Agenda and draft minutes
Venue: Council Chamber, County Hall, Wynnstay Road, Ruthin LL15 1YN and via Zoom
The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting. A special welcome was extended to Independent Member Samuel Jones who was attending his first meeting.
Gary Williams, Corporate Director: Governance and Business/Monitoring Officer
Due to recent changes in the Council’s senior management structure and ongoing review of the Senior Leadership Team, Lisa Jones, Deputy Monitoring Officer had been appointed Interim Head of Service – Legal and Democratic Services, and would be working more closely with the Standards Committee going forward.
DECLARATION OF INTERESTS PDF 116 KB
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.
The Chair raised the following under urgent matters –
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the sad news that Councillor Brian Blakeley (Rhyl Tynewydd) had passed away in the early hours of that morning and all present observed a minute silence
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the omission of ‘Dispensation Requests’ as a standing item on the agenda. The Deputy Monitoring Officer confirmed that no requests for dispensation had been received from Town/City/Community Councils or at county level.
MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING PDF 308 KB
To receive the minutes of the Standards Committee meeting held on 22 July 2022 (copy attached).
The minutes of the Standards Committee held on 22 July 2022 were submitted.
Page 7 – Present – to replace ‘a’ with ‘and’ to read “Peter Lamb and Councillor Gordon Hughes”
Page 10, second paragraph – Item 8: Ethics and Standards Training – to replace ‘Denbighshire’s’ with ‘Denbighshire’
Page 10, second to last paragraph – Item 8: Ethics and Standards Training – to replace ‘meetings’ with ‘training session’
Page 11, Item 9: Welsh Government Guidance – Duty of Group Leaders to Promote Ethical Behaviour, first sentence – to replace ‘circulate’ with ‘circulated’
Page 14, Item 13: Date of Next Meeting – to replace ‘march’ with ‘March’. It was noted that the timetable for future meetings was 10am on Fridays, and that the rescheduling of the current meeting for 11.30 am was contrary to that timetable. However, that had been due to the limited availability of dates and key officers.
Matters Arising –
Page 8 – Item 6: Minutes (Matters Arising) – Process for recruiting independent members of the Standards Committee – the Standards Committee (Wales) Regulations 2001 allowed for up to nine members with Denbighshire’s constitution currently stipulating seven members, and the potential to review that position had been highlighted. There had been no further discussions on the matter since then and it was agreed that the item be added to the forward work programme for future consideration. It was accepted that there would be budget implications associated with any increase in members which would be a decision for full Council to make.
Page 8 – Item 6: Minutes (Matters Arising) (Page 11, Item 8) – there had been some discussion around the inclusion of independent members on the Recruitment Panels for independent members, which happened in other local authorities but not in Denbighshire. Following that discussion, the Chair had been involved in the latest interview process as an observer. There were regulations governing Standard Committee member recruitment but varying practices in different local authorities across Wales and a report back on that topic had been included on the forward work programme for December. Councillor Hugh Irving advised that he had been on the latest Recruitment Panel but had been unable to attend both sessions. It was agreed that the protocol to be enacted in those circumstances also be included as part of the report back on the composition of the recruitment panel.
Page 10 – Item 8: Ethics and Standards Training, fifth paragraph – Code of Conduct training had been provided for elected members following May’s local government elections with a further session scheduled for 10am on 20 December for those members who had not yet attended and provided an opportunity for Standards Committee members to attend. Three sessions had been conducted for Town, City, and Community Councils which had not been particularly well attended due to an administrative problem. Therefore, an online session would be offered before Christmas with face to face sessions planned in the new year in both the North and South of the county. The Deputy Monitoring Officer agreed to circulate the dates to Committee members via email. The Chair had been disappointed to note the communication issue and limited attendance and stressed the importance of additional sessions to ensure all members were given opportunities to attend the training as early as possible in the new Council term to develop an understanding of the requirements and expectations at the outset. It was a requirement that every member attended a Code of Conduct training session at least once each Council term, regardless of whether they were returning members. A further update on member training ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
CHAIRS ANNUAL REPORT PDF 118 KB
To consider a report by the Deputy Monitoring Officer (copy attached) prioir to the report being presented at Full Council.
A report was submitted by the Deputy Monitoring Officer (previously circulated) presenting the draft Chair’s Annual Report for consideration prior to its submission to full Council. The report detailed the Committee’s work during 2021.
The Standards Committee had previously agreed that an annual report on its work be presented to all council members as part of the Committee’s drive to increase standards of ethical behaviour and compliance with the Members Code of Conduct. Due to the May local government elections there had been a delay in receiving the report which would usually have been produced much earlier in the year.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer guided members through the content of the report and during debate the following amendments were agreed by the Committee –
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>paragraph 4.2 – reference to the appointment of the new Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Michelle Morris who had taken over from Nick Bennett, be included in the report. It was noted that the term ‘Ombudsman’ was still used despite the new appointment. It was agreed that the local resolution protocol be included and referred to in a supportive way as a means of avoiding issues escalating and the link to the engagement of Group Leaders in such activities going forward. Whilst noting the report covered 2021 it was considered appropriate to mention that the current composition of the Standards Committee would be under future review with potential for up to two additional members
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>paragraph 4.3 – the number of times the Committee met be amended to 4 occasions (from 3 occasions). It was agreed that listing the items provided an appropriate summary and the Chair may wish to elaborate on any of those items at full Council. Members noted the change to the annual reporting process to full Council from municipal year back to calendar year. There was some discussion on how best to report to Council the meeting held on 11 June 2021 to determine an allegation of breach of the code of conduct. Further reference had been included in paragraph 4.6. Whilst it was important to be sensitive to the situation it was also important that the new Council had an understanding of the role and processes of the Standards Committee. It was agreed to provide further clarity in the report in that regard and the Chair may wish to elaborate on the issue at full Council. It was agreed that the Chair and Deputy Monitoring Officer discuss and agree the best approach outside of the meeting
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>paragraph 4.4 – the addition of ‘Dispensation Requests’ be included as a standing item for the Committee going forward. 4.4(a) – to reword the sentence and replace “from a support and educational angle” with “from a supportive and collaborative angle” to better reflect the approach taken. As part of the role of attendance and observation at meetings, reference be included to also ensuring that meetings were accessible to the public in an appropriate way. 4.4(b) it was agreed that the new approach taken by the Ombudsman regarding notification of complaints be referenced in the next annual report and not in the 2021 report, but that the wording be strengthened to further explain the Committee’s approach in identifying any trends and patterns to proactively target those issues as a preventative measure. It was agreed to include the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Code of Conduct Casebook as a standing item
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>paragraph 4.5 – brief reference be made to the key issues arising from the Penn review in order to raise awareness of those matters and the potential implications for the Standards Committee and County Council together with ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
ATTENDANCE AT MEETINGS PDF 120 KB
To note the attendance by members of the Standards Committee at County, Town and Community Council and to receive their reports.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer (DMO) presented a report (previously circulated) for members to consider and agree a coordinated and structured approach to their attendance and observation at meetings and feedback. Details of County Council Committees, Town, City and Community Councils and suggested script, and draft feedback form had been appended to the report.
By way of introduction, the Chair advised that members had not attended meetings for some time and the purpose of the report was to agree a way forward. She also highlighted discussions with the Monitoring Officer on the remuneration potential for the activity, given that independent members of other Standards Committees (at least two other North Wales authorities), were remunerated to undertake those visits. It was clarified that independent members in Denbighshire could claim travel expenses for visits but payment was not currently made for the attendance element.
The DMO advised that the activity had always been perceived as a voluntary task in Denbighshire and there was currently no budget for that purpose. Informal advice from the Independent Remuneration Panel for Wales indicated that remuneration for the activity was discretionary. The item had been listed for discussion at the Heads of Democratic Services Group which would provide an all-Wales position on the issue. The matter would also need to be considered in the context of the current cost of living crisis and diminishing council budgets. It was proper that the matter be given due consideration and it was suggested that the Committee consider the issue at a future meeting, either formally or informally, to form a view taking into account the position of other local authorities in Wales and financial considerations.
During debate there was general support for consistency of approach across Wales and the Committee agreed that it would be sensible to await further information on the subject to facilitate an informed discussion. It was agreed that discussion should be carried out in a formal meeting in an open and transparent way. It was noted that a programme of attendance could be tailored and costed as appropriate, with potential to target areas of concern/complaint, whilst also taking into account the supportive nature of the visits for all, and ensuring public accessibility.
There was some debate on whether to delay consideration of the current report and the approach to future attendance and feedback pending the outcome of the discussion on the remuneration potential for that work. The Chair explained the reasoning behind the report, highlighting the approach previously taken to attending meetings and general consensus that a more formal approach should be carried out. She elaborated on the process taken in a different county of which she was also a Standards Committee member as a starting point for consideration, highlighting the selection process for identifying town/community councils to visit and a number of operational considerations, which resulted in a structured programme carried out over one year. Outcomes were fed back to the Standards Committee with generic messages back to all town/community councils in terms of both reminders and best practice to support and facilitate improvement. Specific feedback to individual councils, if required, was provided by the Monitoring Officer.
As a way forward, the Committee agreed to consider the potential remuneration for attendance at their next meeting, and to defer the consideration of the approach to their attendance and feedback pending the outcome of the remuneration discussion. In the interim, the Chair and DMO would produce a potential methodology in line with the process outlined at the meeting and taking into account the feedback form. The ultimate decision on remuneration would be for the Council but members stressed ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
STANDARDS COMMITTEE FORWARD WORK PROGRAMME PDF 116 KB
To consider the Standards Committee Forward Work Programme (copy attached).
The Standards Committee Forward Work Programme was presented for consideration and members discussed the following –
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>noted additional items to be added to the forward work programme agreed during the course of the meeting relating to ‘Review of the size and composition of the Standards Committee’ (future item) and ‘Potential remuneration for independent members’ attendance and observations at meetings’ (December)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>reaffirmed the standing items listed for the agenda on the forward work programme with an explanation of the purpose of each item
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the lack of dispensation requests over some time was noted which could indicate a potential breach of the Code of Conduct and there may be some future work required in that regard. The Deputy Monitoring Officer (DMO) confirmed that the application process for dispensations had been communicated to Town/City/Community Council clerks some months ago which had not solicited any dispensation requests, and the intention was to conduct a training session with clerks next spring to include dispensation requests
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the intention to provide a short 30-minute training session before future meetings was highlighted and topics for those sessions would be considered – members were encouraged to contact the Chair or DMO outside of the meeting with any training topics to improve the Committee’s knowledge and skills
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the three separate items relating to Ethical Liaison and Group Leaders’ Duty be combined into one item on the forward work programme for December
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>reference to the report back from Standards Forum be renamed National Standards Forum on the forward work programme for December and thereafter
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>the Chair’s Annual Report for 2022 be included in the forward work programme for March 2023.
RESOLVED that, subject to the above, the Standards Committee’s Forward Work Programme be agreed.
DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Standards Committee is scheduled for 2 December 2022.
Members noted that the Standards Committee’s next meeting had been scheduled for 10.00 am on Friday 2 December 2022. In the event that a training session was held beforehand, the meeting itself would commence at 10.30 am.
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 items of business on the grounds that it involved the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraphs 12 and 13 of Part 4 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.
CODE OF CONDUCT - PART 3 LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACT 2000
To consider a confidential report by the Monitoring Officer
(copy attached) providing an overview of complaints against members lodged with
the Public Services Ombudsman for
The Deputy Monitoring Officer (DMO) submitted a confidential report (previously circulated) providing an overview of complaints against members lodged with the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) since 1 January 2018.
In terms of future reporting it was agreed to receive details of closed complaints over the previous twelve months together with live complaints and for dates to be included to ensure a more focused report. The majority of complaints over the last twelve months had been from members of the public as opposed to member on member complaints, and for each occasion there had been a decision by the PSOW not to investigate for the various reasons as set out in the report. There were no live matters at present. Reference was made to the high threshold for targeting resources and two stage test used by the PSOW to consider whether or not to investigate a complaint.
There was some discussion on the new process implemented by the PSOW with regard to the notification of complaints which resulted in the Monitoring Officer not being informed of the initial complaint, only the outcome. The Committee reiterated the value of the Monitoring Officer being notified of all complaints, regardless of whether the complaint resulted in an investigation, in order to identify and monitor trends with a view to targeting resources in that regard. The DMO reiterated that she would feedback that view directly to the PSOW and confirmed the topic could also be raised for discussion by the National Standards Forum.
RESOLVED that the report be received and noted.
At the close of the meeting the Chair thanked members for their attendance and contributions and also conveyed her thanks to the support staff.
The meeting concluded at 1.05 pm.