Standards Committee (Hearings Panel) – 11 September 2012
Time: 2 pm
Please note: The Panel may consider any applications submitted for the exclusion of the public under 1(i) below, and then may decide to exclude the public from the meeting for consideration of the following item on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in appropriate paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).
1. To conduct a hearing into allegations that Councillor P Vickers of Barton–upon-Humber Town Council failed to comply with and breached the council’s Code of Conduct.
(i) Procedure at hearings.
(ii) Legal Advisor’s summary.
(iii) Email correspondence re Pre-Hearing position.
(iv) Report of Miss Lisa Kershaw – Investigating Officer.
(v) The Code of Conduct.
HEARING DATE: 11 September 2012RESPONDENT: Councillor John Paul VickersRELEVANT AUTHORITY: Barton–upon–Humber Town CouncilPANEL MEMBERS:
Councillors John England (Chairman), David Wells and David Whiteley1. The Referral 1.1. The Panel considered a matter that had been referred for investigation by an Assessment Sub Committee (reference 09-10/07). Lisa Kershaw (Legal Services) had investigated the complaint and produced a report.
1.2 The Respondent had been provided with a copy of the investigating officer’s report and had been given an opportunity to respond. He had indicated by way of an exchange of emails that he accepted the findings in the report.
Lisa Kershaw attended and presented her report.
The Respondent attended.
The Panel was advised by the Monitoring Officer, Mr Will Bell.
3. The Complaint
3.1 A complaint had been received that the Respondent had breached the 2007 Code of Conduct by failing to declare personal and prejudicial interests (paragraphs 8,9, 10 and 12), preventing access to information (Paragraph 4 (b) of the Code) and bringing his office into disrepute (Paragraph 5 of the Code). An Assessment Sub-Committee had considered the complaint and had referred the allegation in respect of failing to declare interests to the Monitoring Officer for investigation and determined that no action should be taken on the other allegations. The complainant had exercised his right to request a review and a Review Sub–Committee, whilst upholding the Assessment Sub–Committee’s decision not to take any action in respect of the allegation of preventing access to information, had directed that the allegation of bringing his office into disrepute be investigated.
3.2 The complaint had been made by Mr Montagu Martin, a resident of Barton–upon-Humber. He had alleged that at various meetings of the Barton Town Council, the Respondent had failed to disclose personal and prejudicial interests as a Trustee in the Community Heritage, Arts and Media Project (CHAMP) and/or as Director and Vice–Chairman of CHAMP Ltd, and that at certain meetings he had failed to withdraw from the meeting at the appropriate time. He further alleged that as the Respondent was aware of the fragile financial position of CHAMP and as CHAMP and the Town Council had separate and divergent interests, in the circumstances his failure to address his conflicting interests would potentially lead electors to reasonably conclude that there was collusion between CHAMP and the Town Council and that he had brought his authority into disrepute.
3.3. There was no submission for excluding the press and public
4. Submission by the Investigating Officer
4.1 The Investigating Officer submitted her report of the investigation, including the interview that had been undertaken with the Respondent together with her findings and conclusions. Her report concluded that paragraphs 8,9, 10 and 12 had been breached by a failure to declare personal and/or personal and prejudicial interests at meetings of the Town Council as detailed in the report but that there had been no breach of paragraph 5, and as such the Respondent had not brought his authority into disrepute.
5. Findings/Failure to comply with the Code
5.1 The Panel found the following: –
5.1.1 That the Respondent failed to declare interests at some of the meetings referred to in the complaint and therefore technically breached paragraphs 8,9,10 and 12 of the Code of Conduct then in force;
5.1.2 That Councillor Vickers did not breach paragraph 5 of the Code of Conduct.
6.1 The Investigating Officer and the Respondent addressed the Panel. The Investigating Officer stated that as the breach was in her view technical and was one of omission rather than commission there should either be no sanction or at most a letter of censure.
6.2 Councillor Vickers stated that he acted in the best interests of the community and the Town Council. He had not set out to deceive or to personally gain, although he recognised that he had technically breached the Code. He asked that no action be taken against him,
7.1 Having carefully considered the information submitted and the representations made by the Investigating Officer and Councillor Vickers the Panel were satisfied that there was no intention to deceive or gain personally on the part of Councillor Vickers, nor was there any material impact on the decisions made at the meetings in question. It considered whether training should be required, but given that the Code in question was no longer in force and that Councillor Vickers had recently received training on the new Code of Conduct this would not be appropriate. After careful consideration the Panel determined that no sanction was appropriate in the circumstances.
8.1 The decision of the Panel is final and there is no right of appeal.