Agenda item

Local Government Association consultation on draft Members' Code of Conduct 2020

Minutes:

The Head of Governance presented the Leader’s report on the Local Government Association consultation on draft Members’ Code of Conduct 2020. In January 2019 the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its report into Local Government Ethical Standards. The first recommendation raised within the report was that the Local Government Association (LGA) should create an updated model Code of Conduct in consultation with representative bodies of councillors and officers of all tiers of local government. 

 

A draft of the Local Government Association’s model Code of Conduct was appended to the report for Members to discuss. The consultation period ran until 17 August 2020 and was, structured around an online questionnaire, the questions for which was also appended to the report. The feedback from the consultation would help develop the final document which would be reviewed by the Local Government Association’s Advisory Board before being presented to the Local Government Association General Assembly in Autumn 2020.

 

As the Constitution Committee had already informally discussed some areas contained within the document, it was felt that the Committee was a good starting point to draft a response on behalf of the Council. The response would then be open to other Members to make comment.

 

The Committee agreed to go through the questionnaire and comment on the themes contained in the document adding any narrative that they wished.

 

The Chairman referred to the gifts and hospitality section and the gifts she had received during her time as the Mayor of Grantham, which she had declared.  Currently the Council’s Constitution stated that gifts with a value of £50 should be disclosed; the limit proposed in the LGA draft model code was £25. The Head of Governance indicated that the LGA had done a comprehensive piece of work on gifts and hospitality. The proposed figure was based on feedback received during the consultation, including feedback from public and private organisations.

 

One Member felt that joining with national bodies was a good idea and that democratic views were made across the board. She felt that Parish and Town Councils should be encouraged to adopt the code. It was stated that although it was not anticipated that adopting the updated model Code would be mandatory, there was an expectation that a District Council’s Code of Conduct would be mirrored by the Parish and Town Council’s and neighbouring authorities in their area.

 

One Member asked for clarity around the definitions of gifts and hospitality. He felt that greater clarity was required regarding attending functions and corporate hospitality.

 

The Director of Law and Governance said that the draft Code did seek to clarify gifts and hospitality and referred Members to the appropriate areas within the appendix. Gifts received due to their role as a Member should be declared. If Members felt that the draft Code did not give enough detail in relation to gifts and hospitality, then this could be included in their feedback, particularly in relation to other areas where there was a potential to receive gifts, such as representing the Council on an outside body. 

 

Members attention was drawn to the Appendix to the draft Code around disclosable pecuniary interests and other registerable interests. 

 

The draft Code was still based on the seven Nolan principles but included other themed areas with statements on civility, bullying and harassment, impartiality of officers of the Council, confidentiality and access to information, bringing the Council into disrepute, the use by Members of their position as a Councillor, use of Council resources and facilities, interests and gifts and hospitality.

 

Members then went through the questionnaire and made comments. 

 

In relation to the first question and the behaviour expected of Councillors, Members felt that there was no reason not to expect Members to answer the question with “To a great extent” and could not see any reason to disagree with the proposed code.

 

A brief discussion on when Members were “on duty” followed and the Director of Law and Governance referred Members to the relevant part of the proposed Code.  Members also discussed filling the form in individually, although it was acknowledged that this could cause problems when combining responses.

 

(12:10pm Councillor Griffin left the meeting)

 

Members felt that the social media aspect of the draft Code needed to be more detailed and relevant. Members also felt that the bullying and harassment element of the Code should capture those who looked on, or tolerated someone being bullied. They felt that wording “not to encourage, incite or conspire with others” should be included at statement 3. It was agreed that the statements listed at question 4 should all be answered, “To a great extent”.

 

Responses to the rest of the questions were as shown below (a copy of the questionnaire is appended for context):

 

6.

Each specific obligation followed by its relevant guidance.

7.

To a great extent.

8.

To a great extent.

8a.

Members felt that ‘dishonest and deceitful’ was too narrow and suggested ‘improper conduct’.

9.

To a great extent.

9a.

The Committee felt that additional wording was needed, to add in capturing allowing others to participate in bullying or harassment.  Suggested wording was ‘encouraging, inciting or conspiring with others’

10.

No.

10a.

Members felt there should be a separate code (annexe to the main).

10b.

There was a feeling that there needed to be more on the code of conduct, with more guidance, especially with virtual committees, abuse thereof, abuse of chat functions and recordings of virtual committees. The preference of Members was to integrate social media within the code, potentially as a separate annexe. They felt that there should be detailed guidance about physical posts, re-tweeting things, liking topics that other people had posted.

 

Members felt that if someone was using social media, and it was not in their role as a Councillor, they should make a declaration that they were not acting in their role as a member of the Council.

 

There was agreement that the same standards should apply in relation to social media as everyday life.

11.

To a great extent – people’s perception from outside.

12.

Main body of the Code.

12a.

To ensure that there was no misunderstanding.

13.

To a great extent* exception Trade Unions.

13a.

* Some concern was expressed about whether it was appropriate to include trade unions or whether this delved too far into people’s private lives.

 

It was noted that there was no requirement to register membership of a professional body.

14.

To a great extent**

14a.

**There was a suggestion that greater clarity could be provided in respect of this.  Members identified a potential scenario where a gift was given to a member of the Councillor’s family in order to influence the Councillor.

15.

Yes

16.

See below

16.

Members felt that each was equally important and should be incorporated.  There was a view that to rank the list could be seen to diminish their importance when the difference in the level of importance ascribed to each was considered to be minimal.

17.

Comments captured within response to each section.

 

The Chairman asked that once the detail had been captured within the questionnaire it should be circulated by e-mail to Members.

 

Ø Action Note

 

That a copy of the completed questionnaire be circulated to all Members for comment.