Venue: Anglia Room, Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Walpole Loke, Dereham
Contact: Committee Services Tel 01362 656870
To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 15 April 2008.
The minutes of the meeting held on 15 April 2008 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
The Solicitor and Standards Consultant told the Chairman that he was still waiting to hear about the budget available for attendance at the Seventh Annual Assembly of Standards Committees.
Apologies (Agenda Item 2)
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from Mr D Williams.
Report of the Chief Accountant.
The Chief Accountant was present to answer questions on this report.
He explained that this policy had been approved at Cabinet and set out the procedures for investigating inappropriate behaviour. Only matters concerning Members would be referred to the Committee and guidelines on how to investigate allegations would be provided. If it was considered that further investigation was warranted, this would normally be carried out by the Internal Auditor.
RESOLVED to approve the Whistleblowing Policy.
Members' Code of Conduct (Agenda Item 7)
As requested at the last meeting, the Standards Consultant will give a briefing on the provisions of the Code of Conduct for the benefit of new Members of the Committee.
The Standards Consultant gave a brief overview of the Code of Conduct using a PowerPoint presentation.
He explained that the consequences of abuse of the Code ranged from ‘No Action’ to disqualification for five years.
The powers of the Committee had been extended to allow them to suspend a Member for up to six months.
The Code applied to Members acting in their official capacity – or giving that impression. There was a booklet available which explained the terms used in the Code.
The Code defined the behaviour expected of Members and it was up to the individual to interpret its requirements. The underlying theme of the code was the need to act with appropriate standards. Members were advised to consider the ‘spirit’ of the Code rather than individual statements within it.
Flowcharts were passed to Members to assist in the decision making process on when a member had an interest and whether it was a personal or a personal and prejudicial interest. It was pointed out that Members could not have a prejudicial interest without first having a personal interest.
Members declaring a personal interest should clearly state the nature of that interest. They could then stay in the meeting and take part in any vote.
Personal interests related to things covered by the Register of Interests, to a Member’s wellbeing or financial position or to the wellbeing or financial position of a relevant person (including extended family members, friends and acquaintances and anyone that a member of the public might think that a Member would favour).
The Code was more restrictive than the previous Code in relation to prejudicial interests and defined them as anything relating to a financial interest or to matters where approval / permission was granted where a member of the public would consider that a Member’s interest would affect their judgement.
Members declaring a personal and prejudicial interest should leave the room and take no part in any discussion or vote. It was not enough to withdraw from the discussion but to remain in the room. Their very presence could influence what others said, or did not say.
Discussion then followed on the anomaly that if a meeting was open to speaking by members of the public, a Member had a constitutional right to remain in the meeting and speak even if they had declared a personal and prejudicial interest. They could choose to be the final speaker and only had to leave the room once they had spoken. This meant that they could be in the room and hear everything said up until the time that they spoke.
Members then referred to the procedure at many Town and Parish Council meetings where it was the practice to ‘suspend’ the meeting to enable members of the public to speak. The Chairman confirmed that the National Association of Local Councils advised its members to do this. It was acknowledged that members of the public attended meetings because they wanted information or had questions. Members at ... view the full minutes text for item 29.
To consider the new Regulations and Guidance on the new standards committee powers as provided for under Part 10 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. A copy of the Explanatory Notes to the new Regulations is attached. The Regulations will come into effect on 8 May 2008.
The Standards Consultant explained that he had been unable to prepare a report for the meeting as the Order had been received the day before the agenda was issued.
He ran through the regulations and drew attention to Clause 7 concerning the minimum number of members required for the sub-committees.
An address had to be publicised to which written allegations could be sent. This could be placed in Breckland Voice and one of the local newspapers. It was also necessary to publish the procedures to be used when dealing with written allegations. Details of this might need to be agreed at the next meeting.
A new provision of the Act required the Monitoring Officer to report back to Standards Committee on any issues referred to him by the Assessment sub-committee.
Parish Councils were required to assist investigations and the Monitoring Officer could request that any costs incurred by them be met by the Council.
There were two stages when a report is received after a full investigation. The Investigating Officer would report to the committee and if the finding was of ‘no failure’ the committee could accept this or refer the matter to a full hearing.
Further guidance had recently been received which helped to clarify the requirements of the regulations, including suggested standard questions for the sub-committee to use when assessing allegations.
Sub-Committees of Standards Committees (Agenda Item 9)
To consider whether, for the purposes of conducting the new functions of Standards Committees, a structure of sub-committees should be established.
The Standards Consultant will report further at the meeting.
An Assessment sub-committee and a Review sub-committee needed to be established. No-one could serve on both committees in relation to the same matter. Each had to have a minimum of three members including one elected Member, and one Parish Councillor if a parish council matter was being discussed. The Chairman of each had to be independent.
A discussion followed on the most appropriate number of Committee members for full hearings. It was suggested that initially it might be best for the full committee to sit. However it was considered that this might intimidate those being investigated.
To maintain the required quorum it was suggested that four or five members for each sub-committee would be best. If there were five, two would need to be independent members.
A vote was held and it was
RESOLVED that sub-committees for Assessment, Review and Hearings be formed, each consisting of four members and that all committee members would be used in rotation.
A request was made that a tally was kept to ensure all members participated equally.
The Chairman asked if any members felt they needed training, particularly independent members who would be required to chair the sub-committees. She felt that training was important for public perception and confidence.
The Standards Officer mentioned that following the publication of the minutes from the previous meeting she had been contacted by the Clerk to Thetford Town Council asking about training. With the new procedures in place she suggested that she write to all town and parish councils offering training and particularly offering training to their Chairmen.
The Monitoring Officer suggested that the Member Services Manager could address the next meeting to outline his proposals for Member training.<1>
Local Assessment Procedures (Agenda Item 10)
The Standards Consultant will give a briefing on the procedures for conducting local assessment of complaints. A number of example cases provided by the Standards Board for England for training purposes will be put to the Committee.
The Standards Consultant distributed case notes provide by the Standards Board for England and a flowchart on complaint handling.
Members read through the cases and discussed the outcomes.
Each Authority had to work out its own procedures. From the examples given it was clear that in some cases, précis reports were provided by officers, rather than the committee receiving the complete complaint form (which could be quite sizeable). However, following discussion it was felt that to get a complete picture, it was necessary to see all the information.
To note the date of the next meeting on Tuesday, 27 May 2008 at 2.15 p.m. in the Norfolk Room, Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Dereham.
A Member was concerned that Article 9 of the Constitution was ‘out-of-date’ following the changes to the Committee. The Monitoring Officer said there were a number of changes to be made and he would address these.
It was suggested that an item on Expenses should be included on the next agenda.
The Monitoring Officer and the Standards Consultant indicated that the LDF raised some potentially difficult issues for Members of the Authority that would benefit from consideration by the Committee. A report would therefore be presented to the next meeting setting out the key issues and the way the Authority proposes to address them, for consideration and comment by the Committee.<1>
Some discussion followed on how items came forward for inclusion on the agenda and the Committee were advised that officers would respond to their requests.
The next meeting of the Standards Committee would be held on 27th May 2008 at 2.15 p.m. in the Norfolk Room, Conference Suite, Elizabeth House, Dereham.