Agenda and draft minutes
Venue: Virtual Meeting (MS Teams)
Contact: Craig Saunders
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Election of Chairman
To elect the Chairman of the Standards and General Purposes Committee for the ensuing year.
It was proposed by Councillor Mordue, seconded by Councillor Collingwood, and
That Councillor Waters be elected Chairman of the Standards and General Purposes Committee for the ensuing year.
Appointment of Vice Chairman
To appoint the Vice Chairman of the Standards and General Purposes Committee for the ensuing year.
It was proposed by Councillor Waters, seconded by Councillor L Smith, and
That Councillor Mordue be appointed Vice Chairman of the Standards and General Purposes Committee for the ensuing year.
That the procedural rules and guidance for conducting virtual meetings of the Standards and General Purposes Committee, as detailed at pages 3-7 of the agenda pack, be noted.
To consider the attached report.
Contact Officer: Maria.Damigos@buckinghamshiregov.uk
The Committee was informed that the Localism Act 2011 governed the arrangements for local authorities in respect of ethical standards. This included the Code of Conduct for Councillors, Registers of Interests and the handling of complaints. The Standards and General Purposes Committee was responsible for exercising the Council’s functions under the Localism Act 2011 in relation to ethical standards and had oversight and responsibility for the Code of Conduct and the Arrangements for Dealing with Standards Complaints.
As background, following the change to a unitary council there were currently 196 Buckinghamshire Councillors (reducing to 147 after the May 2021 elections) and over 1000 Town and Parish Councillors across the Buckinghamshire Council administrative area. The Monitoring Officer was responsible for dealing with complaints against councillors but it was expected that the majority of this work would be passed onto the Deputy Monitoring Officers. In the interests of fairness to both complainants and Members a consistent approach in both procedure and decision making was considered best practice. This could be achieved by having more detailed guidance for complaints and clarity on the role of the Independent Person.
The Councillor Code of Conduct applicable to the councillors of Buckinghamshire Council was set out in the Council’s Constitution at Part H Section 2. The Code of Conduct also included the requirements for registration of interests. Part H Section 3 contained the Arrangements for Dealing with Complaints against Councillors. The Code of Conduct had been drafted so it would be sufficiently high level to cover any relevant situation and also provide clarity in certain circumstances (e.g. in relation to interests). This Committee had oversight of the Code but as it was contained within the Constitution any changes had to be recommended to full Council.
Whilst there was an overview of the arrangements for dealing with complaints in the Constitution it was considered that as the practical application of the arrangements were an operational matter, they could be subject to circumstances at the time and technology or resources might change their operation, the detailed arrangements would be better dealt within a guidance document. As such, as the Guidance was not contained within the Constitution it did not need to be approved by the Council making its practical application easier to update where necessary.
The Localism Act provided that a Council must appoint at least one Independent Person (IP) whose views were to be sought and taken into account before the Council made a decision following the investigation of a complaint that a Member or a Town or Parish Councillor had failed to comply with their Code of Conduct. The Monitoring Officer could also consult an IP when making a decision on how to progress a complaint. Members who were the subject of a complaint also had the right to consult an IP if a complaint was made about them.
IPs could also be involved in other aspects of a complaint such as whether to agree to keep a complainant’s identity confidential. They could also be ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) advised the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life in England. It monitored and reported on issues relating to the standards of conduct of all public office holders and promoted the 7 principles of public life. In 2018 the CSPL had carried out a review into the ethical framework for local authorities which included stakeholder consultation. Its report had been published in January 2019 and the Executive Summary and Recommendations were attached at Appendix 1 to the agenda.
The main findings, observations and conclusions were:-
· High standards of conduct in local government were needed to protect the integrity of decision-making, maintain public confidence and safeguard local democracy.
· Evidence supported the view that the vast majority of councillors and officers maintained high standards of conduct. Where there was misconduct most of the cases involved bullying or harassment or other disruptive behaviour.
· Having considered the need for a centralised body to govern and adjudicate on standards the Committee had concluded that whilst the consistency and independence of the system could be enhanced, there was no reason to reintroduce a centralised body and local authorities should retain ultimate responsibility for implementing and applying the 7 principles of public life in local government.
· There was considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of code of conduct and many codes failed to address adequately important areas of behaviour, such as social media use and bullying and harassment. An updated model code of conduct should therefore be available to local authorities in order to enhance consistency and quality of local authority codes.
· Any standards process needed to have safeguards in place to ensure that decisions were made fairly and impartially and that councillors were protected against politically-motivated, malicious or unfounded allegations of misconduct. The Independent Person was an important safeguard in the current system and this role should be strengthened and clarified.
· The current sanctions available to local authorities were insufficient. Party discipline whilst it had an important part to play in maintaining high standards, lacked the necessary independence and transparency to play the central role in the standards system.
The report made 26 recommendations, mainly to Government but also to the Local Government Association and Parish Councils in some cases. The key recommendation were that:-
· An updated Voluntary Model Code of Conduct be created by the Local Government Association in consultation with representative bodies of councillors and officers at all tiers of local government
· The register of interests should include categories of non-pecuniary interests.
· Current rules on declaring interests should be repealed and replaced with an objective test.
· Independent persons should have fixed terms of 2 years, renewable once and protection by legal indemnity put in place if their advice or views were disclosed
· Councils to be given discretion to establish decision-making standards committees with voting independent members and voting members from dependant parishes.
· Councils to be given the power to suspend councillors for up to 6 months, to include parish councillors, ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
The Committee received a report and were informed that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) had indicated that it intended to conduct an electoral review of the newly established Buckinghamshire Council. Preliminary discussions had taken place with the Chairman and Chief Executive of the LGBCE to understand the arrangements for such a review. Through these discussions, it had been established that:
· the model of 147 members would remain in place for the 2021 elections, with the wards based on the former County Council divisional boundaries.
· the electoral review would examine Buckinghamshire Council’s electoral arrangements and cover the following areas:
- the total number of members to be elected to the Council.
- the number and boundaries of future electoral divisions.
- the number of councillors representing each electoral division; and
- the name of each electoral division.
· the outcome of the Electoral Review would take effect from the 2025 elections, although the precise timeframe for the stages of the Reviews were yet to be confirmed.
It was explained that the principal aim of the review was to deliver electoral equality across the local authority area by ensuring that all councillors represented a similar number of voters. The LGBCE had published detailed technical guidance for those who wished to participate in the review. The LGBCE was required by law to be impartial, with its decisions based on evidence and reason. The representations of all those taking part in the review would be treated equally and without bias.
The Committee report contained a table that gave an indication of the timescales the LGBCE normally worked to when conducting Reviews, which included:-
· Preliminary Period – informal dialogue with Local Authority – up to 6 months.
· Council size decision – consultation period leading to a ‘minded to’ decision on the council size, i.e. number of Councillors – 5 weeks.
· Consultation on future Warding / Division arrangements – 12 weeks.
· Development of draft recommendations – 12 weeks.
The Standards and General Purpose Committee had been delegated authority to deal with election arrangements, however, the LGBCE’s guidance had made it clear that the Council would need to prepare extensive information for consideration by the LGBCE and facilitate the involvement of all relevant stakeholders. It was therefore suggested that the Committee should establish a Member Working Group to oversee the preparation of the relevant information and a communication and engagement plan. The draft terms of reference for the Member working group were attached at Appendix 1 to the agenda.
The submission of the relevant information required by the LGBCE would be approved by the Standards and General Purposes Committee.
Members were also informed that the role of the LGBCE in the creation, abolition or amendments to the external boundaries of Parish Councils was limited. The LGBCE Technical Guidance indicated that Parish Councils were crucial in the work of the LGBCE in conducting a review and it was important that Parish Councils’ involvement in the Electoral Review was actively encouraged.
The Committee was advised ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
To consider the attached report.
Contact Officer: Maria.Damigos@buckinghamshire.gov.uk
The Committee received a report seeking adoption and approval by Buckinghamshire Council of a procedure so that it could carry out its powers to appoint temporary members to inquorate parish councils. This included authority for the Service Director Legal and Democratic to make Orders under the legislation.
Members were informed that a Parish Council had to be quorate in order to operate and make decisions. A quorum for parish councils was defined as being one third of its membership, but not less than three. There were occasions where due to resignations or lack of applications for vacancies at an election, a parish council was unable to operate because it was inquorate. The inability to operate would extend to making all decisions including the co-option of sufficient councillors to fill vacancies.
Under section 91 of the Local Government Act 1972 the Council had power to make an Order appointing temporary members to a parish council where, due to the number of vacancies, the council could not function. The exercise of functions in relation to parish councils had been delegated to the Standard and General Purposes Committee. The appointees would usually be appointed from the ward members of the principal authority and it was good administrative practise to adopt a procedure for delegating these appointments and the making of the necessary Order to a senior officer, so they can be made promptly, where necessary.
The Committee was informed that It had been necessary for Cabinet to adopt a procedure and authorise the Deputy Chief Executive to make such an Order in relation to Kingsbrook Parish Council, which had been created by the Aylesbury Vale (Community Governance Review) Order 2020. The new parish of Kingsbrook had been established with effect from 7 May 2020. However, due to the emergency measures introduced following the outbreak of coronavirus, it had not been possible to hold local elections to elect Councillors to the new Parish Council. This had left Kingsbrook Parish Council inquorate and unable to function.
In order to enable Kingsbrook Parish Council to start operating, Cabinet on 21 April 2020 had approved the procedure set out at Appendix 1 and authorised the Deputy Chief Executive to make an Order under section 91 to appoint a sufficient number of parish councillors on a temporary basis to enable Kingsbrook Parish Council to start operating.
On 13 May 2020, an Order had been made under section 91, a copy of which is attached as Appendix 2, to appoint 4 Buckinghamshire Councillors as temporary Kingsbrook Parish Councillors. The first meeting of Kingsbrook Parish Council had been held on 18 June 2020 and had successfully co-opted 5 people as Parish Councillors. The appointments under the section 91 Order have therefore now ceased and the co-opted members can now sit and make decisions as the new Parish Council which will include the co-option of 4 further members.
Members sought additional information and were informed that Officers would consult with local Members and Group Leaders before any making any Section ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
To consider the Committee’s future work programme, copy attached.
Contact Officer: Nick.Graham@buckinghamshire.gov.uk
The Committee received a report on their future work programme, which was updated during the course of the meeting.
That the future work programme be approved, as follows:
8 October 2020
1. Update on draft LGA Model Code of Conduct.
2. Guidance on Requests for Dispensations.
3. LGO Complaint Report
4. Standards Complaints (Update)
5. Constitution Review Report
6. Electoral Review Members’ Working Group (update)
10 December 2020
1. Protocol on the Role of the Monitoring Officer.
2. Review of Social Media Guidance for Councillors.
3. Review of Member Induction and Training on standards of conduct
4. Electoral Review Members’ Working Group (update)
8 April 2021
1. Annual Review of Code of Conduct and Complaints Procedure.
2. Standards Complaints Monitoring Report 2020/21.
3. LGO Annual Report.
4. Electoral Review Members’ Working Group (update)
5. Draft Work programme for 2021/22.