Surjit Tour asks Wirral councillors to agree to changes to how complaints about councillors are dealt with
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As I am referred to at this meeting because of an email I wrote to the Committee and others I will declare an interest at the outset. I will also declare an interest as a paid member of the press who are referred to in a report that was agenda item 4.
The public meeting of Wirral Council’s Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee was a special meeting held in Committee Room 3 at Wallasey Town Hall without microphones.
The following councillors were present: Cllr Eddie Boult (Conservative) deputy for Cllr Gerry Ellis (Conservative), Cllr David Elderton (Conservative), Cllr Chris Blakeley (Conservative spokesperson), Cllr Denise Roberts (Labour Chair), Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Labour), Cllr Ron Abbey (Labour), Cllr Jean Stapleton (Labour) deputy for Cllr Brian Kenny (Labour), Cllr Paul Stuart (Labour) and Cllr Phil Gilchrist (Liberal Democrat spokesperson).
There were also two independent people on the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee present who were Brian Cummings and Professor Ronald Jones.
Wirral Council officers present were Surjit Tour and Shirley Hudspeth.
Present from the press & public were myself and Leonora Brace.
The new Chair (Cllr Denise Roberts) welcomed people to the first meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee of the municipal year.
Apologies were given for Cllr Gerry Ellis (Cllr Eddie Boult was deputy for him) and Cllr Brian Kenny (Cllr Jean Stapleton was deputy for him).
No interests were declared. The minutes of the previous meeting of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee held on the 23rd November 2015 were approved and also approved were the minutes of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Working Group held on 24 February 2016.
The Committee then considered its main item (item 4 Appointment of Panels), which had a report of Mr Surjit Tour (Monitoring Officer) on establishing the Standards Panel and Standards Appeal Panel, appendix 1 (the Code of Conduct for councillors at Wirral Council), appendix 2 – the protocol for investigating and making decisions on complaints made alleging breach/breaches of the Code of Conduct, appendix 3 – an extract from Wirral Council’s constitution about the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee and appendix 4 – a proposed procedure for meetings of the Standards Panel and Standards Appeal Panel.
Mr Tour started by addressing some of the points raised in my email which you can read in an earlier blog post here.
He said the following, “Yes, I’ll introduce that report for you Chair.
If it helps Chair, shall I address the email from Mr. Brace at the back who has provided an email to us all with regards to a couple of procedural points that he’s raised if you’re content with me to do that before I respond and deal with the report?
Essentially there are three points that Mr. Brace has raised.
One is in relation to the supplementary agenda, the report that you have before you not being circulated with the original initial agenda, but that was the reason for that, we were still in the process of trying to co-ordinate dates for the Standards Panel which we need to establish and there was a slight delay in terms of getting the finalised date.
I can confirm that there is a date that has now been confirmed and I’ll come onto that as part of the substantive item. So that was the reason for why the report was not published because I wanted to actually provide you with a date as part of ??? rather than leave you with a outstanding issue.
Unfortunately that caused a difficulty with regards to the date when I published the supplementary agenda despite our efforts to try and provide the full report to you in terms of the date that a particular Panel would meet.
With regards to concerns around errm the article 6 arguments or the section 6 arguments and Article 10 provisions that have been referred to, errm the Protocol and the paragraph within the Protocol paragraph 12.5, simply requires anyone who’s involved in the investigation is being advised not to share information with the press or media rather than go through our Press Office purely because any investigation it’s important that the integrity of the investigation is maintained and if information appears provided in the public domain, it could have the effect of prejudicing the investigation.
It is only an advisory point, individuals are entitled to ignore that advice if they so wish, but they do so in the knowledge that they could potentially jeopardise an investigation.
So if you’re a complainant you could find that the subject councillor is prejudiced because you could bring about a potential conclusion of the investigation prematurely and clearly if it’s a subject councillor again could find themselves bringing the Council into disrepute by not adhering to appropriate advice and undermining the ethical framework.
So paragraph 12.5 in the first instance specifically makes reference to anyone involved in the investigation, who will be advised, it doesn’t require and doesn’t say that they are prohibited from sharing information in the public domain and clearly they would be advised against that.
With regards to the constitutional changes, with regards to paragraph 7 of the Access to Information Rules, we’re aware of that change. It was an oversight and you know in previous reviews the Standards Working Group of this Committee when it meets in July, if you’re minded to re-establish the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Working Group again. One of its tasks will be to again review the full ethical framework and see if there any constitutional changes that are required and so I’m grateful to Mr. Brace to raise that, we’ll be aware that that change needs to take place and the constitutional amendment and that will take place as part of the Standards Working Group Working Program if you’re minded to re-establish it, if not then I’ll bring a separate report requiring that change to be made in relation to Council be made for that amendment to be made to the Constitution accordingly.
Thank you Chair, with regards to the substantive matter before you, the purpose of this meeting is to establish or for the Committee to establish formally the Standards Panel and the Standards Appeal Panel which all form part of the arrangements for dealing with standards complaints under paragraph 9.5 of article 9 of the Council’s constitution.
You’ll find in the report I’ve attached a number of appendices, there is information on article 9 of the constitution, which effectively sets out the constitutional framework for both panels and that’s in the first agenda document that we’ve got. Can I refer you to page 11 of the original agenda and in particular if you turn to page 13 and 14 and ?? onwards you will have the terms of reference of both the Standards Panel and the Standards Appeals Panel setting out not only its composition, but also its scope, remit and indeed its authority in terms of any sanctions that may be imposed.
So the purpose of this Committee is really to establish formally those two panels, not least because there is a particular matter that needs to be considered by the Standards Panel and therefore this Committee by formally establishing those enables the particular Standards Panel to be progressed to the first meeting of the Standards Panel.
With regards to that particular Panel meeting, we have canvassed dates. It has been a matter that has been long-standing in terms of both its progression, but we have now managed to secure a convenient date for a number of parties who need to be attending including at least one of our independent members and the date that is now available for that Standards Panel to meet is Tuesday 28th June at 6.00pm. There is also the possibility of a further date of the following day the 29th of June which I would suggest that we keep that date as a hold over provisional date that if we’re not able to conclude matters on Tuesday evening, we are in a position to adjourn to the following day where all the parties who are required are also available for Wednesday the 29th.
I’m not anticipating the matter having to extend to a second day, but it would be prudent now that we have a date to hold both days indeed if that we need them.
So Chair, the report itself sets out the position, I would like to just remind all people to bring to the attention of everyone the procedure, suggested procedure in appendix 4 of the supplement which sets out the suggested procedure for how matters will be dealt with by either the Standards Panel or indeed the Standards Appeals Panel.
As essentially an indicative process or procedure that would be followed. There is the discretion here for the Chairperson of the Panel to vary the ??? procedure if it’s necessary in the interests of fairness to all parties I understand, but it’s anticipated that following the process there will be making it ??? who needs to have whose views need to be sought, have the opportunity to share those thoughts with the Panel before the Panel considers its position with regards to the standards matter and also goes so far as to deal with if they do uphold and find that there is a breach, also then to address the issue of any sanctions if any that it thinks are appropriate.
So your approval is also sought in respect of that decision.”
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