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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Standards Committee held on 13/12/2005
Application by Farnham Town Council for Dispensations



Summary & Purpose
The Standards Committee is asked by Farnham Town Council to consider an application for dispensations arising from over 50% of its members having a prejudicial interest under the statutory Parish Code of Conduct.


Environmental implications:

It supports the overall aim to have services provided locally.

Social / community implications:

Enables the provision of local services to the local community, meeting charitable objectives.

E-Government implications:

N/A

Resource and legal implications:

Farnham Town Council will be unable to make decisions in relation to key matters relating to local services and a Trust.

Background

1. Members are reminded that Regulation 3 of the Relevant Authorities (Standards Committee) (Dispensations) Regulations 2002 allows the Standards Committee to consider applications for dispensation when at least 50% of those entitled to participate in a meeting are prevented from doing so by a prejudicial interest. The Committee has received an application from Farnham Town Council requesting three dispensations. The letter is attached at Annex 1. These are set out below:


Proposed transfer of public toilets from Waverley Borough Council to Farnham Town Council

2. It is proposed to devolve the provision and management of local public conveniences to Farnham Town Council. Negotiations are under way, the outcomes of which fall to be considered by the Borough Council on 13th December. Once the decision has been reached, the Town Council will then have to consider whether or not it wishes to enter into an arrangement with the Borough.

3. Counsel’s advice has recently been sought which confirms that dual-hatted members – members of Waverley Borough Council and Farnham Town Council - could be deemed to have a personal and prejudicial interest in this matter because it will give rise to a contract between two authorities where the financial interests of the two councils will diverge to the benefit or possibly detriment of either of the two authorities.

4. In order to enable the Town Council to conduct its own business in this matter, it is necessary for them to seek from this Committee a dispensation under Regulation 3 of the 2002 Regulations as they will otherwise not be able to hold a quorate meeting.

Tourist Information Centre

5. The second application relates to the Tourist Information Centre which is currently housed in Farnham Locality Office.

6. Prior to October 1998 Surrey County Council operated the Tourist Information Centre. Subject to funding from the County Council, Waverley took over responsibility for its operation and management. However, the funding ceased in October 2001.

7. Over recent years, visitor numbers to the Tourist Information Centre have declined and the Council, as part of savings, reduced the tourism budget which impacted on the future of the Tourist Information Centre. In partnership with Farnham Town Council, this Council entered into an arrangement for a long-term transfer of the Tourist Information Centre with full transfer to the Town Council in 2006.

8. The Town Council has recently decided that it no longer wishes to assume responsibility for the Tourist Information Centre, and will be promoting tourism using its own technology and staff resources. This Council is therefore revisiting its own position which will be considered at the Executive on 6th December and the Council on 13th December.

9. Given that the debate has been reopened as to the future of Farnham Tourist Information Centre, it is possible that dual-hatted members will be involved in discussions at both councils, which might lead them to having prejudicial interests. If this is the case, then as with the public conveniences, the Town Council could find itself precluded from discussing the matter because it could be inquorate.

10. The Town Council has therefore submitted an application for dispensation pursuant to Regulation 3 of the 2002 Regulations.

The Farnham South Street Trust

11. The third application for dispensation by the Town Council relates to the Farnham South Street Trust (the Trust). The Town Council acts as Trustee for the Trust.

12. The Trust was formerly known as the Farnham School of Science and Art. Until 1997 it was administered by Surrey County Council and transferred to the Town Council around that time. The Town Council sitting as Trustee administers funds of around 25,000 a year.

13. The Trust is an unregistered charity and is currently seeking charitable registration. The whole Council sits as the Trust and, as such, under the Parish Code of Conduct. All members therefore have a personal interest.

14. The issue is whether that interest is also prejudicial which rests on relevant circumstances, particularly relating to the status of the funding.

15. By way of example, if the Town Council makes revenue funds available for the Trust that might otherwise go elsewhere there is a divergence of interest between the pull on the Farnham Town Council funds and the other potential recipients. In these circumstances the Town Council need to decide whether the Trust have funds. The Town Councillors obligations under the Trust would be to maximise the Trust funds for the purposes of the Trust and it would follow that they would then be likely to make a decision in favour of the Trust over and above any other organisation applying to the Town Council for funds. Clearly there would therefore be a prejudicial interest.

16. Conversely, if the Trust has some capital fund as appears to be the case with Farnham Town Council, then there is a good case to be made that as the funds for the use of the Charity are not Town Council funds there is no conflict as to how the funds should be applied and accordingly there is therefore no obvious prejudicial interest.

17. From the information available to your officers, the source of the funding for the Trust is not immediately clear. The Clerk to Farnham Town Council is now working closely with the Charity Commissioners and clarifying the position. Until clarified the Town Council is in a difficult position regarding administrating the Trust.

18. The Monitoring Officer has therefore advised the Town Council that, as a precaution, they should, in the meantime, seek a dispensation from the Standards Committee thereby enabling them to continue administering the Trust to ensure that the recipients do not suffer any detriment.

Conclusion

19. The Standards Committee is empowered to receive applications for dispensation from Borough, Town and Parish Councils, where these councils would otherwise be unable to conduct their business due to meetings not being quorate.

20. The relevant regulations permit such applications once 50% of membership of the Council is affected.

21. Farnham Town Council has advised that its meetings, in so far as they relate to the matters discussed above, would be inquorate and have applied for dispensation from the Standards Committee.

Recommendation

The Committee is asked to consider the applications from Farnham Town Council for dispensations for the matters set out in the report pursuant to Regulation 3 of the Relevant Authorities (Standards Committee) (Dispensations) Regulations 2002.

Background Papers (CEx)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Anne Bott Telephone: 01483 523415

E-mail: abott@waverley.gov.uk

comms/standards/2005-06/021
46650