Agenda and draft minutes
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Contact: Democratic Services, 01795 417330
Change of Membership
The Chairman advised that following a change to the political balance the Committee membership of the Standards Committee had changed as agreed at Full Council on Wednesday 10 November 2021. New Members were confirmed as Councillors Tim Gibson and Richard Palmer.
To approve the Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 November 2020 (Minute Nos. 254 - 257) as a correct record.
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 17 November 2020 (Minute Nos. 254 – 257) were taken as read, approved and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.
Declarations of Interest
Councillors should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves or their spouse, civil partner or person with whom they are living with as a spouse or civil partner. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
The Chairman will ask Members if they have any interests to declare in respect of items on this agenda, under the following headings:
(a) Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPI) under the Localism Act 2011. The nature as well as the existence of any such interest must be declared. After declaring a DPI, the Member must leave the meeting and not take part in the discussion or vote. This applies even if there is provision for public speaking.
(b) Disclosable Non Pecuniary Interests (DNPI) under the Code of Conduct adopted by the Council in May 2012. The nature as well as the existence of any such interest must be declared. After declaring a DNPI interest, the Member may stay, speak and vote on the matter.
(c) Where it is possible that a fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts would conclude that there was a real possibility that the Member might be predetermined or biased the Member should declare their predetermination or bias and then leave the room while that item is considered.
Advice to Members: If any Councillor has any doubt about the existence or nature of any DPI or DNPI which he/she may have in any item on this agenda, he/she should seek advice from the Monitoring Officer, the Head of Legal or from other Solicitors in Legal Services as early as possible, and in advance of the Meeting.
No interests were declared.
The Monitoring Officer introduced the discussion paper and explained that the Council’s current Code of Conduct was nearly ten years old, and the Council needed to ensure that it was still fit for purpose. The Monitoring Officer reported that from 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021, 27% of complaints received were by Borough Councillors about other Borough Councillors an increase on previous years. He spoke about the increase in toxicity in national politics generally highlighted by the appalling murder of Sir David Amess. He considered it an appropriate time to look at the political cultures within the Council and to understand the role of the Standards regime in overseeing that culture and whether a change in the Council’s Code of Conduct was required.
The Monitoring Officer drew attention to paragraph nine of the report, which asked Members to think about what the Committee’s role was in improving the political culture and trying to ensure respectful relationships and an atmosphere free of intimidation for all Members. The Monitoring Officer also drew attention to paragraph 14 of the report which listed some questions for discussion.
The Chairman invited Members to ask questions and make comments. Points made included:
· Considered that the Local Government Association (LGA) Code of Conduct was a good basis for a framework;
· referred to the question in paragraph 14 of the report which mentioned “lower-level issues” and questioned what was meant by low-level? As an issue that one person considered serious another might judge as low-level;
· there was a risk that considering lower-level issues could result in the Monitoring Officer becoming bogged-down in trivial complaints;
· complaints needed to be something that breached the Code of Conduct;
· Group Leaders needed to set a good example;
· surprised that there was no cohesion and the codes seemed to differ for various levels of Government;
· Central Government were not setting a very good example on how to behave in public office which was filtering down to Local Government;
· important to ensure that codes of conduct for Central and Local Government were linked in some way;
· considered the perception of public office had changed dramatically over the last ten years;
· the Council needed more training on how to deal with other Members and improving standards;
· there was an issue around the way Members and the general public interpreted what was written so the code needed to be clear and precise;
· there was value on having a hybrid of the LGA code and the Council’s code;
· did not always agree that training was the way forward but needed to consider common decency and respect for ourselves and for each other. Often it was not what was said but how it was said and had occasionally felt extremely uncomfortable during meetings because of this;
· welcomed what the LGA code said in paragraph 1.2 about respect and how Members spoke to each other;
· considered that due to the way members treated each other it stirred-up the public and “fuelled the fire”;
· the code needed to be ... view the full minutes text for item 434.
The Monitoring Officer introduced the report which provided an overview of his work during the period 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021. The Monitoring Officer drew attention to Section 5 of the report, Code of Conduct cases 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021, and the statistics on the Code of Conduct cases.
The Chairman invited Members to make comments and ask questions.
Members raised points including:
· Considered that the Member Development Working Group needed to consider setting a programme of Member training for each municipal year including social media training so Members knew well in advance what training was planned;
· how were service area complaints monitored and published?; and
· supported the comments in paragraph 9.6 of the report and thanked the Monitoring Officer and Democratic Services for their work and support.
In response to questions, the Monitoring Officer stated that the Council had a very robust complaints system for dealing with service area complaints which he outlined for Members. A quarterly complaints report was considered by the Council’s Strategic Management Team (SMT) and an Annual Complaints report was considered by SMT and Informal Cabinet. The Monitoring Officer agreed to liaise with the Leader about making the Annual Complaints report available to all Members.
(1) That the report be noted.