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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Council held on 17/02/2004
Standards Committee - 19th January 2004 : Report to the Meeting to the Council on 17th February 2004



WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

STANDARDS COMMITTEE – 19TH JANUARY 2004

REPORT TO THE MEETING OF THE COUNCIL ON 17TH FEBRUARY 2003

Note pursuant to Section 100B(5) of the Local Government Act 1972

A. COMPOSITION OF STANDARDS COMMITTEE
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A.1 The Standards Committee currently has a total membership of nine, consisting of six elected members of Waverley, two independent members and one Town and Parish Council representative.

A.2 The Constitution allows for only one member of the Executive to be a member of the Committee. At present, however, there are two Executive members on the Committee and a replacement is sought for one of the members.

A.3 When dealing with a case which concerns a Parish or Town Council, the Committee has to ensure that the Town/Parish representative is present at the meeting, otherwise the matter cannot be debated. As no substitutes are permitted on the Standards Committee, there could be a delay in handling a Town or Parish Council matter. Similarly, in respect of a referral from the Standards Board under Section 66 Regulations of the Local Government Act 2000, there could be occasions when the Town and Parish representative could not participate because they are, or are acquainted with the subject member, or they are unavailable for any other reason.

A.4 Your Committee has given consideration to this matter and recognises that having two representatives from Town and Parish Councils would go along way to overcoming the potential problems. If it were ensured or required that one representative came from a Town Council and the other from a Parish Council, then the potential for both being excluded from a hearing would be reduced.

A.5 It is recommended that should an additional Town/Parish representative be appointed to the Committee, the Town and Parish Councils would be asked to select a representative from both a Town and a Parish Council in the next Council year. Your Committee accordingly
B. LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT 2000: SECTION 66 REGULATIONS – STANDARDS COMMITTEE DETERMINATIONS
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B.1 The Standards Board for England has now issued guidance notes for Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees in respect of the Local Government Act Section 66 Regulations. Your Committee has received a report setting out some of the practical considerations and suggesting the best way to conduct local determinations.

B.2 Regulations so far only permit the local determination by the Standards Committee of an allegation of a breach of the Code of Conduct. Further regulations are anticipated which will allow for local investigation of cases. At present, therefore, the Standards Board will continue to receive allegations of misconduct, decide whether they warrant investigation and, if so, refer it to an Ethical Standards Officer (ESO) for investigation. The Ethical Standards Officer will take the decision as to whether the case should be determined locally. They will submit their report to the relevant Council’s Monitoring Officer who will be responsible for setting the process for the hearing in motion.

B.3 It is understood that a Sub-Committee may be established to deal with cases allocated to the Standards Committee for local determination. Whilst the membership of Sub-Committees of the Council is usually fixed on an annual basis, it is proposed that a Panel arrangement, similar to that of the Appeals Panel, be put in place to deal with issues as and when they arise, and to allow for a flexibility of membership.

B.4 A Panel would consist of a small number of members drawn from the full membership of the Standards Committee, perhaps three or five in total, and to ensure that the group is impartial, should include at least one Independent member. If the case concerns a Town or Parish councillor, the Committee’s Town/Parish Council representative must be included. The Standards Board recommends that the Independent member should assume responsibility for chairing the panel.

B.5 Your Committee has noted the contents of the Standards Board guidance and the report which set out, in detail the expect arrangements for the conduct of hearings. The guidance from the Standards Board is helpful in that it puts some practical advice concerning the implementation of the Section 66 Regulations. There remain some issues on which further advice is still required and awaited from the Standards Board, and the Committee needs to make some decisions as to how it will run any hearings that may required by an ESO for local determination.

B.6 Section 66 Regulations already place a potential liability to incur expenditure, and this potential may be increased once the Regulations are extended to cover local investigations. In the absence of a budget as from April 2004, the Monitoring Officer’s ability to respond promptly may be hampered and the Council may face difficulties in fulfilling its obligations

B.7 Your Committee accordingly

RECOMMENDS that

4. a Hearing Panel of 3 or 5 members be established for local determinations by the Standards Committee;

5. the Chairman be authorised to determine the membership of the Panel at the appropriate time, in consultation with the Monitoring Officer;

6. the number of members appointed to the Panel be dependent on the individual circumstances of the case, to include at least one Town/Parish representative for Town/Parish Issues and at least two Waverley representatives for a Waverley related issue, to be drawn from the membership of the Standards Committee as a whole at the appropriate time;

7. Hearing Panels should be chaired by one of the Independent Members of the Standards Committee;

8. Article 9 of the Waverley Constitution relating to Standards Committees be amended accordingly; and

9. the Council's attention be drawn to the ensuing resource implications arising from this legislation and requests the Executive to determine an appropriate budget to be allocated to the provision of this function.
There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.
Background Papers

C. ACTIONS SINCE LAST MEETING

The Chairman had nothing to report to the Committee on action taken since the last meeting in July 2003.

D. REQUEST FOR DISPENSATIONS
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D.1 Your Committee has received clarification of the situation regarding requests for dispensations to be granted by the Standards Committee. It has noted that there has been a problem with the drafting of Regulation 3 of the Relevant Authorities (Standards Committee) Dispensation Regulations 2002 which currently allows for only two circumstances in which a dispensation may be obtained. These relate to occasions when at least 50% of those entitled to participate in a meeting are prevented from doing so by a prejudicial interest, or when the political balance of the decision-making body is upset. In the latter case the Regulations have been found to be defective.

D.2 Guidance from the Standards Board recommends that dispensations are not granted on these grounds until the problem has been addressed by an appropriate amendment to the regulations. Your Committee has agreed to request its Chairman to contact and encourage the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to promptly rectify the problem with the regulations.

E. DATES OF FUTURE MEETINGS
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Your Committee has cancelled its next meeting which was due to take place on 2nd February 2004 and noted that their next meeting would take place at 5.30 p.m. on 30th March 2004.

F. STANDARDS BOARD REFERRALS
[Wards Affected: N/A]

Your Committee has received an oral update on the number of outstanding Standards Board Investigations, lodged since February 2003. It has agreed that the Chairman should write a formal letter to the Standards Board expressing the Committee's concern over the delay in completing investigations which are well in excess of the six month period originally stipulated by the Standards Board.

comms/council/2003-04/044