Agenda item

Standards - Review of Code of Conduct (Agenda item 15)

Report of Rob Walker, Deputy Chief Executive & Monitoring Officer.



Sarah Wolstenholme-Smy, the Legal Services Manager presented the report.


Under the Localism Act all authorities were required to adopt a Code of Conduct.   The Council’s current arrangements had been adopted in March 2017 and the current Code was published as part 5 of the Constitution.


Following a review of the ethical framework for members, the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) recommended that there should be a national model Code of Conduct.  This recommendation had been passed to the LGA to progress and in 2020 the LGA released a draft Model for consultation.


There had been extensive consultations on the draft resulting in some changes and a finalised Model Code of Conduct had been released in May 2021.


The LGA model was more detailed than the Council’s own Code of Conduct (see paragraph 3.1 of the report), but it was not compulsory to adopt; however, it was being recommended that it should be adopted for a consistency approach across all Norfolk councils


The Chairman felt that this was very important as not only would it be used by Breckland Council but also by many Parish Councils who had adopted Breckland’s Code.  He also felt that it had been worth bringing this new Code forward now prior to the Elections in May for good governance.


The Vice-Chairman referred to Appendix B of the report that referred to the Joint Statement and asked who the parties were in this Statement.  The Legal Services Manager said that she would clarify that and report back accordingly.


The Vice-Chairman also noticed that the Model Code did not refer to pre-determination and contained very little in terms of data protection.  He also felt that it should include some form of guidance on appropriate Member training.


Councillor Clarke was pleased to see reference to the Seven Principles of Public Life, known as the Nolan Principles, being taken into account.  He was also pleased to see, under paragraph 1.2 of Appendix A of the report, that all Councillors must be committed to behaving in a manner consistent with the seven principles.  He then referred to the role of the Monitoring Officer, in terms of the Appeal process.


The Legal Services Manager explained that the Standards Committee had made recommendations to Government in terms of what powers the Monitoring Officer had, and the response was still awaited.


Councillor Birt had also noticed the omission of pre-determination. He did, however, support the adoption of this new Code of Conduct as he felt that this would be a significant improvement as to what the Council had now. He had on many occasions pointed out numerous flaws in the past in terms of Breckand’s interpretation of the Nolan Principles, and by adopting this, it would be up to date, and all would have to be truthful.  He then quoted a section from the Standards of Public Life that stated that ‘all people appointed to work in the Civil Service, Local Government’ which he believed should equally include Officers of the Council.  He also believed that the next part of the Constitution should be reviewed, the Member/Officer Protocol and Relations and updated along the lines of what was being discussed in this Model Code.


The Chairman said that he understood the points raised by Councillor Birt but he did not necessarily agree with the point made about Officers being included as they were paid employees by this authority with terms and conditions of employment that very clearly outlined their responsibilities and behaviours. Councillors were elected and were held accountable by the public and this was why the standards regime was specifically for Members and not Officers and could not support Councillor Birt’s points at this stage.


Councillor Monument was pleased with the new proposed Code of Conduct but had a few minor queries, firstly on page 282 of the agenda pack, under the section Standards of Councillor Conduct and felt that point (5) should state ‘disrepute’ and not dispute. Page 290, 3rd sentence, ‘behaviors’ should be ‘behaviours’ and on page 286 paragraph 1.2 she felt that ‘maintain public confidence’ should come before ‘best value’.


The Chairman pointed out that the latter point made was within the Council’s current Code of Conduct.


The recommendation to Full Council to adopt the new Model Code of Conduct was read aloud.


The Vice-Chairman proposed an amendment in respect of pre-determination to be included either in the Policy or in the Constitution.


The Legal Services Manager believed that the matter of pre-determination was already covered in the Planning Protocol.


The Chairman asked if this Protocol was already in the Constitution.


Rory Ringer, the Democratic Services Manager explained that this was a Planning Protocol that had been adopted by Planning Committee and pre-determination formed part of that.


The Chairman asked Officers to provide a report next time about including the Planning Protocol within the Constitution.


Mr Fowler said that this would apply to other quasi-judicial committees such as Licensing.


Taking on Mr Fowlers point, the Chairman said that there was an ask to bring something back to the Committee for consideration.


As a Member of the Planning Committee, Councillor Clarke confirmed that all Planning Members were advised to declare any interest that they might have on a particular item and Mr Horn, the Council’s Solicitor was in attendance to advise on the type of interest that should be applied.


The original recommendation stood as originally proposed which was seconded, and it was:


RECOMMENDED to Full Council that the revised Members Code of Conduct based on the Local Government Association Model Code of Conduct be adopted.


The Vice-Chairman stated that this proposal required changes to be made to the Constitution and asked if this would not come into effect until it was included as such.


The Democratic Services Manager advised that if approved at Full Council this Model would come into force following the Elections.

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