Agenda item

Review of Local Government Ethical Standards: Stakeholder Consultation

To consider a draft response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life Review of Local Government Ethical Standards.

Minutes:

The Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) explained that the Committee on Standards in Public Life was undertaking a Review of Local Government Ethical Standards. As part of that review, the Council had been invited to respond to a stakeholder consultation paper, and a draft response had been produced based upon that feedback.

 

A discussion was held on the sanctions currently available to councils and how these had changed following the introduction of the Localism Act 2011. The majority of Members felt that greater power to sanction those failing to follow the Code of Conduct was needed, however, were of the opinion that the former Standards Board for England (SBE) had been dismantled for the right reasons. Despite this, a concern was raised that increasing the power to sanction could potentially be misused and that this could lead to the disenfranchisement of residents. Overall it was agreed that the response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life indicate a preference for the reinstatement of the pre-Localism Act 2011 sanctions, with a recognition that these powers would be used in exceptional circumstances only.

 

It was suggested that the response to the “Declaring interests and conflicts of interest” section should include reference to the active dispensations approved by the Standards Committee.

 

In formulating a response to the “Improving standards” section of the consultation paper, Members felt that consideration should be given to the creation of an independent body, more agile than the previous SBE, which could reduce inconsistencies and provide greater guidance. This independent board could review cases but would not be a reinvention of the SBE.

 

Members felt that the Cumbria Monitoring Officers group was an example of great partnership working which had ensured consistency across the vast majority of authorities within the county.

 

It was suggested that the improvements made to the website through Customer Connect and the introduction of a Members SharePoint page would further improve the training and awareness of standards issues amongst councillors.

 

The Committee felt that the steps available to Local Government in improving ethical standards was dependent largely upon Government policies. The need for better management of public expectation of standards regimes was also highlighted as an important consideration for the review.

 

Members discussed the various forms of intimidation which may be experienced by elected Members, particular through increasing use of social media. Concern was also expressed regarding the potential for those recording meetings to subsequently edit the footage unfairly, and Members felt that prior notification of filming should be a requirement. Overall the Committee felt that the current rule of law was sufficient in dealing with intimidation of Councillors, but that it was nevertheless an increasing issue which needed to be addressed and had potentially meant that fewer people were willing to stand for office. Additional guidance and support would be welcomed to help Members to better deal with intimidation.

 

The Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) undertook to amend the draft response based upon the comments raised and agreed to circulate this to the Committee prior to submission. Members felt it appropriate to delegate authority to the Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) to finalise the document, in consultation with the Chairman, and to submit the final response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life prior to the 18 May 2018 deadline.

 

RESOLVED – That

 

(1)        the Review of Local Government Ethical Standards by the Committee on Standards in Public Life be noted;

 

(2)        subject to the amendments and additions raised, the draft responses to the consultation paper be approved; and

 

(3)        the Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) be authorised, in consultation with the Chairman of the Standards Committee, to finalise the response prior to submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Supporting documents: