Agenda item

Agenda item

Standards under the Localism Act 2011

Report of the Head of Legal & Property Services

Minutes:

The Localism Act received Royal Assent on 15 November 2011. Whilst not all the provisions in the Act in relation to standards had been brought into force, the Government had indicated that it intended for the new regime to be in force from 1 July 2012. It was, therefore, considered timely to advise Members of the provisions of the Act and to start to prepare for the new regime.

 

The Head of Legal & Property Services presented a report which had also been considered by the Standards Committee on 12 January 2012. The report incorporated the recommendations from that meeting. It was noted that it would be necessary to take a report to Annual Council in May to agree the new standards regime for Watford to come into effect on 1 July 2012.

 

The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that the draft regulations on disclosable  pecuniary interests had not yet been published. She had had discussions with legal colleagues in other Hertfordshire authorities about whether there should be a standard Code of Conduct across the county. There were, however, differences of opinion about how rigid the Code should be. The LGA was also considering proposing a Code for Councils to adopt, however, nothing had been formally published

 

She advised that ACSeS had procured a Legal Opinion on whether existing independent members could apply to be the Independent Person in the new regime. This had confirmed that as the wording of the legislation currently stood they could not.  A report in the legal press had indicated that DCLG may be considering a change to that wording.

 

The need for the Standards Committee to be politically balanced had been discussed by the Standards Committee. The point had been made that there could be a danger of bias and that this could be a particular issue in the run up to the elections. The Head of Legal & Property Services had advised that full Council could appoint a non-proportionate committee if it was so minded and provided the voting was unanimous. The Standards Committee had suggested that the committee comprise two members from the majority group and one from each of the others. Members had been asked to consult their Groups on this proposal. The Independent Person could not be a member of the Standards Committee.

 

The Standards Committee had also agreed an additional criteria that the Independent Person should not have stood for election during the past 5 years and that that the interview panel for the Independent Person would comprise Councillor members of the Standards Committee. 

 

A councillor who was also a member of the Standards Committee endorsed the views expressed about the non proportionality of the Standards Committee. He also added his concerns about the loss of expertise if existing independent members could not be re-appointed and the need for the Independent Person to be non political.

 

In response to a Member’s question about the appointment of the Independent Person, the Head of Legal & Property Services confirmed that the appointment would need to be endorsed by Council. It would also be necessary to advertise the position and make clear what exclusions applied. The appointment should be made ahead of Annual Council in order for it to be formally agreed and effective from 1st July.  The current Standards Committee would also need to be re-appointed at Annual Council to remain in place until 30th June.

 

In response to a councillor’s question regarding transitional arrangements, the Head of Legal & Property explained that much would depend on whether the Government ultimately allowed current independent members to apply. If arrangements could not be confirmed at Annual Council there may be a need for a special meeting in order to meet the 1st July deadline.

 

A Member asked about remuneration. The Head of Legal & Property Services advised that this was a delegated matter as referred to in the report. The amount would be included in the report to Council.  

 

RESOLVED

 

That the following recommendations be made to Council:

 

1        That the Council establish a Standards Committee comprising 5 elected members of the Council, and that Council agrees that the committee be not constituted on the lines of proportionality, with one seat for each of the opposition groups and 2 seats for the ruling group.

 

2a.    That the draft Code of Conduct attached as appendix 1 to the report be adopted by the Council.

 

2b.    That, when the Disclosable Pecuniary Interests Regulations are published, the Monitoring Officer, after consultation with the Chair of Standards Committee, add to that draft Code provisions which she considers to be appropriate for the registration and disclosure of interests other than DPIs.

 

3       That the arrangements attached at appendix 2 be considered for adoption by Council. Such arrangements include the following: -

 

3a.    That the Head of Legal and Property be appointed as the Proper Officer to receive complaints of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct;

 

3b.    That the Head of Legal and Property be given delegated power, after consultation with the Independent Person, to determine whether a complaint merits formal investigation and to arrange such investigation. She be instructed to seek resolution of complaints without formal investigation wherever practicable and that she be given discretion to refer decisions on investigation to the Standards Committee where she feels that it is inappropriate for her to take the decision and to report quarterly to Standards Committee on the discharge of this function;

 

3c.    Where the investigation finds no evidence of failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Head of Legal and Property be instructed to close the matter, providing a copy of the report and findings of the investigation to the complainant and to the member concerned and to the Independent Person and reporting the findings to the Standards Committee for information;

 

3d.    Where the investigation finds evidence of a failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Head of Legal and Property in consultation with the Independent Person be authorised to seek local resolution to the satisfaction of the complainant in appropriate cases, with a summary report for information to Standards Committee. Where such local resolution is not appropriate or not possible, she is to report the investigation findings to a Hearings Panel of the Standards Committee for local hearing;

 

3e.    That Council delegate to Hearings Panels such of its powers as can be delegated to take decisions in respect of a member who is found on hearing to have failed to comply with the Code of Conduct, such actions to include –

 

§         Reporting its findings to Council  for information;

 

§         Recommending to the member’s Group Leader (or in the case of un-grouped members, recommend to Council or to Committees) that he/she be removed from any or all Committees or Sub-Committees of the Council;

 

§         Recommending to the Mayor that the member be removed from the Cabinet, or removed from particular Portfolio responsibilities;

 

§         Instructing the Head of Legal and Property to  arrange training for the member;

 

§         Removing from all outside appointments to which he/she has been appointed or nominated by the Council and recommending to the Mayor removal from all outside appointments to which he/she has been appointed by the Mayor;

 

§         Withdrawing  facilities provided to the member by the Council, such as a computer, website and/or email and Internet access; or

 

§         Excluding the member from the Council’s offices or other premises, with the exception of meeting rooms as necessary for attending Council, Committee and Sub-Committee meetings.

 

4a.    That the Head of Legal and Property, in consultation with the Chair of Standards Committee and with the advice of the Head of HR, be authorised to set the initial allowances and expenses for the Independent Person and any Reserve Independent Persons and this function subsequently be delegated to the Standards Committee.

 

4b.    That the Head of Legal and Property advertise a vacancy of the appointment of 1 Independent Person and 2 Reserve Independent Persons.

 

4c.    That a Committee comprising four councillor representatives on the Standards Committee be set up to short-list and interview candidates and to make a recommendation to Council for appointment.

 

4d.   That an additional criteria be adopted for exclusion of candidates for the role of Independent Person. In that no candidate should have stood for election on the Council for the last 5 years.

 

5a.    That the Head of Legal and Property prepare and maintain a new register of Members’ interests to comply with the requirements of the Act and of the Council’s Code of Conduct, once adopted and ensure that it is available for inspection as required by the Act.

 

5b.    That the Head of Legal and Property ensure that all Members are informed of their duty to register interests.

 

6.      The Head of Legal and Property be instructed to recommend to Council a Procedure Rule which equates to the current Code of Conduct requirement that a Member must withdraw from the meeting room, including from the public gallery, during the whole of consideration of any item of business in which he/she has a DPI, except where he/she is permitted to remain as a result of the grant of a dispensation

 

7.     That Council delegate the power to grant dispensations –

 

7a.    on Grounds set out in Paragraphs 11.3.1 and 11.3.4 of this report to the Head of Legal and Property with an appeal to Standards Committee, and

 

7b.    on Grounds 11.3.2, 11.3.3 and 11.3.5 to the Standards Committee, after consultation with the Independent Person.

 

Supporting documents:

 

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