Venue: Conference Room 1a, County Hall, Ruthin
Councillor Bill Cowie and Independent Member Paula White
Members to declare any personal or prejudicial interests in any business identified to be considered at this meeting.
No declarations of personal or prejudicial interest had been raised.
URGENT MATTERS AS AGREED BY THE CHAIR
Notice of items which, in the opinion of the Chair, should be considered at the meeting as a matter of urgency pursuant to Section 100B(4) of the Local Government Act, 1972.
No urgent matters had been raised.
To receive the minutes of the Standards Committee meeting held on 4 December, 2015 (copy enclosed).
The minutes of Standards Committee held on 4 December 2015 were submitted.
Page 15 – Item 10: Attendance at Meetings – Independent Member Anne Mellor had attended the Special County Council meeting on 7 October 2015, not Julia Hughes.
Page 8 – Item 5: Minutes – Independent Member Julia Hughes advised that it would be more appropriate for her be referred to within the minutes as a “strong Welsh Learner” as opposed to “Welsh speaking”.
Page 13 – Item 9: Accessibility of Information from City, Town and Community Councils – reference to “Efenected” be amended to “Efenechtyd”.
Matters Arising –
The Monitoring Officer apologised that he had not progressed a number of actions within the minutes as timely as he would have liked. He assured members that matters were in hand and he would feedback directly to members thereon within the next couple of weeks. [GW to action]
The Chair reported upon the retirement of the Chair of the North Wales Standards Forum over twelve months ago and he had been disappointed to note that, since then, no new meetings had been planned. Consequently the Monitoring Officer agreed to contact the administrators with a view to resurrecting the Forum and the Chair suggested an initial meeting in County Hall, Ruthin. [GW to action]
Page 14 – Item 9: Accessibility of Information from City, Town and Community Councils – Independent Member Julia Hughes advised that it had subsequently been agreed with officers that she would provide a verbal update at the meeting. She had prepared a report which would be circulated following the meeting but it was not in the Council’s formal report format. [JH / GW to action]
RESOLVED that, subject to the above, the minutes of the meeting held on 4 December 2015 be received and approved as a correct record.
To consider the Standards Committee Forward Work Programme (copy attached).
The Standards Committee Forward Work Programme was presented for consideration and members agreed the following additions –
· The Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2016 (No. 2016/84) – June
· The Local Government (Standards Committees, Investigations, Dispensations and Referral) (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (No. 2016/85) – June
· Public Services Ombudsman for Wales: Code of Conduct Casebook – June
· Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill – June/September
· Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Annual Report – September
· Adjudication Panel for Wales Annual Report – September
RESOLVED that, subject to the above inclusions, the Standards Committee’s Forward Work Programme be agreed.
To consider a report by the Deputy Monitoring Officer (copy enclosed) presenting the Chair’s Annual Report for consideration prior to submission to full Council.
A report was submitted by the Deputy Monitoring Officer (previously circulated) presenting the Chair’s Annual Report 2015/16 for consideration prior to submission to full Council. The report detailed the committee’s work during 2015/16.
The Chair thanked the Deputy Monitoring Officer for her hard work in preparing the report and during debate the following amendments were agreed –
· reference to “Reverend Wayne Trigger” in paragraph 4.5 be amended to “Reverend Wayne Roberts”
· a summary of the All Wales Standards Conference 2015 be included
· the report item detailing feedback from the All Wales Standards Conference be moved from 18 September to 4 December 2015 in paragraph 4.4
· the report item on the Accessibility of from Town, City and Community Councils be added to the meeting on 18 September 2015 in paragraph 4.4
The Chair referred to the view of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales that the Nolan Principles may be outdated with insufficient attention given to leadership and the need for more effective training of leaders. The Monitoring Officer reported that the Council was in the process of developing a leadership strategy to be targeted at councillors following the local government elections in May 2017 which could be brought before the committee for consideration. The Ombudsman had also referred to the need to prioritise the scare resources at his disposal which could have an impact on the work of the Standards Committee. Members noted that the work of the Standards Committee would increase further if ethics and whistleblowing also came within its remit as had happened in other authorities including Cardiff and Wrexham. The Committee agreed that the views of the Ombudsman regarding leadership and prioritisation of resources be incorporated into the Chair’s Annual Report in order to give an indication as to what could be expected in the future.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer agreed to prepare an amended draft for approval by the Chair prior to submission to full Council. [LJ to action]
RESOLVED that, subject to the above, members note the report and recommend its presentation by the Chair to the full Council.
ACCESSIBILITY OF INFORMATION FROM CITY, TOWN AND COMMUNITY COUNCILS
To receive a verbal report from Julia Hughes (Independent Member).
Independent Member Julia Hughes (JH) referred to the voluntary audit she had undertaken to assess the accessibility of information from the websites of all 37 City, Town and Community Councils in Denbighshire from the perspective of members of the public. Areas examined and information sought included –
· the provision of a website and its accessibility
· availability of the minutes of the previous meeting
· details of the date, time and venue of next meeting and access to the agendas
· bilingual provisions
· general notes including links to the Council and Welsh Government websites
Members were reminded that the findings provided a snapshot at the time which could have changed and advised that the websites had been looked at in three tranches – 15 – 17 September 2015 (10 websites); 3 December 2015 (19 websites) and 3 March (8 websites). JH verbally reported upon the findings of the final 8 websites visited which covered – Nantglyn Community Council, Prestatyn Town Council, Rhuddlan Town Council, Rhyl Town Council, Ruthin Town Council, St. Asaph City Council, Trefnant Community Council, and Tremeirchion, Cwm and Waen Community Council. A copy of the report findings would be circulated to members following the meeting. [JH / GW to action]
JH then presented an overview report of the work undertaken across the 37 City, Town and Community Councils in Denbighshire and the main findings as follows –
· many websites were in place but really out of date
· many websites were not bilingual
· some websites were under development
· many councils had standard agendas only that never changed
· the Town Council websites generally were more advanced
· some sites were excellent examples for other areas to use if they wanted to
· many sites were not linked or did not have up to date details on the Denbighshire website – www.moderngov.denbighshire.gov.uk
· some sites were linked to www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/wa-councils/wa-council-ac.htm (a Welsh Government site) but many were not
· some councils used Facebook rather than a website
· two councils had no electronic presence
· many had no details of their councillors or how to contact them
· some councils had old websites that came up in searches so you believed there was no up to date information
Consequently JH recommended the following, in her view, as minimum requirements –
· have a website
· easy domain name that came up in searches relatively easily
· link to Denbighshire modern government website www.moderngov.denbighshire.gov.uk
· the link on the Denbighshire County Council website to the City, Town or Community Council website should be the correct one and not to an old site
· link to Welsh Government website www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/wa-councils/wa-council-ac.htm
· any links on www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/wa-councils/wa-council-dl.htm needed to be the correct ones
· bilingual site essential
· name of clerk with picture and contact details including email address and phone number
· names of all councillors with their pictures and contact details including email addresses and phone numbers
· dates of meetings, venues, time
· previous minutes
· details of the areas that the council covered with map if possible
· how people could be involved – being a councillor, attending meetings
Optional additional recommendations ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
To consider a report by the Monitoring Officer (copy enclosed) informing members of the most recent editions of the Ombudsman’s Code of Conduct Casebook.
The Monitoring Officer submitted a report (previously circulated) informing members of the most recent editions of the Ombudsman’s Code of Conduct Casebook covering the period July 2015 to September 2015 (Appendix 1 to the report) and October 2015 to December 2015 (Appendix 2 to the report). The Casebook was produced on a quarterly basis and summarised the code of conduct complaints the Ombudsman had finished investigating during the relevant period.
Details of the complaints investigated had been outlined in the report and were summarised by the Monitoring Officer –
July to September 2015 – 6 complaints had been investigated and concluded during this period of which 4 related to interests. Of the 6 investigations conducted, 5 concluded that there was no evidence of a breach of the Code and 1 had been referred to the Adjudication Panel for Wales which had resulted in a three month suspension for the member concerned. It was clear in that case that the member had breached the Code of Conduct by failing to declare a personal and prejudicial interest and had remained in the room whilst matters relating to that interest were discussed and voted upon. No cases had been referred to a Standards Committee.
October to December 2015 – 3 investigations had been conducted and completed during this period. 2 resulted in a finding of no further action being necessary and 1 in a finding of no evidence of breach. This case referred to a member who had over declared a personal interest and highlighted the need for members to declare accurately, particularly for ongoing issues, which could leave members open to allegations of breaches as in this case. No cases had been referred to the Standards Committee or Adjudication Panel for Wales during this period.
Members noted that some of the case summaries were so succinct that it was difficult to ascertain the circumstances of the complaint and therefore difficult to take any guidance therefrom. The Committee also felt it would be useful to know whether the complaint had been made by a fellow councillor or the public.
RESOLVED that the information contained within the Code of Conduct Casebook be noted.
CLERKS TRAINING EVENT - JANUARY 2016
To receive a verbal report from the Deputy Monitoring Officer on the latest training event held on 11 January 2016.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer provided a verbal update on the latest training event held on 11 January 2016 in Russell House, Rhyl at which 3 clerks had attended from Bodelwyddan, Ruthin and Llanferres.
The training had been undertaken at members’ request to offer a further opportunity for clerks in the north of the county to attend. Although 5 clerks had booked on the event, 2 had subsequently withdrawn due to family bereavement and illness. However, feedback from those attending had been positive and it was considered a worthwhile event. The training mirrored that undertaken on 19 May 2015 in the south of the county at which 7 clerks had attended together with some members of the Standards Committee. Given that there were 37 City, Town and Community Councils and that 1 clerk administered seven of those councils, it was noted that 10 of the potential 30 clerks had attended the training. Events had been staggered between the north and south of the county and morning and afternoon events. An evening training session was being considered to try and increase attendance.
Members were pleased to note that the two new clerks for Bodelwyddan and Ruthin had attended. The Deputy Monitoring Officer had not been aware of any deputy clerks but agreed to extend the invitation to deputy clerks for future training events. Future training dates had yet to be arranged but would likely be in the autumn. The Monitoring Officer added that invitations could also be sent to the council chairs as well as the clerks to further promote the event and attendance.
The Committee commended the training provided by the Monitoring and Deputy Monitoring Officers and efforts being made to encourage attendance.
RESOLVED that the verbal update on the Clerks Training Event be noted.
At this juncture (11.15 a.m.) the meeting adjourned for a refreshment break.
To consider a report by the Monitoring Officer (copy enclosed) informing members of the provisions of the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill relating to the committee.
The Monitoring Officer submitted a report (previously circulated) informing members of the provisions of the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill relating to the committee.
Reference was made to the Welsh Government’s consultation exercise on the provisions of the Draft Bill together with the Council’s response. There were 8 parts to the Draft Bill which, if enacted, would result in the most substantial local government reforms in Wales since the Local Government Act 2000. The Monitoring Officer provided a general overview of the main provisions of the Draft Bill, including the merger proposals, but advised that the most relevant part to the committee was Part 4: Functions of the County Councils and their Members, which sought to introduce new statutory duties on elected members. He elaborated upon the provisions contained within Part 4 which included the following –
· a Member must attend all relevant meetings unless they had a good reason not to – there was no change to the legal requirement that a Member be disqualified if he/she failed to attend for 6 months
· a Member must hold at least four surgeries in every 12 month after taking up office unless they had a good reason not to, with details of the surgery published on the Council’s website in advance
· a Member must respond to all correspondence sent to his or her official address within 14 days of receipt unless he or she had a good reason not to
· a Member must complete all compulsory training courses unless they had a good reason not to
· a Member must make an annual report of their member activities which must be submitted to the Head of Democratic Services and published – there was no provision for having a good reason not to do this
· a personal duty placed on leaders of political groups to co-operate with the Standards Committee and take reasonable steps to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by their group members – Standards Committees must arrange training for Group Leaders and monitor their compliance with this duty.
The Draft Bill suggested an enforcement mechanism for breaches as follows –
· any person may make a complaint to the Monitoring Officer about a possible breach by a Member of any of the duties set out above, other than to make an annual report
· the Monitoring Officer must refer any complaint received to the Chair of the Standards Committee and together they must decide whether or not the matter should be investigated
· if the Head of Democratic Services believed a Member had breached the duty to make an annual report he/she could refer it to the Monitoring Officer who must consult with the Chair of the Standards Committee about whether to investigate
· if an investigation was conducted, a report must be provided to the Standards Committee with any recommendations the Monitoring Officer felt appropriate
· if the Standards Committee decided a Member had breached one of the duties it could impose a censure, a suspension or partial suspension for up to six ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
ATTENDANCE AT MEETINGS
To note the attendance by members of the Standards Committee at County, City, Town and Community Council meetings and to receive their reports.
Members of the Standards Committee reported upon their attendance at meetings as follows –
Councillor Barry Mellor reported no problems with recent County Council and Planning Committee meetings he had attended. However poor attendance was a concern for some Scrutiny Committee meetings which was a difficult issue to resolve. Councillors’ attendance records had recently been distributed to Group Leaders and shared with their groups but as the end of the Council term drew nearer and mergers progressed he felt attendance could continue to be a problem.
Councillor David Jones referred to his attendance at Derwen Community Council in Clawdd Newydd on 16 September 2015. He had received the relevant paperwork for the meeting on arrival and the meeting had been well attended and well supported by the local County Councillor Eryl Williams. Good discussions were held throughout the meeting on a range of local topics and the clerk had proved very able and experienced and the meeting well run.
Independent Member Julia Hughes provided a detailed overview of seven separate meetings she had attended, briefly summarised as follows –
Bryneglwys Community Council (1 February 2016) – The Chair had a good way of chairing, ensuring the meeting ran smoothly and items covered thoroughly. The Clerk was very helpful, effective and efficient and assisted all those present. All members were respectful of each other and participated in the meeting as appropriate and helped to ensure all areas were covered.
Llandrillo Community Council (5 February 2016) – The Chair, assisted by the Clerk, ensured the meeting ran smoothly and items covered thoroughly. The Clerk was very helpful, effective and efficient and assisted all those present. All members were respectful of each other and participated as appropriate and helped to ensure all areas were covered and helped agree actions to be taken and agreed to take responsibility for some of those actions as necessary.
Corwen Town Council (10 February 2016) – There was excellent input from the local County Councillor Huw Jones on a number of items. The Chair, assisted by the Clerk, ensured the meeting ran smoothly and items were covered thoroughly and the Clerk was very efficient. All members were respectful of each other and participated as appropriate and helped to ensure all areas were covered and helped agree actions to be taken and agreed to take responsibility for some of those actions as necessary.
Gwyddelwern Community Council (15 February 2016) – Meetings were usually conducted in Welsh and notes of the previous meeting, as entered into the minute book, were read out with no hard copies available. Following the meeting it was explained that their web site was being developed. There was a discussion about what the public might look for relating to community councils and having a bilingual site that was accessible to people in Welsh or English. It was not clear whether the village notice board was used for notice of meetings and agenda. The importance of accessibility and transparency was highlighted. Meetings were conducted in Welsh and ... view the full minutes text for item 11.
DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Standards Committee is scheduled for 10.00 a.m. on Friday 24 June 2016 in Conference Room 1a, County Hall, Ruthin.
Members noted the Standards Committee’s next meeting had been scheduled for 10.00 a.m. on Friday 24 June 2016 in Conference Room 1a, County Hall, Ruthin.
EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC
RESOLVED that under Section 100A of the Local Government Act 1972, the Press and Public be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it would involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraphs 12 and 13 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A of the Act.
CODE OF CONDUCT - PART 3 LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT 2000
To consider a confidential report by the Monitoring Officer (copy
enclosed) providing an overview of complaints against members lodged with the Public
Services Ombudsman for
The Monitoring Officer submitted a confidential report (previously circulated) providing an overview of complaints against members lodged with the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales since 1 April 2015. He advised that nine cases had not been pursued by the Ombudsman and there was one on-going complaint.
RESOLVED that the report be received and noted.
The meeting concluded at 1.00 p.m.