Agenda item - Monitoring Officer's Report

Agenda item

Monitoring Officer's Report

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



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 guidance issued by Standards for England was not in accordance with the Tribunal's viewpoint.  Members queried whether, if accepting the Tribunal's ruling, there was a specific need for clarity to be given to Members on the definition of family interests.  The DMO stated that, if continuing under the current regime that might be something to which attention would need to be given, but in reality the current definitions would very shortly come to an end.  She added that during consultation which had taken place on the new Code of Conduct it had been made clear that there would be a need for clarity on any references within the Code to family and/or close associations, and as to precisely how those were defined.


            The Committee took as a positive the fact that Councillor Matthews was willing to attend training on the new Code of Conduct, and no views were expressed by Members in support of any appeal against the Tribunal's decision.


 (iii)      Member Training

            A Member queried why the Code of Conduct training sessions scheduled for June 2012 were non-mandatory.  The MO explained that, historically, the view had been taken that the mandatory requirements for training would be for Members themselves to decide and that Officers had not made such decisions on Members' behalf.  The general view of Members previously had been what would be done should Members fail to attend particular sessions.  Whilst it was mandatory for Members to attend training specific to any committees on which they sat, realistically unless there was complete 'buy-in' from all Members to attend other training then it would be very difficult for Officers to police.  She added that if the Committee were minded, Members could be asked to look at whether they themselves would wish to impose a mandatory requirement to attend Code of Conduct training, and that Officers would support this.


            It was queried whether this would also extend to Parish Councillors, which it was noted would be difficult given that a large part of the new regime under the Localism Act would depend on the relationship that could be built up between the Parish and District Councils, and the faith the parishes had in the District Council administering their standards processes.  Parishes generally appeared to be keen to attend training sessions offered by the District Council and Officers were working closely with the Parish Council Clerks to encourage more attendance at training events. 


            At district level it was felt that the political Group Leaders had an important role to play in encouraging Members to attend training.  It was noted that this might further be considered as part of a Member-Member Protocol, including whether Members themselves identified Code of Conduct training as a specific need.  The Member Development Group (MDG) currently met to discuss Member training and development issues.  Whilst the Group had not previously received cross-party support there were indications that it might do so moving forward.  The MO stated that she would be happy to raise this matter at the MDG, and that were the Group at some stage to include membership from all of the political groups then there could be a clear agreement as to what levels of training would be appropriate in each committee regard.  It was noted that mandatory Code of Conduct training might also be particularly useful at the point of Member induction, and that the issue of Code of Conduct training also linked with Agenda Item 7 on the new standards regime. 


            The MO added that Officers were currently looking at the overall programme of training and development for Members for the 2012/13 Municipal Year.  As much information as possible on upcoming training events would be given to Members to ensure that they could commit to particular sessions.  The MO stated that there had been some ambiguities in relation to aspects of previous training which were mandatory and those which were not, and to those Members who were and were not duly trained.  She added that it was a complicated process which caused some controversy and that it was not something which Officers wished to greatly police, meaning that there would be significant benefits to be gained from cross-party working on this.


(iv)       Parish Council Matters

            The MO stated that the Monitoring Officer Liaison Meetings for the Parish Council Clerks/Executive Officers were continuing and were proving to be very successful.  It was her understanding that the parishes were generally grateful to receive this support and, so far as resources allowed, it was proposed that these meetings would continue for the foreseeable future.


(v)        Standards for England

            In relation to paragraph 3.17 of the report, the DMO reported that the statutory instrument formally disbanding Standards for England had now been passed, meaning the organisation would cease to exist with effect from 1st April 2012.



(a)       that the contents of the report be noted; and

(b)       that any required actions arising from the points detailed in the report and the preamble above be acted upon and reported back to Committee, as appropriate.  

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