Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: Via Video Conference, Accessible to members of the public at https://buckinghamshire.publici.tv/core/portal/home

Contact: Craig Saunders - Email: craig.saunders@buckinghamshire.gov.uk 

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Items
No. Item

2.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 603 KB

To approve as a correct record the Minutes of the meeting held on 2 July, 2020.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

RESOLVED –

 

That the Minutes of the meeting held on 2 July, 2020, be approved as a correct record.

4.

CSPL Report on Local Government Ethical Standards pdf icon PDF 853 KB

To consider the attached report.

 

Contact Officer:  maria.damigos@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

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 stake holder consultation.

 

On 2 July 2020, the Committee had considered a report relating to the CSPL review.  The main findings, observations and conclusions of the CSPL had been summarised and set out in the report.  It had also included the 15 best practice recommendations directed at local authorities together with details of the current position at Buckinghamshire Council in terms of compliance with these recommendations and RAG rating.

 

Members requested that a report come back to the Committee on the progress made in implementing the CSPL best practice recommendations (amber ratings).Appendix 1 set out each of the recommendations, position and RAG rating at the time of the report and detailed the proposed action(s) and comments/explanation.  All recommendations had been included to provide an overview.  Whilst recommendation 8 was considered to be complied with already, some amendments have been made to provide clarity.

 

The Council’s Constitution was due to be reviewed in April 2021 and this would include a review of the Code of Conduct.  It was also anticipated that a Model Code of Conduct would be introduced.  In view of this the proposed actions in Appendix 1 were interim measures pending a full review.  The proposed actions related mainly to updating the Guidance on Dealing with Member Complaints.  The proposed amendments to the Guidance to implement the relevant best practice recommendations were detailed in Appendix 2 as tracked changes, in red typeface.

 

The Guidance on Dealing with Member Complaints had also been approved on 2 July 2020 and the Committee had the power to update it, as appropriate.  Whilst it would be preferable to have the actions and measures dealt with in the Code of Conduct itself, it was considered that the proposed changes to the Guidance were sufficient to ensure that best practice was followed until such time as the Code of Conduct was updated.

 

Members sought additional information and were informed:-

 

(i)                 Appendix 1 – that the updating of the guidance on dealing with Member complaints was likely to change many of the amber RAG ratings to green.

 

(ii)               Appendix 1(Action 3) – that while it was mentioned that the Constitution was to be reviewed in April 2021, Members would be informed later in the agenda about the intention to put together a Constitution Member Working Group to review possible changes.  It was anticipated that work could be completed as soon as possible and well in advance of the 2021 local elections.

 

(iii)             Appendix 1 (Action 11) – an explanation was provided of the exceptional circumstances where it might be appropriate for a Parish Clerk’s standards complaint to be made  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Guidance on Requests for Dispensations pdf icon PDF 373 KB

To consider the attached report.

 

Contact Officer:  maria.damigos@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a report which sought approval of the criteria for considering whether to grant a dispensation, guidance for members seeking a dispensation and the application form to request a dispensation.

 

The Localism Act 2011 stated that a councillor or co-opted member who had a disclosable pecuniary interest (DPI) could not participate in a meeting for that item and could not vote on the item.  The Council’s Code of Conduct also required a member to withdraw from the meeting where they have a DPI.

 

If a member had a prejudicial interest the Council’s Code of Conduct also required them to withdraw from the meeting, not to participate and to not vote on the item.

 

These statutory requirements and rules were in place to ensure members took decisions in the public interest.  There were however situations when it may be appropriate for a councillor or co-opted member to still take part in the debate or take part and vote on the matter.  The Localism Act 2011 set out 5 instances when a dispensation for a DPI might be granted.  These were set out as part of the Criteria (see Appendix 1).  One of these instances must be found to apply in order for a dispensation to be granted.

 

The Council’s Constitution gave the Monitoring Officer and the Standards and General Purposes Committee delegated authority to grant dispensations.  It was expected that for speed the majority of dispensations would be given by the Monitoring Officer.  It was good practice to adopt criteria for considering dispensation requests to ensure consistency and approval of the criteria by the Committee would ensure appropriate oversight and transparency.

 

As each request for a dispensation should be considered on its own merits the criteria could not be exhaustive therefore the criteria was deliberately high level to allow all applicable circumstances to be taken into account.  Alongside the criteria, the proposed Guidance for Members was detailed at Appendix 2 and had the following sections:

·                    When it might be appropriate to request a dispensation?

·                    What are the circumstances in which I ask for a dispensation?

·                    What are the circumstances in which I ask for a dispensation?

·                    Does the request for a dispensation have to be granted?

·                    Are there any circumstances when a dispensation will not be granted?

·                    How do I make a request for a dispensation?

·                    How much notice is needed to consider my request?

 

These sections gave more detail on the criteria and would also be used as further guidance alongside the criteria when considering requests for dispensations.  The proposed application form at Appendix 3 had been drafted to ensure that requests contained all relevant information the Monitoring Officer would need to consider requests.

 

The Committee was informed that blanket or general dispensations could also be granted to cover all applicable members. This might apply in relation to a particular project or scheme which, due to its nature, was likely to engage a large proportion of members and therefore engage one or more of the instances required  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Local Government Ombudsman Complaint Report pdf icon PDF 334 KB

To consider the attached report.

 

Contact Officer: lucy.pike@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Council was required to bring to the attention of Members the report of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.  The Standards Committee had been identified as the most appropriate forum to consider the Report and the accompanying progress update.

 

The Committee received a report which provided a summary of a recent Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Report, published on 24 July 2020, that had found the Council to be at fault for the way in which it provided home to school transport for 2 children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.  The Council was required to provide free home to school transport for children of compulsory school age.

 

The Ombudsman’s report had concluded that the Council, in this case, did not meet its statutory duty to provide free home to school transport for children of school age who were eligible. The Council had accepted the findings of the ombudsman. The report detailed the progress made in implementing the recommendations identified in the Ombudsman’s report.

 

Members were informed that a parent of 2 children with Education, Health and Care Plans had made a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) in April 2019 about their home to school transport arrangements.  The Council had been unable to provide suitable transport for the 2 children who were eligible for free transport due to their Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.  The parent had been receiving 2-way mileage to transport them herself to a school 8 miles away.  The parent argued that this did not amount to free transport as her return journey home was not covered by the mileage allowance and it was unreasonable to expect her to wait at the school all day.

 

The parent submitted an application to the Transport Exceptions Panel to consider 4-way mileage and when the Panel declined the request, the parent progressed the matter to the Independent Appeal Panel.  This Panel also declined her request. During this time there was some confusion around whether the Council could provide suitable transport, particularly for the younger child and therefore whether the parent was voluntarily transporting her children.  There was also confusion about whether an assessment of needs had been conducted.  Following a number of delays the Council confirmed it could not provide suitable transport for the eldest child.  At the time of the Ombudsman’s report, there remained uncertainty about whether the Council could provide transport for the younger sibling.

 

The Ombudsman upheld the parent’s complaint, and identified that 2-way mileage did not equate to free transport provision.  The confusion, poor communication, delays in decision-making and errors in administering process were felt to be of no fault of the parent, and had caused unnecessary hardship, anxiety, time and trouble.

 

The Council had accepted all the findings in the Ombudsman’s report and had taken steps to complete the recommended actions.  A number of actions were required to be completed within 6 weeks of the report being published (24 July).  These actions and the Council’s response  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Standards Complaints (Update) pdf icon PDF 243 KB

To consider the attached report.

 

Contact Officer: maria.damigos@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a report setting out details of the number of complaints received against councillors since 1 April 2020, the nature or themes of complaints received and the outcome of those complaints.  Except where a breach had been found to have taken place and a formal Decision Notice had been published no personal details would be provided.

 

Under the Localism Act 2011, the Council had a duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct amongst its Members and co-opted Members.  As part of this duty the Council was required to have a Code of Conduct for Members which set out the standard of behaviour of Members when acting as a Member or on behalf of the Council.

 

The Council’s Code of Conduct was at Section 2 Part H of the Constitution.  Whilst Town and Parish Council could adopt the Buckinghamshire Council Code they did not have to.  The Arrangements for Dealing with complaints under the Code of Conduct was at Section 3 Part H of the Constitution and applied to complaints against all councillors, including Town or Parish Councillors.  Further guidance on dealing with complaints had been approved by the Committee on 2 July 2020.

 

In summary, the arrangements for handling complaints required an initial assessment to check whether the complaint could be considered (e.g. the complaint related to the conduct or behaviour of a councillor when acting in an official capacity) and whether it should be accepted (ie the nature of the complaint warranted it being considered further).  Stage 1 of the process involved contacting the Subject Member for their response to the complaint and suggestions for resolution.  If this was not accepted the complaint moved to Stage 2 when the complaint was formally considered by the Monitoring Officer or a Deputy Monitoring Officer.  The Chairman/Vice-Chairman of the Committee would be informed of the complaint and could also consider the complaint together with an Independent Person.  Stage 3 was implemented if the matter went to a formal investigation and could include consideration by a Sub-Committee or full Committee.

 

Appendix 1 detailed the cumulative total of complaints received since 1 April 2020.  The Monitoring Officer had received 19 formal complaints with a further 2 carried over from legacy councils.  13 of these related to Buckinghamshire or legacy council members with 8 against Town or Parish councillors.  Consultation with an independent person was due to take place to consider whether to progress in a few cases.  None of the closed complaints progressed to a formal Stage 1 consideration, having either been rejected, considered not in the public interest to progress or informally resolved.  Accordingly there had been no finding of a breach having occurred.

 

Although some of the complaints were duplicated, the main themes of the complaints related to disrespect followed up closely by disrepute and bullying.  There were 3 complaints about personal interests, although 2 of these related to the same matter.

 

Members discussed the reporting format and information and it was agreed that future reports should  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Constitution Review Update

The Service Director: Legal and Democratic will provide a verbal update.

 

Contact Officer: nick.graham@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Service Director (Legal and Democratic Services) informed Members that the terms of reference for both the Standards and General Purposes Committee and the Audit and Governance Committee included for them to recommend changes to the Council’s Constitution to full Council.  Any changes proposed by the Audit and Governance Committee had to be recommended via the Standards and General Purposes Committee.

 

A number of Member concerns relating to small / minor or procedural issues had been brought to the attention of the Service Director.  In response, it had been agreed that a Constitution Member Working Group consisting of the Chairman and Vice Chairman of both the above Committees would meet to discuss and review the issues.  Any proposed changes would then need to be reported back to the Committees, as appropriate, before any recommendations could be made to full Council.  The first Working Group meeting would be held in October 2020.

 

RESOLVED –

 

That the report be noted, including that an update on the Working Group would be reported back to the Committee in due course.

9.

Electoral Review Members’ Working Group (Update) pdf icon PDF 223 KB

To consider the attached report.

 

Contact Officer: nick.graham@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee had received a report on 2 July, 2020, explaining that with the establishment of the new unitary Council the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) had indicated that it intended to conduct an electoral review of Buckinghamshire Council.  Any changes would not come into effect until the 2025 Buckinghamshire Council elections although the precise timeframe for the stages of the Review still needed to be confirmed.

 

The Committee had agreed that a Member Working Group (MWG) of 9 Members (to allow for cross party representation) should be established to oversee the work of officers in the preparation of the statistical and other information required by the LGBCE.  The membership had now been confirmed as Councillors Waters (Chairman), Mordue, Adoh, Collingwood, Etholen, M Knight, Lambert, L Smith and Stannard.

 

On 4 August, 2020, the MWG had met remotely with the LGBCE and received a presentation on their approach to the Review, the process that would be followed and the timetable.  A similar presentation was given to all Members on 23 September.  The briefing session had attended by 90 Councillors.  It had also been recorded so that those Members who were unable to attend could also view it.

 

The LGBCE’s initial review timetable proposed a deadline for the Council to make a submission on the final Council size numbers in November 2020, and for the second part of the review looking at Warding arrangements to commence on 11 May 2021.

 

The MWG had expressed concerns to the LGBCE on both deadlines and asked for more time to be allowed to gather evidence and put together the first submission, and for the Warding submission to commence in June 2021 rather than May.  The LGBCE had responded that it was amenable to the submission date on the final Council size numbers being deferred until the beginning of March 2021, and for the second stage of the review to commence in June 2021, to allow a period of time after the elections for things to settle.

 

The MWG had met on 3 occasions and received information from Officers who had started to populate the template provided by the LGBCE and that they required the Council’s submission to be made on.  The template and information was still at a draft stage and it was hoped that a fuller version would be reported to the Standards and General Purposes Committee’s next meeting in December.

 

The Standards and General Purposes Committee would need to approve the final Council size numbers submission to the LGBCE in due course and, as such, it was recommended that an additional meeting of the Committee was timetabled to be held on 25 February 2021 for this purpose.

 

Members were informed that it was important for the submission to be evidence based as much as possible and to this end the information provided by the Officers had focussed on statistical / factual information.  However, part of the template (Section 9) related to the community involvement and leadership role of Councillors, where  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Work Programme 2020/21

To consider the Committee’s work future work programme:

 

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.                  Bucks Electoral Review: Member Working Group update

 

25 February 2021 (subject to Member approval at agenda item number 9)

1.                  Council’s final submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) on Council size numbers.

 

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.                  Bucks Electoral Review: Member Working Group update

5.                  Draft Work programme for 2021/22

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered their future work programme, which was updated during the course of the meeting.

 

RESOLVED –

 

That the future work programme be approved, as follows:

 

10 December 2020

1.                  Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Report – Progress Report.

2.                  Protocol on the Role of the Monitoring Officer.

3.                  Review of Social Media Guidance for Councillors.

4.                  Review of Member Induction and Training on standards of conduct.

5.                  Electoral Review Members’ Working Group (Update).

6.                  Constitution Working Group (Update).

 

25 February 2021

1.                  Electoral Review: Final submission of Council size numbers to the LGBCE

 

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.                  Constitution Working Group (Update).

6.                  Draft Work Programme for 2021/22.