The Committee were asked to consider a report on a Review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) into Local Government Ethical Standards.
The Monitoring Officer presented the report and informed the Committee that in January 2019 authorities received the Review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) into Local Government Ethical Standards.
The CSPL had concluded that high standards of conduct in local government were needed to protect the integrity of decision-making, maintain public confidence and safeguard local democracy.
Local authorities were currently required to have in place a code of conduct of their choosing which outlined the behaviour required of councillors. There was considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of codes of conduct. This created confusion among members of the public, and among councillors who represented more than one tier of local government. The CSPL report records that many codes of conduct fail to address adequately important areas of behaviour such as social media use and bullying and harassment.
There were, however, benefits to local authorities being able to amend and have ownership of their own codes of conduct. The committee recommended that the updated model code that they intended to propose should therefore be voluntary and able to be adapted by local authorities. The committee also recommended that the scope of the code of conduct should also be widened, with a rebuttable presumption that a councillor’s public behaviour, including comments made on publicly accessible social media, was in their official capacity.
The Worcestershire Councils to date had already taken the decision to agree a Code of Conduct that was used by all such Councils, for consistency and to assist Councillor’s that, due to multiple roles, were subjected to the Code of Conduct of more than one authority. It was this Code of Conduct previously agreed by all Worcestershire Councils that had been updated, as detailed in Appendices 1 and 2 to the report, in order to reflect the recommendations in the CSPL report.
The Monitoring Officer highlighted that at the Council’s Constitution Review Working Group meeting, Members requested the following:
· That the ‘Gifts and Hospitality’ threshold be reduced to £15 and that the Monitoring Officer requested that the rest of the county followed suit. The rationale being that a drink and plate of food could be accommodated within a £15 threshold;
· That ‘Trolling’ be included under ‘Bullying and Harassment’. ‘Trolling’ related to a deliberate act of making random, unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums.
The Monitoring Officer concluded that a collective agreement had been reached, whereby the Worcestershire Councils had agreed to take the amendments, as detailed in the preamble above, to their respective authorities.
In response to Councillor Cypher and Councillor Baxter, the Monitoring Officer agreed to inform the Executive Officer, Worcestershire County Association of Local Councils (CALC) of the Worcestershire Councils proposed Code of Conduct.
RECOMMENDED that subject to the amendments, as detailed in the preamble above, as requested by the Council’s Constitution Review Working Group, that Council approve the changes to the Code of Conduct; to reflect the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) Best Practice Recommendations.