Standards Committee Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 22nd July, 2014
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Council Chamber, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor Mike Rice (Chairman), Councillor Alan Millard (Vice-Chairman), Councillor S.K. Jarvis (substitute), Councillor David Kearns, Councillor Bernard Lovewell and Councillor M.R.M. Muir.
Mr Nicholas Moss (Independent Person) and Mr Peter Chapman (Reserve Independent Person).
In attendance:
Corporate Legal Manager (Monitoring Officer) and Committee and Members Services Manager.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
1 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of District Councillors Judi Billing, Paul Clark and Bill Davidson and Parish Councillors Robert Logan and Peter Long. Councillor S.K. Jarvis was substituting for Councillor Paul Clark.
2 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 25 February 2014 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and signed by the Chairman.
3 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
No other items were presented for consideration.
4 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Chairman reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest should be declared immediately prior to the item in question.
5 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
There was no public participation.
6 UPDATE ON MONITORING OFFICER WORK PROGRAMME
The Monitoring Officer presented a report in respect of an update on her Work Programme.

Complaints Update

The Monitoring Officer advised Members of the following updates in respect of complaints, since the Committee met last on 25 February 2014:

• The Monitoring Officer had received complaints regarding communication. The Monitoring Officer had concluded that these were not upheld, having regard to the Member Code of Conduct. However, it would appear to be a useful opportunity to make Members aware that individuals were becoming more reliant on, for example, e-mail communication and were less tolerant when an early response was not received, even if it had not been possible to verify that a Member received an e-mail. To this end, the Monitoring Officer would be preparing a brief advice note for inclusion into a future edition of the Members’ Information Service (MIS) to make Members aware;
• The Monitoring Officer had received two other complaints that had not been upheld having regard to the Member Code of Conduct; and
• The Monitoring Officer continued to be consulted on matters that may have caused concern, but at this stage had not evolved into a complaint.

At the last meeting of the Committee, Members asked how issues that had not yet become formal complaints were brought to the Monitoring Officer’s attention, and what routes would be available should the Monitoring Officer feel conflicted, or wished to act on her own behalf. The Minutes of the last meeting of the Committee had record that the Monitoring Officer would respond in more detail regarding what routes would be available should the Monitoring Officer feel conflicted, or wished to act on her own behalf.

In response, the Monitoring Officer advised that she may be contacted by Members or individuals wishing to discuss matters that may have given rise to concern. In this way the Monitoring Officer may become aware of issues that had not developed into formal complaints. The Monitoring Officer was able to appoint deputy Monitoring Officers, internal to the Council and externally. The post of Senior Lawyer acted as the Council’s internal Deputy Monitoring Officer. The Council had reciprocal arrangements with Broxbourne Borough Council and the Monitoring Officer there was able to act, in the capacity as deputy Monitoring Officer, and indeed had previously acted in the role of the Monitoring Officer where the residing Monitoring Officer at NHDC had felt conflicted.

Equally, if the Monitoring Officer wished to act on her own behalf and pursue a complaint, this would need to be on the basis of instructing a Deputy Monitoring Officer to deal with the complaint as the Monitoring Officer would then be unable to act. The Monitoring Officer might intervene in this manner if the situation warranted it. Much of the scope of the role of the Monitoring Officer, when working with Members, was predicated around working collaboratively to inform, advise and influence behaviour. Ultimately, the Monitoring Officer could only provide advice to Members and it was then up to individuals whether or not they accepted that advice. In light of this background, for the Monitoring Officer to consider progressing a complaint under the Members Code of Conduct, the relevant behaviour would usually need to represent real harm to the Council or a risk of such harm.

The Committee felt that the Council’s magazine, Outlook, could perhaps be used to encourage complainants to ring the Council in the first instance, rather than revert to e-mail. Subsequent correspondence could be via e-mail, but complainants should be advised that it could take some time to investigate their complaint(s) fully.

Constitution Review

The Monitoring Officer stated that work would commence later in the summer of 2014 in relation to the next Constitution Review, and the aim was to report that to Full Council on 9 April 2015, with recommended changes and updates.

The Chairman asked members of the Committee to contact the Monitoring Officer with any thoughts they had about revisions to the Constitution. The Committee felt that a full annual review of the Constitution would not always be necessary, and that sometimes it could be confined solely to changes required by legislation.

Training for Members

The Monitoring Officer advised that a Governance Conference was held on 26 June 2014, attended by at least 20 individuals. She invited feedback from the Committee on the key topics by the Conference, which included:

• The Member’s Code of Conduct;
• Declarations of Interests;
• Bias and predetermination; and
• Principles of good decision making.

The Monitoring Officer explained that it was intended to follow up the conference with an internal Officer led session, focusing on scenarios, and further sessions would continue to be offered through out the year. The aim would be to organise these at different times, in line with the preference expressed by the Committee at its last meeting. Given the importance and priority of good governance, it was proposed to consider another Governance Conference for 2015.

Those Members of the Committee who had attended the Governance Conference had not been particularly impressed with the style and delivery of the session.

The Committee felt that the Training Briefing Note to be prepared by the Monitoring Officer should be based around the principles (rather than the details) of the Code of Conduct/declarations of interest, with the possible inclusion of scenarios, in order to focus Members’ minds on various different situations.

Review of complaints documents and role of Independent Person

The Monitoring Officer commented that this review work had commenced with an initial meeting between the Monitoring Officer, Chairman of the Standards Committee and Independent Persons. This was to be followed by a further meeting, and it was intended that the outcome would be reported to the Committee at its next meeting on 14 October 2014.

Monitoring Officer cover

The Committee noted that the Monitoring Officer was expected to commence maternity leave on 8 September 2014. A report was to be considered at Full Council on 24 July 2014, asking that the Senior Lawyer (who will also be the Acting Corporate Legal Manager) and Deputy Monitoring Officer be appointed as Acting Monitoring Officer for the duration of the Maternity Leave. Additionally, there was the ongoing arrangement with Broxbourne Borough Council referred to earlier in the meeting, whereby the Monitoring Officer at Broxbourne could act as a Deputy Monitoring Officer for North Herts District Council, and would continue in support of the Acting Monitoring Officer.
The Monitoring Officer advised that the post of Senior Lawyer had been covered by a temporary appointment, in order to provide support to the Acting Corporate Legal Manager. The Officer in post had been in the role for some time covering for the Senior Lawyer who had been on a Sabbatical. The candidate filling this role was also appointed as an internal Deputy Monitoring Officer.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the content of the report be noted;

(2) That the comments on the ongoing standards work for 2014/15 be noted by the Monitoring Officer; and

(3) That the specific feedback regarding the Member Governance Training event on 26 June 2014 and steps for future training be taken on board by the Monitoring Officer.

REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure good governance within the Council.
Published on Monday, 11th August, 2014
8.45pm