards issues.
b. That training is provided for the Members of the Audit Committee in order to support them in carrying out this additional role.
c. That when required by the Monitoring Officer, a Hearing Panel comprising 3 elected Members of the Audit Committee, will be called to sit for cases referred to it by the Monitoring Officer;
d. That the current Standards Committee be dissolved with effect from 30 June 2012 if there are no outstanding cases, or until such later date as outstanding cases are resolved.
1) a. That the Code of Conduct attached at Appendix 1 to the report, be adopted by Council,
b. That, when the Disclosable Pecuniary Interests Regulations are published, the Monitoring Officer is instructed, after consultation with the Leader of the Council, to add to the Code of Conduct provisions which is considered to be appropriate for the registration and disclosure of interests other than DPIs and bring back to Council for approval.
2) a. That the Monitoring Officer is instructed to draft the arrangements documents based on the outcome of this meeting, for consideration by Council at its meeting on 5 July 2012.
b. That the Monitoring Officer be appointed as the Proper Officer to receive complaints of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct;
c. That the Monitoring Officer be given delegated power, after consultation with the Independent Person(s), to determine whether a complaint merits formal investigation and to arrange such investigation. The Monitoring Officer be instructed to seek resolution of complaints without formal investigation wherever practicable, and that the Monitoring Officer be given discretion to refer decisions on investigation to the Hearing Panel of the Audit Committee, where the Monitoring Officer feels that it is inappropriate for him/her to take the decision, and to report annually to Audit Committee on the discharge of this function;
d. Where the investigation finds no evidence of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Monitoring Officer after consultation with the Independent Person, be given the powers to close the matter, providing a copy of the report and findings of the investigation to the complainant, the Member concerned, the Independent Person and where appropriate to the Town / Parish Council, and report the findings to the Audit Committee for information;
e. Where the investigation finds evidence of a failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Monitoring Officer in consultation with the Independent Person(s) be authorised to seek local resolution in appropriate cases. Where such local resolution is not appropriate or not possible, the Monitoring Officer is to report the investigation findings to a Hearings Panel of the Audit Committee for local Hearing;
f. That Council delegate powers to the Audit Committee and any sub-group (comprising of a minimum of 3 Members of the proposed Audit Committee) such in respect of a Member who is found on investigation to have failed to comply with the Code of Conduct, such actions might include –
i. Formal censure of the Member
ii. Reporting its findings to Council [or to the Town / Parish Council] for information (not optional);
iii. Recommending to the Member’s Group Leader (or in the case of non-grouped Members, recommend to Council) that he/she be removed from any or all Committees or Sub-Committees of the Council;
iv. Recommending to the Leader of the Council that the Member be removed from the Cabinet, or removed from particular Portfolio responsibilities;
v. Instructing the Monitoring Officer to [or recommend that the Town / Parish Council] arrange training for the Member;
vi. Removing the Member [or recommend to the Town / Parish Council that the Member be removed] from all outside appointments to which he/she has been appointed or nominated by the authority [or by the Town / Parish Council];
vii. Withdrawing [or recommend to the Town / Parish Council that it withdraws] facilities provided to the Member by the Council, such as a computer, website and/or email and Internet access; or
viii. Excluding [or recommend that the Town / Parish Council exclude] the Member from the Council’s offices or other premises, with the exception of meeting rooms as necessary for attending Council, Committee and Sub-Committee meetings.
g. That, as soon as is practicable, in liaison with other District Authorities and the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, to engage with all elected District and Town / Parish Members, to advise on the new arrangements and how the Standards regime will operate.
3) a. That Council agree to appoint Fiona Anthony as Independent Person.
b. That the recommendation of the Independent Remuneration Panel regarding the allowance to be made payable to the Independent Person be approved at a rate of £42 per meeting plus travel and expenses.
c. That the appointment of the Independent Person is approved by a positive majority of the Council at this meeting. In the case of Breckland Council, this will require a positive vote from a minimum of 28 Members of the Council regardless of the number of Members present at the meeting, Details of the recommended applicant to be confirmed at this meeting.
d. That the appointment of the Independent Person is initially for the period of 1 July 2012 to the date of the Annual Council meeting in May 2013.
e. That the Monitoring Officer is authorised to make arrangements with other Local Authorities to utilise their Independent Person should the need arise and to then seek approval from full Council.
5) a. That the Monitoring Officer prepare and maintain a new register of Members interests to comply with the requirements of the Act and of the Council’s Code of Conduct, once adopted by Council, and ensure that it is available for inspection as required by the Act;
b. That the Monitoring Officer ensures that all Members are informed of their duty to register interests;
c. That the Monitoring Officer prepare and maintain new registers of Members’ interests for each Town / Parish Council to comply with the Act and any Code of Conduct adopted by each Town / Parish Council and ensure that it is available for inspection as required by the Act; and
d. That the Monitoring Officer arrange to inform and offer training to District Members, Town / Parish Members and Town / Parish Clerks on the new registration arrangements once they are agreed by Council and available for publication.
6) The Monitoring Officer be instructed to recommend to Council a Standing Order which equates to the current Code of Conduct requirement that a Member must withdraw from the meeting room, including from the public gallery, during the whole of consideration of any item of business in which he/she has a DPI, except where he/she is permitted to remain as a result of the grant of a dispensation.
7) The Monitoring Officer be instructed to recommend to Council a Standing Order which equates to the current Code of Conduct requirement that a Member, when acting as a single Member acting alone where the Member is a Cabinet Member acting under Portfolio powers, or where the Member is a Ward Councillor and the Council chose to delegate powers to Ward Councillors, must withdraw from dealing with the entire matter in which he/she has a DPI, except where he/she is permitted to remain as a result of the grant of a dispensation.
8) That Council delegate the power to grant dispensations –
a. on Grounds set out in Paragraphs 10.3.1 and 10.3.4 of this report to the Monitoring Officer with an appeal to the Hearing Panel, and
b. on Grounds 10.3.2, 10.3.3 and 10.3.5 to the Hearing Panel, after consultation with the Independent Person.