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Posted by: John Brace | 27th January 2012

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 26th January 2012 Part 1 Declarations of interest, Minutes, Implications of the Localism Act on the Standards Regime

Present (part of Standards Committee)

Independent

Ken Harrison (Vice-Chair)
Alex Nuttall

Conservative

Deputy Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Gerry Ellis
Cllr Simon Mountney deputy for Cllr Les Rowlands
Cllr Chris Blakeley

Labour

Cllr Denise Roberts
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Bill Davies

Liberal Democrat

Cllr Tom Harney deputy for Cllr Pat Williams
Cllr Ann Bridson
Cllr Bob Wilkins

Officers

Shirley Hudspeth (Committee Clerk)
Surjit Tour (Legal Adviser)

Press/public

2 members of the public (John Brace and Leonora Brace)

Ken Harrison (Vice-Chair) said he was chairing the meeting tonight in the absence of the Chair Brian Cummings. Mr. Harrison told those present that Brian Cummings couldn’t make it due to “family problems” and he was indisposed. He thanked those here for attending and asked for apologies.

Apologies were given for Cllr Pat Williams, Stella Elliott and Cllr Les Rowlands.

Item 1 Members’ Code of Conduct – Declarations of Interest

Cllr Denise Roberts declared an interest in item 5 (correspondence received by the Chair) as she was named in the correspondence.

Cllr Denise Roberts declared an interest in item 4, in respect of the meeting on 6/1/2010.

Cllr Chris Blakeley asked Cllr Denise Roberts if it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in?

Surjit Tour asked Cllr Denise Roberts if it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in?

Cllr Denise Roberts confirmed it was item 5 she was declaring an interest in.

Cllr Ann Bridson declared an interest in item 5.

Surjit Tour asked if there were any more who wished to declare an interest in item 5?

Deputy Mayor Gerry Ellis apologised and said he “didn’t think”.

Cllr Ann Bridson wanted to ask legal advice on an interest matter.

Surjit Tour said that for information, it was being recommended that item 5 be dealt with as an exempt item. Therefore he said the public could not be present for item 5 and any councillors who had declared a prejudicial  interest could not be present either. Mr Tour said they could however wait in the corridor until item 5 was over, rejoin the committee after item 5 and he would explain the decision. The discussion and debate would be exempt and it was in their [the councillor’s affected] interests not to take part.

Cllr Ann Bridson asked about item 4?

Cllr Denise Roberts said she had made a mistake with item 4, one referred to herself and Cllr Bridson.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said that item 5 does refer to the four women.

Cllr John Salter jokingly asked why Cllr Chris Blakeley wasn’t in here?

Cllr Simon Mountney responded to the joke by referring him to pages 66 and 67. The committee laughed.

Surjit Tour said Cllrs Roberts and Bridson both had a personal and prejudicial interest in item 5. They would therefore have to withdraw from the meeting when it was considered. He asked if the committee was happy for him to advise them in private session or open session? Would he be able to do this?

Cllr Ann Bridson asked if they would be in or out?

Surjit Tour said she would be out, then in.

The Chair said it was just like cricket and thanked Surjit Tour for his advice.

Item 2 Minutes

The Chair asked if they agreed the minutes of the meeting held on the 29th September 2011? He asked if all agreed to the above, and they said yes they did.

Item 3 Implications of the Localism Act on the Standards Regime – UPDATE

The Chair said this was on pages seven to fifty-four of the agenda.

Surjit Tour said they must be proper and thorough. He was providing an update on the implications of the Localism Act 2011 which had implications for the standards regime, Members’ Code of Conduct and Standards Committee. The changes happening from 1st July 2012 as mentioned in 4.3, were outlined in an explanatory note giving an indication of the timetable. The original date of 1st April 2012 had been changed to 1st July 2012, which gave a greater lead in time.

There would be further guidance from the Department of Communities and Local Government about the pecuniary interest which was difficult to explain. Appendix 2 had a new draft Code of Conduct. Put together with the national changes, it would be used as a basis to invite discussion and debate with the new Code being adopted.

Mr Tour said it was coming in across Merseyside and would hopefully be easier to administer. Appendix 2 contained a draft Code of Conduct to consider. The report also recommended to set up a Working Group to allow further discussion on the new amendments. The new regime would come into effect as of the 1st July 2012. Paragraph 4.10 summarises the key areas.

Mr Tour continued by stating there was no longer a requirement under the Act to have a Standards Committee. However, in order to administer arrangements it was a helpful vehicle. There was no obligation to have a Members Code, but they did have to have a new Members Code of Conduct which would be a requirement. The new role for independent persons was different to Independent Members. The nature of the role, description and approval would require amendment. They had to have at least one independent person.

This person would be consulted. There would still be a requirement on those covered by the Code to keep the Register of Interests up to date. It would be to the discretion of the Committee, as to the procedure regarding conduct matters. He then explained about dispensations (once they existed) and the protocol (in the unlikely event) that a matter should be referred to the police.

The new rules covered eight critical areas. Before 1st July 2011 as outlined at 4.11 they needed to set up a Working Group. The terms of reference were outlined at 3.1. Mr. Tour finally asked if there were any other items or issues?

The Chair asked if there were any items he wanted to draw attention to?

Surjit Tour said on page twelve there were various points in the explanatory note. S. 27 placed a duty on Wirral Council to promote and maintain high standards of conduct on Wirral Council. The other thing was the issue of sanctions. There were issues regarding decisions made outside of jurisdiction. The advice obtained may be considered.

A formal letter or censure was fine. Removal was limited as sanctions were up to political groups and not a sanction that could be imposed. Press releases and publicity was not an issue. There was no longer a reference to a special obligation not to publish and it would be to their discretion as to whether confidentiality still extended to the matter.

On the issue of allowances it was doubtful as to whether these could be withheld as it would be deemed to be unlawful. Even if an allegation related to access to confidential information, further access to confidential information by councillors couldn’t be restricted.

The appointment of the independent person could cause some difficulty due to the legal restrictions on conflicts of interest. This Surjit Tour felt would lead to a loss of knowledge and experience. He reiterated that an independent person was different to an Independent Member.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said it would have to commence by the 1st July. He said it was an awful lot of change. A lot of councillors and Members couldn’t understand the current system. Therefore it was difficult for people to comply, he realised however that ignorance wasn’t a reason. He felt that if they go down that route with a draft Code of Conduct, they had to get the message across to councillors and Members. His personal view was that although they don’t have to have a Standards Committee, was that it was easier to continue with the Code and just transpose the old one to the new one. It had served them well for four years, the difference being was that the sanctions would come out. It was just a suggestion.

Surjit Tour said it was at their discretion but there were some changes as the ten principles had been reduced to seven. There was no reason why they couldn’t adopt the old Code of Conduct as the new Code of Conduct.

Cllr John Salter said that they would have to have training on it between now and July to highlight this, he thought training would only take a couple of hours.

Cllr Bill Davies said he had been on a lot of subcommittees, when members of the committee were ill they sent deputies, it meant the deputies needed training too. Another idea was to exchange with other councils, but he did feel deputies should be included in the training.

The Chair said it was essential especially in the spirit of the matter. In his view training was very important. Anyone sitting or deputising must be trained.

Cllr Ann Bridson said to bring them down to earth she had spotted some misprints.

On page 9, in 4.11 “4.8” should read “4.10“.

On page 22, the first principle was “SELFISHNESS” but this should read “SELFLESSNESS“.

The Chair joked and said it was “not really a mistake”.

Cllr Bridson said adding to what other people have said, she wanted to look at what we’ve got and went on to make a point about training for everyone and deputies.

Cllr John Salter said he encouraged everyone in the Council to have training.

Cllr Ann Bridson said that “everyone should know their limitations”.

Cllr John Salter said they could swap with Liverpool City Council.

Cllr Chris Blakeley said he would prefer it to be pan-Merseyside rather than twelve here, twelve in Liverpool, five authorities, two of them with fifteen person committees. He said it would bring consistency.

The Chair said it was in the pipeline.


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