Venue: David Hicks 1 - Civic Offices, Shute End, Wokingham RG40 1BN
Contact: Neil Carr Democratic & Electoral Services Specialist
To receive any apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were submitted from John Halsall.
To confirm the Minutes of the Meeting held on 8 July 2019.
The Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 8 July were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
Declaration of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest.
There were no declarations of interest.
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
There were no public questions.
Member Question Time
To answer any Member questions.
There were no Member questions.
Parish / Town Council Question Time
To answer any questions from Parish / Town Councillors.
There were no Parish or Town Council Member questions.
To consider the Council’s policies and procedures in light of the best practice advice contained in the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The Committee considered a report, set out at Agenda pages 9 to 24, which gave details of the best practice examples contained in the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) on standards in local government.
The CSPL report had concluded that the vast majority of local government Members and Officers wished to maintain the highest standards of conduct. However, there were ongoing examples of bullying, harassment and other disruptive behaviours. The CSPL report contained a list of best practice principles and suggested that each local authority compare its current arrangements against the list.
Andrew Moulton (Assistant Director, Governance and Monitoring Officer) introduced the report and explained that, following discussion by the Committee, a public consultation would take place on the proposed amendments to the Member Code of Conduct. The results of the consultation would then be reported back to the Committee before final decisions were taken.
The report set out the CSPL best practice list and set out comments and/or recommendations relating to each of the principles as follows:
Best practice 1: Local authorities should include prohibitions on bullying and harassment in codes of conduct. These should include a definition of bullying and harassment, supplemented with a list of examples of the sort of behaviour covered by such a definition.
Comment/Recommendation - Guidance on Bullying and Intimidation is set out in the WBC Member Code of Conduct. It is proposed that guidance on the use and potential misuse of Social Media also be included in the Code of Conduct.
Best practice 2: Councils should include provisions in their code of conduct requiring Councillors to comply with any formal standards investigation, and prohibiting trivial or malicious allegations by Councillors.
Comment/Recommendation – Provisions are included within the WBC Constitution.
Best practice 3: Principal authorities should review their code of conduct each year and regularly seek, where possible, the views of the public, community organisations and neighbouring authorities.
Comment/Recommendation – an annual review of the Code of Conduct to be undertaken by the Standards Committee, with public consultation on significant changes.
Best practice 4: An authority’s code should be readily accessible to both Councillors and the public, in a prominent position on a Council’s website and available in Council premises.
Comment/Recommendation – Officers to carry out a review of Code of Conduct information on the WBC website and the effectiveness of the online process for registering complaints.
Best practice 5: Local authorities should update their gifts and hospitality register at least once per quarter, and publish it in an accessible format, such as CSV (a data record format).
Comment/Recommendation – The Register to be updated and published in line with Best Practice 5. It is proposed to amend the value of declarable gifts from £25 to £50 or £100 per annum.
Best practice 6: Councils should publish a clear and straightforward public interest test against which allegations are filtered.
Comment/Recommendation – Set out within the WBC Constitution. Each complaint received is considered by the Monitoring Officer, Independent Person and ... view the full minutes text for item 18.
To consider the Monitoring Officer’s update on active complaints under the Member Code of Conduct.
The Committee considered a report, set out at Agenda pages 25 to 28, which gave details of progress relating to Code of Conduct complaints since the previous meeting.
The report stated that, since the previous meeting (July 2019), four new complaints had been received and two pre-existing complaints had been resolved.
Andrew Moulton introduced the item and stated that, following the despatch of the Agenda, a further two complaints had been received. These related to a Member’s declaration of interests and a Member’s handling of a service request.
Appended to the report was a summary of progress against each of the complaints. Four of the six complaints included in the Agenda had been resolved and two were still under consideration. In addition the two new complaints would be addressed as quickly as possible. Andrew confirmed that a further complaint had been lodged and subsequently withdrawn.
Prue Bray asked if there were any discernible trends relating to politically motivated complaints. Andrew commented that there were examples of Councillors complaining about other Councillors. However, each complaint was investigated on its individual merits.
RESOLVED: That the update report on Code of Conduct complaints be noted.
To consider the Annual Report of the Standards Committee.
The Committee considered its Annual report to Council, set out on Agenda pages 29 to 36.
The Annual Report set out the role of the Standards Committee in promoting and maintaining the highest standards of conduct be elected Members across the Borough. The Committee also promoted the seven principles of public life (the Nolan Principles) which were selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
The report gave details of complaints activity during 2019/20 which comprised complaints relating to:
· the alleged disclosure of confidential information;
· the use of social media by two elected Members;
· the conduct and behaviour of a Member at a Council meeting;
· an allegation of disrespect and bullying of a member of the public;
· the conduct of a Member at a meeting of the Planning Committee.
The report stated that, whilst the number of complaints was low, the Committee recognised the importance of dealing with each one in a serious and expeditious manner.
Andrew Moulton confirmed that the draft report would be amended to include details of the new complaints discussed at the meeting.
Andrew also confirmed that efforts would be made to fill the existing Town/Parish Councillor vacancy on the Committee.
RESOLVED: That the Standards Committee’s Annual Report for 2019/20, as amended, be approved for submission to the March 2020 WBC Council meeting.