Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Big plans, bright future

Standards Committee Minutes

Date:
Thursday, 16th March, 2006
Time:
4.30 p.m.
Place:
Ground Floor Committee Room, Town Hall, High Street, Stockton on Tees
 
Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

Attendance Details

Present:
Mr F W Hayes (Chairman) and Cllr P Baker, Cllr Mrs J Beaumont, Mr T Bowman, , Mr L W Hedley, Cllr R Patterson, Mrs F Robinson and Cllr A B L Sherris
Officers:
D.E. Bond, N. Hart, M. Henderson (LD)
Apologies for absence:
Councillors Fletcher, Teasdale and
Mrs E Chapman (Independent Member)
Item Description Decision
Public
1160 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
 
1161 MINUTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON 24TH FEBRUARY 2006.
 
1162 LOCAL INVESTIGATIONS
RECOMMENDED to Council that

1. The procedure for local investigations set out at Appendix 1 to the report be approved, subject to the minor amendments identified by this Committee.

2. The changes in respect of the conduct of local hearings as set out in Appendix 1 be incorporated into the Standards Committee's local determination procedure and arrangements, as necessary or appropriate.

3. Delegated authority be given to the Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Chairman of the Standards Committee to make any necessary future amendments to the procedure.


1163 CORPORATE GOVERNANCE
RESOLVED that the report be received
1164 E- GENDA INTRODUCTION
RESOLVED that the information provided be noted.
1165 MEMBERS' ALLOWANCES
RESOLVED that the report be received.
1166 INFORMATION DISCUSSION ITEMS
RESOLVED that

1. the information be noted.

2. the Monitoring Officer respond positively to the letter from Darlington Borough Council, canvassing opinion on the establishment of an Independent Member Forum in the Northern Area.

4.30 P.M/6.00 P.M

Preamble

ItemPreamble
1160Members present were deemed to have declared a personal/ non prejudicial interest in respect of item 7, entitled Members' Allowances as all Members were entitled to claim and receive such allowances.
1161The minutes of the meetings held on 24th February 2006 were confirmed as a correct record.

The Committee was provided with feedback on issues they had raised relating to Local Investigations/Determinations.
1162The Committee was asked to consider a proposed specific procedure for handling local investigations and appropriate amendments to the existing local determination procedure.

Members were reminded that at its meeting in November 2004 and subsequently, regulations enabled the Standards Board for England to refer complaints of Member misconduct to the Monitoring Officer of a local authority for local investigation, instead of investigation by the Standards Board's Ethical Standards Officers, before a complaint was determined by the Authority's Standards Committee (or Sub-Committee or Panel). The Standards Board had also published guidance as to how local authorities should arrange for the conduct of such local investigations.

Members were provided with a suggested procedure for local investigations together with details of changes in respect of the conduct of local hearings.

The procedure document detailed how an investigation would be dealt with from receipt of the allegation, from the Ethical Standards Officer, through to the Investigating Officers Final Report.

Members commented on the procedure and approved it, subject to minor amendments. It was also suggested that the Committee agree that delegated authority be given to the Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Chairman, to make any necessary future amendments to the procedure.
1163Members were provided with the latest information on progress in relation to the Council's agreed corporate governance action plan.

At previous meetings of the Committee Members have been provided with details of
the Council's Code of Corporate Governance and the practical steps being taken or
required to be taken to comply with best practice guidance published by CIPFA and
SOLACE.

The Committee had also been kept appraised of progress against the Authority's agreed action plan.

A review of the Council's approach to Corporate Governance was undertaken in
2004. The main part of the review included a second self-assessment exercise
against the CIPFA/SOLACE guidance using the Audit Commission tool.

The review found that only minor changes to the self-assessment were required and a revised Action Plan was drawn up to reflect this.

Further monitoring of these arrangements had taken place within the context of the
CPA process and through the work of the recently established Officer Corporate
Governance Working Group.

The current revised Plan was provided to Members and it included comments on progress against required action as at January 2006.

It was noted that further reports would be presented to future Committee meetings.
1164The Committee was informed that the Council would be introducing a new Committee/Democratic Information Management system from April/May 2006. The new system would make democratic information available from the Council's web site and internal intranet site.

The system contained the following democratic information within a "one stop" facility found within the Council's Internet and Intranet pages:-

publication of Council, Cabinet, Committee and other agenda, reports and minute information i.e. committee administration process;
archive and retrieval facility for all of the above information, including data held from 1999;
Officer decision records;
Forward Plan documents;
Members information database, including Committee, Outside Body membership, Councillors' details etc;
Member and public alert system to information specified of interest;
Scrutiny "call-in" mechanism.


The Committee noted that the public may only view "public" democratic information and therefore would not have access to exempt or confidential information contained within the system and available via the Council's Intranet. It was explained that co opted Members serving on Council Committees, including those serving on the Standards Committee, would be able to access the Council web site and consequently the same information as Members of the public. It was explained however, that necessary exempt and or confidential information, that co opted Members needed to view, as part of their role, would generally be forwarded to them in hard copy form as part of Committee papers or attachments to letters. If co-opted Members had particular problems accessing any information they could contact any of the Democratic Services Officers for assistance/training.

With such a vast amount of democratic information easily available electronically within the one facility, it was expected that considerable benefits would result, most notably efficiency savings in terms of staff time in producing agendas/reports and updating other democratic information; and a need for less hard copies of information being produced due to the information being more readily available. The potential therefore existed for considerable savings to be made in terms of the Council's printing budget.
1165Members noted that the Independent Remuneration Panel's report was presented to Cabinet for consideration on 9 March, with a view to recommendations being submitted to Council (at the Special Council meeting on 22 March 2006) regarding the existing Members' Allowances Scheme for 2005/06 and a Scheme for 2006/07. Members of this committee were provided with a copy of the report for information which included details of the effects the panels proposals would have on the Council's Members' Allowance scheme for the periods 1st April 2005 to 31st March 2006 and 1st April 2006 to 31st March 2007.

Details of the additional costs to the Council, should the Panel's recommendations be accepted in their entirety were also provided.
1166
The Committee received the following information:-

A letter from the Standards Board for England relating to changes to exempt information paragraphs, so far as they related to hearings of standards committees

Details of various comments and issues surrounding the recent suspension of the Mayor of London

News articles relating to Code of Conduct issues.

A letter from Darlington Borough Council, canvassing the Committee's opinion on the desirability of establishing an Independent Member Forum in the Northern Area.

An updated copy of the Committee's work programme was also provided.

Members noted and discussed the documents. Particular reference was made to a case where the chair of a planning committee had, during a 90 second conversation, indicated to a member of the public the way he intended voting on a decision to be taken at a future planning committee. At the planning committee the decision taken was in accordance with the way the planning chair had indicated he would vote. In a subsequent Court Case the Court concluded that, given the comments of the planning chair, during his brief conversation, a fair minded observer could reasonably conclude that there was the real possibility that he had approached the issue with a closed mind and without impartial consideration of all relevant planning issues. The decision of the planning committee was therefore quashed.

The Committee agreed that this highlighted how careful decision makers had to be in relation to forthcoming business.

The Committee supported the principle outlined in the letter received from Darlington Borough Council and agreed that the Monitoring Officer respond accordingly.

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