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Declarations of Interest
Mr Love stated that he had been a contributor to the “Local Government Ethical Standards Review” carried out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
RESOLVED that the minutes of the meeting held on 30 October 2018 were taken as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
(1) Mr Watts introduced his update on the Kent Code of Conduct and recent national developments including the Cox report into ”The bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff”, “Local Authority Governance” by the National Audit Office, and “Local Government Ethical Standards” by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL).
(2) The Committee considered each of the recommendations from the CSPL, “Local Government Ethical Standards” as set out in Appendix B to the report, and made a number of comments which included the following:
i – CSPL recommendations
· In relation to removing the requirement for candidates standing for or accepting public office to publicly disclose their home address (recommendation 2), Members, whilst acknowledging the safety issues, also commented that it was helpful for the electorate to know whether the candidate lived within the electoral area, and that this could be by means of a tick box.
· Concern was expressed regarding the presumption that Councillors were acting in their official capacity in their public conduct (recommendation 3). Councillors had rights as individuals to a private life. In addition, there was a balance to be struck in relation to the involvement of the Council/Monitoring Officer/Standards Committee and the degree to which this should be left to the electorate to decide.
· The suggested amendment to the regulation relating to Disclosable Pecuniary Interests so as to include unpaid directorships etc. (recommendation 5) showed a lack of understanding of “pecuniary”. In this situation a Member’s interest may be relevant and therefore should be declared but it would not be a pecuniary interest.
· In relation to the suggested repeal of Section 31 of the Localism Act 2011 (LA 2011) and its replacement with a requirement prohibiting a Councillor participating in a meeting if the public could reasonably regard the interest as significant, this would require careful drafting to ensure clarity and avoid it being too broad (recommendation 7).
· Regarding the amendment of the LA 2011 to restrict the term of office of the Independent Person (IP) to 2 years renewable once, it was considered that this was too prescriptive. It may make it more challenging to recruit an IP and it took time for the IP to become familiar with the role (recommendation 8).
· Recommendations 10, 16 and 17 referred to Local Authority sanctions for breaching the Code. In this regard, Members discussed the desirability of a local authority being able to suspend a Councillor as opposed to a political group using the sanction of suspending a Councillor from a political group. It was acknowledged that it was very difficult for a local authority to impose sanctions upon a Councillor. Also, the suspension of a Councillor by a Local Authority may leave the electorate in that division unrepresented. The issue of independent Councillors who were not subject to any political group sanctions was recognised. There was a general view that it would be for the electorate to remove a Councillor if they did not approve of their behaviour rather than the Local Authority.