Report on the UDC Standards Committee Meeting 16th March 2020, 5pm. UDC Offices.
Following the Findings and the Recommendations of the Standards Committee after the 21st January Hearing of the Standards Panel the Chairman and Vice Chairman, after consultation with the Monitoring Officer, had written a letter to explain that AOB does not form part of the CPC Agenda as it appeared they had been led to understand and also to detail the training undertaken by Parish Councillors and the Clerk. Cllr Gill and Cllr Clayton attended this Meeting to ascertain if the letter had been received. Cllr Gill had registered to speak, if required.
Cllrs Couchman, Carter and Barrow were also in attendance. Cllr Couchman, a parishioner and ex -parishioner had also registered to speak; however the latter two did not attend.
In the public participation section, Cllr Couchman asked that a fuller account of the hearing be published in the public domain as a full account would allow parishioners and fellow councillors not present at the hearing to understand what took place. A statement was also made that the Parish News only contained three of the published findings. Mention was also made of the CPC Chair ‘shouting down’ a parishioner to cease speaking in its recent PC meeting and also mention made of a police action and a parishioner. A statement was made that publishing a fuller set of minutes of the hearing would ’calm matters’ and that such Code of Conduct hearings should be in public.
Cllr Gill spoke asking if the letter sent had been received by those of the Committee at the Hearing and she referenced statements in it concerning AOB and training. She stated that the CPC had not quoted the findings in the newsletters. etc, but had given the UDC link which contained all the information for interested parishioners to follow. She stated that the matter concerning a parishioner referred to by Cllr Couchman was not for discussion there and that the CPC had followed police advice. She stated that the CPC Councillors understand fully that the mentioned Hearing was Confidential, as per its agenda, and the minutes and findings in the public domain sufficed.
Item 7: Review of the Standards Panel Hearing 21st January 2020 (heard first)
This was a discussion purely on process of the 21st January Hearing, not the findings, as there is a new Standards methodology and process. It was reiterated that it is normal practice that these hearings are conducted in private and this had been stated on the agenda, yet people had arrived and had to be turned away. It was thought this may have arisen as the agenda referenced a public speaking item. It was concluded that a plainer statement needs to be made on an Agenda about confidentiality of such a hearing.
The independent person on the Standards committee concluded that the process worked exceptionally well and better than previously seen. It was also re-stated that it is not required for this Hearing to take place in public.
There was a thought that the Investigating Officer may have been allowed to call witnesses.
It was stated that there had been challenge and that this had been robust and that procedurally all worked well.
It was stated that such Code of Conduct hearings can not necessarily solve underlying problems and there was sometimes a need to look for constructive ways to achieve resolution.
An opinion was voiced that though the hearing was very fair, it was too robust; however, this comment was reconsidered as it was conceded that different perspectives had to be put forward in order for the hearing to be considered very fair.
Decided that the process worked well insofar as it is meant to do.
Mr Murdoch’s letter received just before the hearing started was not read out.
Cllrs Clayton, Barrow & Carter left the meeting
Item 3 Committee on Standards in Public Life: Local Government Ethical Standards Report
This document has been around since January 2019 and was on the agenda as an ongoing item.
Discussion that there is no sanction to disqualify a councillor but if there were, how would this be appealed?
Discussion on Parish and Town Councils: how can the Standards Committee and Monitoring Officer influence them?
There is no recourse to a Local Government Ombudsman and it is difficult for the Monitoring Officer to deal with ‘spats’ and there is a need for an independent person to’ bottom out’ the issues.
Mention was made of the ‘Code of Conflict’ adopted by ECC. Noted that Independent Persons on the Standards Committee currently have no legal indemnity provided by UDC – this to be looked at.
In response to a District Councillor asking how PC’s deal with Code of Conduct training, I was asked by the Chair of the Standards Committee to join in the discussion, being a PC Chair and member of the Executive Committee of UALC.
I explained that all the training CPC had availed itself of – including UDC training at UDC, new Councillor training via EALC which includes this, and that Mr Pugh himself had given the PC training in July 2018 in Clavering. I reminded the Committee that at Election, Councillors sign a declaration that they will abide by the Code of Conduct and there is an explanation attached about it. If it is not understood, Councillors can refer to the Clerk as Proper Officer or the Chairman of the meeting.
It was asked whether the Clerk could remind Cllrs of declarations to be made, especially when such were noted on the register of interests. I stated as I had been told by Mr Pugh, and Mr Perry before him, that although a Councillor may be reminded by a Clerk or Chairman that a declaration of an interest should be made, which in Clavering we do, it is the responsibility of Councillors to do so and they cannot be forced to do so, even if such an interest is known to all!
I stated that Clerks being CiLCA qualified helps Councillors in promoting good standards.
I stated that I would take back to the UALC that it could possibly promote/facilitate Code of Conduct Training.
I quoted the cost of EALC Code of Conduct training for a Full Council.
The Local Parish Council Forums were also mentioned, as was the Council Accreditation Scheme and also promotion of the ECC Bursary Scheme for Clerk’s training.
Moving forward, was decided that a cohesive Government prescribed standard was required.
Cllr Couchman left the meeting.
Item 4. Committee on Standards in Public Life: Artificial Intelligence.
After discussion, statement that this all needs to be mindful of the Nolan Principles.
(Confess that I was distracted during this item as Government sent out decree re Covid -19 at this moment and I was then trying to cancel a meeting scheduled 8pm that evening)
Item 5. Committee on Standards in Public Life: Intimidation in Public Life: Letter to Parties on Election Pledge
After discussion, conclusion that there should be kinder politics, behaviour modelled in a constructive way and adherence to the Nolan Principles.
Item 6. UDC Member Training for 2020/21
Budget was a determining factor in this and recommended that a Training Programme should be drawn up.
Was established that some members of the Standards Committee had not attended the previous training given, which was now required.
Observed that being a trainer is a separate skill set to being a Monitoring Officer...
Noted that Mr Pugh leaves UDC 22nd May 2020.
Cllr Stephanie M. Gill 19.4.2020