Agenda for Standards Committee (this Committee has now been combined wit the Audit, Standrds and Governance Committee and no longer meets) on Wednesday 21st March 2012, 6.00 p.m.

Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee (this Committee has now been combined wit the Audit, Standrds and Governance Committee and no longer meets) - Wednesday 21st March 2012 6.00 p.m.

Venue: The Council House, Burcot Lane, Bromsgrove

Contact: Debbie Parker-Jones 

No. Item


Apologies for absence


Apologies for absence were received from Mrs. G. Bell (Independent Member), and Mrs. K. May (Deputy Parish Councils' Representative - observer).


The Chairman advised Members that Mrs. Bell had specifically asked that it be noted that she was particularly sorry to have missed the meeting given that the Committee would be looking at the new standards regime, and that she had not felt able to comment on the report given that she would not be present for the discussion on this.  She therefore looked forward to noting the outcomes of the Committee's discussions in this regard.


Declarations of Interest


Mr. N. A. Burke and Ms. K. J. Sharpe each declared a personal interest in agenda item 7 - Localism Act 2011 - New Standards Regime.  They did so for transparency reasons, on the basis that the Independent Members were more affected by the aspect of the report to be debated in relation to the possible establishment of a pool of Independent Persons under the new regime, who may or may not be appointed by the County Council to support all of the Districts Councils and the County Council, and which they, as current Independent Members, may or may not be eligible to apply for membership of.


It was queried whether the interest was also pecuniary and therefore prejudicial, by virtue of the fact that Independent Members received payment for certain of their duties.  The Monitoring Officer advised that she had spoken with the Independent Members on this and that she did not take the view that it was also a prejudicial interest.  This was on the basis that all current Independent Members would have to go through a recruitment and selection process should they wish to seek to become an Independent Person, and that she therefore felt that they were sufficiently detached from the process to participate in the discussion. 


Mr. Cypher also brought to the Committee's attention the fact that an update in relation to Councillor David Matthews, a fellow Alvechurch Parish Councillor, appeared later in the agenda (Monitoring Officer's Report).


Minutes pdf icon PDF 55 KB

Additional documents:


The minutes of the meetings of the Standards Committee held on 21st September 2011 and 18th October 2011 were submitted.


RESOLVED that the minutes be approved as correct records.


Parish Councils' Representatives' Report

[To receive an oral report from the Parish Councils' Representatives on any matters of relevance to the Committee.]



Mr. Cypher advised that at the last meeting of the Bromsgorve Area Committee of the Worcestershire County Association of Local Councils (CALC) the Parish Representatives had reported on the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct.  Officers from Bromsgrove were leading on the proposed County model Code and had consulted separately with both the CALC Executive Officer and the Parish Representatives on the Committee on this and the proposed new arrangements for dealing with councillor complaints.  Mr Cypher thanked Officers for the opportunity to engage in prior discussions in this regard. 


RESOLVED that the position be noted.


Monitoring Officer's Report pdf icon PDF 83 KB

[To receive a report from the Monitoring Officer on any matters of relevance to the Committee.]


Additional documents:


The Committee noted the contents of the Monitoring Officer's (MO's) report and the issues detailed below were raised during the consideration of this.


(i)         Complaint References 07/11, 08/11 & 09/11

            Further to paragraph 3.4 of the report, the Deputy Monitoring Officer (DMO) advised that at the Assessment Sub-Committee meeting on 2nd March 2012 it had been decided that linked Complaint References 07/11, 08/11 and 09/11 against a District Councillor Whittaker be referred to the MO for local investigation.   


(ii)       Complaint References 03/10 & 04/10

            The DMO advised that Parish Councillor Matthews's appeal to the First-tier Tribunal - General Regulatory Chamber (Local Government Standards in England) against the Standards Committee's decision was the first appeal to the Tribunal against a decision of the Committee. 


            It was noted that Councillor Matthews had raised points in his appeal which he had not raised during the Final Determination Hearing, and that the Tribunal had been prepared to consider those points.  She went on to explain the appeal process and that the Tribunal had ultimately allowed Councillor Matthews's appeal, the effect of which was that the decision made by the Standards Committee had been quashed as the Tribunal did not agree with the Committee's finding that there had been a breach of the Code of Conduct. 


            The Tribunal agreed with the Standards Committee's view that Councillor Matthews would benefit from receiving training on the Code of Conduct, which could therefore still be undertaken by Councillor Matthews on a voluntary basis.  The DMO advised that she had written to Councillor Matthews to establish whether he was willing to complete such training.  It was noted that whilst Councillor Matthews had not replied to the DMO directly, he had replied to a separate communication from the Ethical Standards Officer indicating that he wished to attend a training session which was taking place for the parishes in the summer on the new Code of Conduct under the Localism Act 2011.


            The DMO highlighted that the reason why the Tribunal had come to a different view to the Committee was based on the interpretation of the definition of a family member.  The Committee had followed the guidance given by Standards for England on this, which was that the definition should be interpreted "widely", and which was therefore applied in Councillor Matthews's case.  However, the Tribunal had responded that they did not agree with Standards for England's guidance on this, and that the interpretation of family should be based on the Oxford Dictionary meaning.  The DMO stated that guidance issued by Standards for England would, as a first port of call at least, normally be followed at local level, and that in this instance a higher authority had decided that the guidance was perhaps not appropriate.


            The DMO stated that the Committee did have a right of appeal against the Tribunal's decision but that from a legal point of view there was not a strong case for pursuing an appeal. 


            The Committee noted the Tribunal's ruling and expressed concern that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.


Review of Operation of the Committee, Work Programme and Calendar of Meetings 2012/13 pdf icon PDF 71 KB

[To review the general operation of the Standards Committee and its Sub-Committees over the last twelve months, and to note the position in relation to the current Standards Committee's Work Programme and the dates set out in the Council's calendar of meetings for the current Standards Committee and any successor committee to the current Committee for the 2012/13 Municipal Year.]



Members considered a report which provided opportunity to review the general operation of the Committee and its Sub-Committee over the previous twelve months, and which set out the position in relation to the Committee's current Work programme and the dates for future meetings of both the current Committee and any successor committee to be introduced as part of the new standards regime under the Localism Act 2011.


RESOLVED that the position be noted.


Localism Act 2011 - New Standards Regime pdf icon PDF 98 KB

[To receive a report on upcoming changes to the standards regime in light of the Localism Act 2011 and to consider proposals for implementation of the new regime.]


Additional documents:


The Committee received a report on changes to the system of regulation of the standards of conduct for elected and co-opted Councillors which were due to be implemented under the Localism Act 2011.  Members were asked to consider various proposals for recommendation to Full Council on how the new regime might be implemented.


The Monitoring Officer (MO) stated that Officers were not, at that stage, in a position to report to members as to exactly what the final regime would look like as certain information was still awaited from Government, with work on the new Code of Conduct for Members being ongoing.  In view of the proposed 1st July 2012 implementation date however Officers had produced as much information as possible at that point, including a draft process for how complaints against Members for alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct might be dealt with under the new regime.


The Committee considered the report recommendations and, in doing so, were advised by the MO of the changes which would apply to both the make-up and operation of any successor standards committee.  It was queried whether Members would be bound by the findings of any new committee.  The MO confirmed that as standards would be a non-executive function it would be for Full Council to determine what it wished to delegate to the committee in decision-making terms. 


Members noted that a new category of Independent Person was being introduced under the Localism Act, with Independent Members no longer forming part of the membership of any successor committee.  The MO explained the background to, and role of, the new Independent Person and added that, historically, non-elected Members had been able to have voting rights on the Standards Committee as the committee had existed as a committee in its own right, with separate statutory requirements, which would no longer be the case under the Localism Act.


The position in relation to the jurisdiction that any new committee would have over the parish councils was noted, with the District Council being the principal authority for the purpose of Member complaints.  It was proposed that the parish councils would be involved at various stages in the complaints process, with there being the option of mediation between the MO and relevant parties in relation to complaints, which it was hoped would provide for a better solution than the current highly prescriptive and sometimes disproportionate regime.  Whilst the MO hoped that the proposals would enable the District Council to work with the parish councils to achieve a process that would work it was noted that, ultimately, any successor committee would only be able to make a recommendation to a parish council, which the parish council concerned could in turn then opt not to implement.


One of the Parish Councils' Representatives highlighted the fact that voting Parish Representatives on the committee were no longer provided for under the new regime.  He noted that the District Council and any future standards committee would have certain duties with regards to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 43.