Meeting documents

Standards Committee
Thursday, 4th March, 2010

Place: Cross Room, Civic Centre, West Paddock, Leyland, PR25 1DH

 Present: Mr R Atkinson (Independent Chairman) in the chair

Independent Members Mr S Ellison and Mr J Holt, Borough Councillors Mr J E J Breakell and Mr K W Palmer, and Parish Councillors Mrs M Gelder and Mr R Mitchell
 In attendance: John Dakin (Corporate Director (Policy and Neighbourhoods)), Maureen Wood (Head of Corporate Governance), David Whelan (Legal Services Manager) and Andy Houlker (Senior Democratic Services Officer)
 Public attendance: 1
 Other Officers: Councillor Clark

Item Description/Resolution Status Action
42 Apologies for Absence

Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Borough Councillors P Foster, F Heyworth, Mrs M J Robinson and B Yates and Parish Councillor Mrs E Houghton.
43 Declarations of Interest

Parish Councillor Mrs Gelder stated she would declare a prejudicial interest in Item 4 (Request for Dispensation from Members of Much Hoole Parish Council).
44 Minutes of the Last Ordinary Meeting of the Standards Committee
Minutes attached

The Corporate Director took the opportunity to refer to min. no.21(2), 3 September 2009 relating to the requirements for a Consideration Sub-committee prior to all hearings, even when the Investigating Officer had found a breach of the Code. The council had sought advice from Standards for England. The advice received confirmed the need for this sub-committee. This was because it could decide that a matter be referred for determination by the First-tier Tribunal (Local Government Standards for England) (formerly The Adjudication Panel for England) and not the council?s own Standards Committee.

The Chairman referred to the two appeal hearing decisions by the former Adjudication Panel for England and the council?s subsequent request for a meeting with Standards for England to clarify the matters those appeals had highlighted. However, the committee was disappointed to learn that despite officers? strenuous efforts no date for such a meeting had been received from Standards for England.

1. that the minutes of the last ordinary meeting held on 3 September 2009 be signed by the chairman; and
2. that a letter from this committee be sent to Standards for England expressing its disappointment to date that no meeting with the council had been arranged and stressing the urgency of this matter to clarify the uncertainty that had arisen from the two appeal hearing decisions.
Agreed  Legal Services Manager 
45 Request for Dispensation from Members of Much Hoole Parish Council
Request for dispensation attached

(Parish Councillor Mrs Gelder declared a prejudicial interest in this item under the Code of Conduct for Elected Members as a member of Much Hoole Parish Council and left the meeting and took no part in the discussion or voting thereon.)

The Legal Services Manager presented a report outlining the applications for dispensation from four members of Much Hoole Parish Council. If granted this would enable those members to take part and vote in any debates relating to the consideration of any requests for financial assistance from the Much Hoole Village Plan Steering Group. This was understood to be in the region of ?250.

The committee was reminded that guidance from Standards for England advised that Standards Committees could grant a dispensation if more than 50% of members had a prejudicial interest in an item of business to be discussed at a meeting which was covered by their code of conduct. Much Hoole Parish Council had eight parish councillors but there was currently one vacancy and five members with prejudicial interests (one had chosen not to apply for a dispensation).

The committee was mindful that this issue could not be discussed at meetings of the parish council unless dispensations were granted. It was also aware of the need to balance the public interest in preventing members with possible prejudicial interests from taking part in decisions, against the public interest in decisions being taken by a reasonably representative group of members of that authority.

The Clerk to Much Hoole Parish Council (Mr Gelder) was present in the audience and was asked and provided the committee with further background to the matter being considered by the parish council and the circumstances why these dispensations had become necessary. The parish council had earmarked for the current financial year the sum of ?500 towards the production of a Village Plan (or Parish Plan). Other avenues of funding were being explored and the parish council?s assistance was simply to enable progress with the village plan scheme. The parish council?s annual budget was circa ?6-7,000.

The committee understood the parish council?s problem, albeit self made, and generally supported the requests for dispensation. The committee felt it appropriate to limit the period as it was considered that during the dispensation period there might be further (larger) requests for financial assistance to the parish council..

1. that Parish Councillors T Brown, B Curley, J Hodson and H Davidson be granted a dispensation to allow them to take part in, and vote on, any debates relating to Much Hoole Parish Council making a financial contribution to the Much Hoole Village Plan Steering Group towards the production of the Much Hoole Village Plan;
2. that the dispensation granted in (1) above be valid from the date of this resolution (4 March 2010) until 3 September 2010 (the date of the next scheduled meeting of the committee); and
3. that in connection with (2) above the committee?s letter of decision notification also include comment that the borough council?s Standards Committee noted that the parish council had found itself needing to seek dispensations for its members because of the high proportion of parish councillors who had also become members of the Much Hoole Village Plan Steering Group.
Agreed  Senior Democratic Services Officer

46 Standards in Local Government
Citizens' Panel's Findings attached

The Head of Corporate Governance introduced this encouraging report reminding the committee that this Citizens? Panel Survey on Ethical Issues had been agreed by the committee as part of the Action Plan for Promoting and Achieving High Ethical Standards (3 September 2009, min. no.19 refers).

The report highlighted the findings of the survey which was the first time the council had sought feedback from the Citizens? Panel on this topic. It included some national comparisons and aspects such as the awareness, behaviour and rating of councillors. It was highlighted that the more detailed the questions became in the survey then the fewer responses had been received. This was felt to reflect the actual experience of individuals with the Council?s members.

The member of the public suggested the survey results had been selected to give a better view and was rebuked by the Chairman. The head of service confirmed that the report included the questions and answers with the exact analysis and nothing was hidden, even low responses (page 20) had been extremely positive.

That the committee notes with pleasure the positive responses received from the Citizens? Panel Survey on Ethical Issues.
47 Progress against Action Plan for Promoting and Achieving High Ethical Standards
Progress against Action Plan attached

The Legal Services Manager reported that at the meeting of the committee on 3 September 2009 (min. no.19 refers) it had approved the three year (2009/2011) action plan for promoting and achieving high ethical standards. Whilst it would not be expected to achieve everything at this stage, the report informed the committee of the considerable progress made to date against the action plan.

In particular reference was made to the following topics in the action plan
- continue one-to-one awareness raising sessions for members elected in a by-election
- remind members & employees annually of the need to register/declare gifts & hospitality
- include regular items in the council?s newspaper (Forward)
- ensure town/parish councillors & clerks have relevant information on their responsibilities
- review all protocols on ethical issues, identify gaps and produce/update documentation
- include standards & ethics in the biennial employee survey
- ensure the Standards Committee?s procedures remain effective

The committee complimented officers on a well presented, detailed report which demonstrated good progress on the items in the action plan.

The member of the public asked how many actions had been completed, in response the Chairman advised that this was the first six months of a three year period and action was on-going. The Chairman added that if the position was unchanged in three years it would be a different matter.

That the committee notes with pleasure the considerable progress being made against the committee?s Action Plan for Promoting and Achieving High Ethical Standards.

  Published on Tuesday 9 March 2010
The meeting finished at 5.28pm