The Committee considered the report of the Monitoring Officer on the following issues:
· Government response to the Committee for Standards in Public Life report
· Personnel Committee recommendations from the 22 March 2022 meeting
· Code of Conduct draft and consultation responses
· Complaint procedure update
· Appointment of a new Independent Representative and a new Town and Parish Representative.
Discussion on the report mainly centred on the recommendations from Personnel Committee, and agreeing the final elements of the Code of Conduct.
The recommendation for including an informal channel to resolve difficulties, proposed for inclusion in the Member/Officer protocol, was contested. Any informal discussion could still be used as a means of applying pressure to a decision maker. In response, the Monitoring Officer outlined that this was a step to be used where there was difficulty in obtaining agreement between parties, whereby the decision maker was unable or unwilling to make a decision. Effectively the recommendation that had come forward from the Personnel Committee discussions was to advocate internal mediation to get to an outcome. Generally sensitive or contentious decisions, which such a decision would be, would be recorded.
Other Committee members felt that it was appropriate to have an informal mechanism in place should such rare difficulties arise, to assist the decision maker in reaching a decision.
Cllr Twiss proposed, seconded by Cllr Barrow, that the reference to informal channels to resolve difficulties should be removed from the recommendation before it was put forward to Council. This amendment did not receive support from the Committee, with the Chair using his casting vote.
Debate on the final elements of the Code reintroduced discussion on gifts and hospitality, including:
· The consultation undertaken, although with a small number of respondents, did clearly indicate that many were against the acceptance of any gift or hospitality by a Member;
· Some Committee members felt that a zero approach was still the right approach to take;
· Others agreed that on a practical level, a nominal limit before declaration was required was necessary;
· A number of scenarios and examples were shared of where impracticalities may occur;
· Public perception was key, and educating the public would help change the perception that came across in the consultation feedback;
· Hospitality was generally felt to be less realistic for a zero approach option;
· The Monitoring Officer was always available for advice but would not be able to make the decision for a Member on whether to accept a gift or hospitality;
· Some hospitality was necessary for civic duties;
· Limit suggestions varied from zero, to £25, to £50;
· Generally the cumulative threshold was agreed to be retained but with a limit in any calendar year;
· Dual hatted Councillors needed to consider how the gift or hospitality was being offered and therefore which code applied; with the option to report to both authorities to be sure.
Following the debate, the Chair proposed the LGA model code threshold of £50 for gifts and hospitality, as set out in the draft Code, with a cumulative threshold of £50 in any calendar year.
The Monitoring Officer gave a brief background to the new Independent Representative and new Town and Parish Representative that he requested the Committee recommend to Council, for appointment.
Michael Bryant currently worked in Human Resources for a solicitor form in Exeter with a view to working towards retirement, The interviewing panel felt that his broad experience in this field would be valuable to the Committee.
Cllr Serena Sexton is currently a councillor of Honiton Town Council; she has formerly been employed as a Prison Governor. Her past work experience was felt by the interviewing panel to be beneficial to the Committee.
1. Agree that the Monitoring Officer should consider whether the Member / Officer Protocol could include detail around what consultation means and informal channels to resolve difficulties and / or ensure that the matter is covered by appropriate training.
2. Refer the issue of;
(a) training on the Code of Conduct to the Member Development Working Group to consider, and
(b) the possibility of a voluntary code between members renewed annually to the Standards Working Group to consider.
3. Recommend to Council to agree the Code of Conduct at Appendix 1 to the report be included in the revisions to the Constitution at Annual Council in May but with paragraph 6.2.2 amended to reflect a cumulative threshold of ‘£50 in any calendar year’.
4. Recommend the proposed changes to the adopted Code of Conduct procedure to Council for approval
5. Recommend to Council that it appoints Cllr Serena Sexton (Honiton Town Council) as a co-opted Town / Parish Representative and Michael Bryant as a co-opted Independent Representative of the Standards Committee.