Agenda item

Adoption of New Code of Conduct for Members

To consider the report of the Monitoring Officer, (copy enclosed).


The Committee considered the report of the Monitoring Officer that presented to the Committee the new Model Code of Conduct for Members (the Code) from the Local Government Association (LGA), at Appendix 1, and the accompanying Guidance, at Appendix 2, with a view to making a recommendation to the Council.


The Chairman introduced the report and deferred to the Monitoring Officer to present the detail.  The Officer took the Committee through the report and advised that revisions submitted last year satisfied previous concerns raised by Essex Councils.  Most District Councils were moving towards adoption and the new code was an improvement on the current one, incorporating important principles established across the country.


The Code itself was much more self-explanatory and the accompanying guidance to assist with interpreting the code included a number of examples.  Of real significance was the section on Declarations of Interest and the Monitoring Officer highlighted that interests now related to relative and close associates.  The three categories of interest had been updated as follows and the considerations around each interest were explained:


·                 Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPI) – these were unchanged as they were defined in statute in the Localism Act.  If a Member did not declare a DPI they would breach the Code of Conduct and commit a crime.  Table 1 of Appendix 1 to the report detailed the types of DPI.  A Member with an DPI on an item being discussed by Committee could not debate or vote on that item and would have to leave the room.


·                 Other Registrable Interests (ORI) –detailed in table 2 of Appendix 2.  This was a new category and related to unpaid directorships, public interest bodies, charity membership etc.  Members were required to register these and at a meeting if there was a matter arising which directly related to the financial interest or wellbeing of one of the ORI they would have to declare it as well.  A Member with an ORI on an item being discussed by Committee could not debate or vote on that item and would have to leave the room.


·                 Non-Registrable Interests (NRI) – Another new category and was broken into two types of interest financial and wellbeing.  Members had to consider if a matter ‘directly’ related or ‘affected’ their financial interest or wellbeing.  These interests could relate to a member, their partner / spouse, a relative or a close associate.  If a Member had an NRI they could not debate or vote on that item of business.


The Monitoring Officer drew Members’ attention to paragraph 9(a) of the Code and suggested that it be amended to include reference to ‘or well-being’.


The Committee was reminded that the Code only applied when acting in the capacity of a Councillor.  Members were advised that Essex County Council were moving towards adoption circa June 2022 and most other authorities will be doing so shortly after that.


The Chairman moved the recommendation as set out in the report and this was duly seconded.  Councillor Mrs M E Thompson proposed an amendment that paragraph 9a be amended to read “…to a greater extent that it effects the financial interest or well-being of the majority..”  This was duly seconded.


The Chairman opened the debate, which ensued with a number of comments raised by Members.  In response the Monitoring Officer provided the Committee with further information including:


·                 The LGA had advised that it would be undertaking an annual review of the Code;


·                 Whistleblowing related to employees, not Members and the Council had a Whistleblowing Policy.  The Code dealt with Members treating other Members with respect and bullying.


·                 Members were reminded that the Council had previously adopted and now published a public interest test as mentioned in Best Practice 6 within the Code.


·                 It was clarified that where a member of the public had the right to address a Committee and Member of that Committee declared an interest which would result in them not being able to debate or vote and having to leave the meeting, they could prior to leaving be given the same right to speak as a member of the public.  However, this would not apply to another District Councillor wanting to speak at an Area Planning Committee they were not a Member of because they would have no interests to declare.


·                 Members’ attention was draw to the section ‘Application of the Code of Conduct’ and how it applied to a Member when acting in their capacity as a Councillor.  In respect of Political Group meetings and application of the Code, the Monitoring Officer advised that there had been differing views on this and he hoped the new Code would provide a clearer view.


It was noted that Parish and Town Council representatives to sit on the Committee would be appointed at the Statutory Annual meeting of the Council.


The Chairman then put the proposed amendment in the name of Councillor Mrs Thompson to the Committee and this was duly agreed by assent.  The Chairman then moved the recommendation as set out in the report, duly amended to the Committee, advising that this would be a recommendation to the Council.  This was duly agreed by assent.


RECOMMENDED that the Council adopt the Model Code of Conduct attached as APPENDIX 1 to these Minutes, (version of May 2021) together with the amendment resolved at the Joint Standards Committee on 8 February 2022 to include ‘or well-being’ in Appendix B, paragraph 9 (a) of the code and that the code take effect by 1 November 2022 unless brought into effect prior by the Monitoring Officer depending on when Essex County Council bring into effect the New Code of Conduct.

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