Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Wednesday, 29th July, 2015 8.00 pm

Venue: Civic Offices, Shute End, Wokingham RG40 1BN

Contact: Kevin Jacob  Principal Democratic Services Officer

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies

To receive any apologies for absence

Minutes:

An apology for absence was submitted from Councillor Pauline Helliar-Symons.

2.

Minutes of Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 187 KB

To confirm the Minutes of the Meeting held on 2 April 2015

 

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 2 April 2015 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

3.

Declaration of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

4.

Public Question Time

To answer any public questions

 

A period of 30 minutes will be allowed for members of the public to ask questions submitted under notice.

 

The Council welcomes questions from members of the public about the work of this committee.

 

Subject to meeting certain timescales, questions can relate to general issues concerned with the work of the Committee or an item which is on the Agenda for this meeting.  For full details of the procedure for submitting questions please contact the Democratic Services Section on the numbers given below or go to www.wokingham.gov.uk/publicquestions

Minutes:

There were no public questions.

5.

Member Question Time

To answer any member questions

Minutes:

There were no Member questions.

6.

Parish / Town Council Question Time

To answer any questions from Parish / Town Councillors

Minutes:

There were no Parish/Town questions.

7.

Update on Complaints and Feedback pdf icon PDF 135 KB

To consider a report setting out a summary of complaints received and activity since 2 April 2015

Minutes:

The Committee consider a report set out on Agenda pages 9 to 11 which gave an outline of the activity and results of the Councillor Complaints process since the last meeting.

 

Andrew Moulton, Monitoring Officer highlighted that in accordance with the agreed procedure he had taken a decision of no further action in respect of four complaints and one parish complaint had been determined at a full Standards Committee Hearings Sub-Committee.  In the case determined at a hearing, the finding had been that the Councillor had breached the Code of Conduct of their parish council in three areas.

 

In looking at the complaints received and any trends or areas of further development for Councillors he referred to the growing use of social media by Councillors to engage with the public.  Whilst social media represented a useful tool and an opportunity to Councillors there were also potential dangers and issues that Councillors needed to be aware of. 

 

In addition it was proposed to undertake some further work on the issue of Councillor bullying with the objective of providing some local guidance to Councillors on the issue.  Andrew Moulton commented that there were different genuinely held views around bullying and what constituted bullying and an agreed local view or understanding would be helpful in the consideration of future complaints. 

 

Finally, the Committee was informed that the Council’s adopted processes for the consideration of complaints had recently been considered by the Local Government Ombudsman, (LGO) following a complaint from a member of the public who had been dissatisfied with the Council’s response with regard to a complaint they had lodged.  The LGO had found that the Council had followed its adopted processes correctly and it was useful to know that processes were considered to be adequate.

 

In discussing the item, the Chairman and various members of the Committee strongly supported the development of guidance on the use of social media by Councillors as it was felt that this was area where the immediacy of social media to a large potential audience was of particular impact.  It was also felt that further guidance around bullying and what constituted bullying in practical terms would be welcome.

 

In respect of the complaints considered since April, Roy Mantel commented that as the Chairman of Twyford Parish Council he had some concern over the length of time it had taken to determine the complaint that had required a full hearing.  Andrew Moulton and Kevin Jacob acknowledged this and explained why it had not been possible to determine it in a shorter period. It was recognised that all parties involved in any complaint wished to know the outcome as soon as possible.

 

RESOLVED:

1)     That the report be noted;

 

2)     That Officers be requested to drawn up guidance to Members on the use of social media and bullying.   

8.

Revised Process for the Consideration of Code of Conduct Complaints pdf icon PDF 87 KB

To consider a suggested revised process for the consideration of Code of Conduct complaints

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report on Agenda pages 13 to 23 which set out a suggested revised process for the consideration of Code of Conduct complaints by the Borough Council in respect of complaints against Borough and Town/Parish Councillors. 

 

Mary Severin, Deputy Monitoring Officer explained the key proposed changes to the process which had been developed in light of the experience gained in handling Code of Conduct complaints since 2012 and changes in best practice generally.  The Committee was reminded that it had previously considered the proposed changes at its meeting in April.  The proposed changes had been broadly endorsed at that time, but Members of the Committee had asked Officers to investigate the potential of including within the process an appeals mechanism for Councillors unhappy with the findings of a hearing.  

 

The Committee was informed after looking into the issue of an appeals mechanism more closely the advice from Officers was that one not be included within the complaints process for the reasons set out on pages 14 and 15 of the report.  In particular, it was felt that that the provision of an appeals mechanism would be contrary to the Government’s intent of a ‘light touch’ in reforming the Code of Conduct regime, that the possible sanctions which could be imposed by a Hearings Sub-Committee were not of such severity to justify an appeal, that the majority of local authorities and unitary authorities did not operate such a provision and that it was felt that an appeals process would unnecessarily elongate the complaints process to the detriment of all parties.   

 

The Chairman commented that the issue of whether an appeals mechanism should be put in place had in part arisen from a local case where the Councillor concerned had been unhappy with the outcome. However, he was satisfied with the advice that it should not be incorporated into the process.  This was supported by the other members of the Committee.

 

The Committee then discussed the detail of each page of the proposed revised process.  A number of points were discussed and it was decided to amend Paragraph 9.1.15.3 m) on Agenda page 21 to read ‘The Panel will then determine the complaint on the balance of probabilities test. If the Panel determine that there has been a failure to follow the Code the Chairman Panel shall seek advice from the Monitoring Officer as to what action they believe should be taken against the Subject Member.’

 

RESOLVED: That the revised Councillor Code of Conduct complaints process at para 9.1.13 to 9.1.16 of the Constitution be recommended to the Constitution Review Working Group for adoption by the Council subject to the amendment of paragraph 9.1.15 m).  

9.

Update to the Member Officer Protocol pdf icon PDF 79 KB

To consider a proposed revised Member Officer Protocol  

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered a revised Member/Officer Protocol as set out on Agenda pages 25 to 42. 

 

Andrew Moulton introduced the covering report and revised Protocol to the Committee and reminded members that the majority of the proposed document had been endorsed by the Committee in October 2014.  Following that meeting further feedback had been received from the Council’s Officer Corporate Leadership Team and incorporated within the document in Appendices 5 and 6.  

 

The basic working assumption had been to produce a steamed lined basic protocol with a number of supporting appendices attached.

 

Members of the Committee endorsed the draft protocol with the following minor amendments:

 

·         Paragraph 9.3.8 1st paragraph, third line on Agenda page 29 – ‘More serious complaints may involve alleged breaches of the Member Code of Conduct and the process for the consideration of Member Code of Conduct complaints is as set out in Chapter 9.1.13 of the Constitution initiated.

·         Paragraph 9.3.8 2nd paragraph, fifth line on Agenda page 29 – ‘Nothing in this process negates the right of Officers to make a Code of Conduct complaint directly to the Monitoring Officer if they wish’   

·         Minor typographical and grammar corrections.   

 

RESOLVED: That subject to the minor amendments made at the meeting the revised Member/Officer Protocol be endorsed by the Committee for onwards submission to the Constitution Review Working Group and Council for final approval.