Standards Committee – 25 March 2010

MINUTES

PRESENT: Mr W Harvie (Chair), Councillor Swift (Vice-Chair) Councillors Armitage, Davison, England, Poole and Whiteley.

Mrs Y Aubrey and Messrs D Cuckson, P Kelly, J Kitwood and Nixon

219 DECLARATIONS OF PERSONAL OR PERSONAL AND PREJUDICIAL INTERESTS – There were no declarations of interests.

220 MINUTES – Resolved – That the minutes of the meeting of this committee held on 28 January, 2010 having been printed and circulated amongst the members, be taken as read and correctly recorded and be signed by the chair, subject to the inclusion of a reference to arrangements for training for investigating officers being looked into.

221 (16) COMPLAINTS UNDER THE CODE OF CONDUCT – The monitoring officer submitted a schedule showing progress on complaints received since the delegation of responsibility for dealing with these to the Standards Committee in May 2008.

Resolved – (a) That the report be noted, and (b) that a report be submitted to the next meeting showing performance against the framework agreed under minute 199.

222 (17) FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS – The monitoring officer submitted a report setting out future proposals by Standards for England regarding the Standards Framework and risk based engagement.

Standards for England had been reviewing the Standards Framework based on opinions from stakeholders and research findings from quarterly returns and approaches made to it.

The purpose of the review was to consider the proportionality and effectiveness of the local standards framework

The whole report was appended. However the recommendations arising out of the report were summarised in Appendix 1. The recommendations would go to the Department of Communities and Local Government for further consideration. Some of the proposed changes would require legislative changes but others can be introduced by changes to guidance.

The proposals covered the following areas:

  • Simplifying and streamlining the investigative process
  • Deterring trivial complaints
  • Closing down an investigation
  • Enhancing members’ ‘right to know’
  • Publishing decision records
  • The cost of the local framework
  • The local framework and high standards
  • The members’ ode of conduct
  • The role of the national regulator

Standards for England was also proposing to introduce relationship managers based on Audit Commission areas. It was likely that this council would be included in the area covering the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber.

The remit of such managers would be to liase with local authorities to offer a “helping hand”. The regularity of such engagement would depend on the risk category – low, medium, high – in which the local authority was placed. A number of criteria would be used to make such an assessment. These would include – authorities scoring 1 on the Use of Resources inspection carried out by the Audit Commission or being the subject of a public interest report (there would be close ties developed between the Audit Commission and Standards for England as regulators in this area), authorities without complaints, authorities still operating the committee system, authorities where standards committees were not compliant or returns made on time, core cities, authorities with a significant number of town/parish councils, authorities where assessments/investigations were taking an unduly long time, authorities which were subject to successful appeals.

It was intended to consult on these criteria in the spring with authorities receiving an indicative rating at that time.

Members had serious concerns in respect of a number of the proposed changes, especially the increased onus that would be placed on the monitoring officer and chair of the Standards Committee.

Resolved – that the report be noted with concern.

223 (18) ANNUAL RETURN 2010 – The monitoring officer submitted a copy of the Annual Return, to be completed and returned to Standards for England, together with the accompanying guidance notes.

The return and guidance gave an indication of practices that Standards for England were expecting Standards Committees and Monitoring Officers to be considering doing

Resolved – That the chair and monitoring Officer meet to discuss the return.

224 (19) ROLE AND WORKING ARRANGEMENTS – Further to Minute 216, the Monitoring Officer submitted a report inviting the committee to give consideration to developing further some of the proposals that had previously been discussed.

The report referred to improving the Standards related content on the council’s website, dissemination of information regarding assessments and determinations, an annual report, publicity for the work of the committee, plans for surveying public perception of standards, and training.

Copies of presentations given at a recent pilot training session for parish clerks were appended.

Resolved – (a) That Decision Records from determination sub-committees, and assessment decisions where no further action is to be taken, be submitted to future meetings; (b) that an annual report be prepared for each municipal year to be presented by the chair to council; (c) that an article featuring the Annual Report together with other matters of interest from the chair and vice-chair’s work plan be prepared for Direct magazine (d) that the email distribution list for Standards for England bulletins be widened to include all members of the council and all town and parish clerks in North Lincolnshire; (e) that a further training session be held with parish clerks and that parish/town chairs be asked to encourage all clerks to attend; (f) that ERNLLCA be invited to attend a future meeting to discuss liaison with town and parish councils;(g) that the monitoring officer pursue training of investigating officers jointly with North East Lincolnshire Council, and (h) that meetings be arranged for the chair with the chief executive, leaders and whips of the two political groups to keep them informed of standards issues and their importance in the authority.

225 (20) WEBSITE DEMONSTRATION – The monitoring officer gave a demonstration of Standards Committee information contained on the council’s website, including the online complaints form.

A discussion followed with members making suggestions for improvements to the site.

Resolved – (a) That the monitoring officer, in consultation with the Service Director Community Planning and Resources, pursue improvements to the site as identified by members, and (b) that a report be submitted to the next meeting regarding the possible publication of members’ registers of interest on the site.