To receive a briefing from the Governance Manager.
The Governance Manager told Members that this was a unique Committee in that there would not normally be many items either on the agenda or the forward plan, although there were things which had to be done and there were some things the Committee could be proactive with. The main role of the Committee was to consider any complaints about Torridge District Councillors and Parish Councillors.
A presentation was delivered which detailed:
· the composition of the committee
· the roles and powers of the committee
· the role of the independent person
· the councillor complaints procedure
· the register of members interest and types of interest
· social media
Reference was made to the recent Government Consultation on Updating the Disqualification Criteria for Councillors and Mayors. This had been considered by the Standards Committee and a response had been made to the Government. The Government had promised to review all feedback and further guidance / changes to legislation were anticipated. The response will be brought back to the standards Committee. A definite desire had been identified to allow Standards Committees greater powers, similar to pre-2013.
Mr Clark outlined the levels of power available to the committee prior to the introduction of the Localism Act 2013. Before December 2013, vexatious complaints could have been considered by three different sub-committees. Once an investigation into a complaint had commenced it would have to run the full distance.
The importance of regularly reviewing and updating interests on the register was acknowledged. Mr Clark added that one of the changes brought about by the 2013 Localism Act was that it is now a criminal offence not to declare a pecuniary interest.
A discussion took place on social media, highlighting both the benefits and the disadvantages. The Governance Manager asked the Committee to consider whether they felt it would be beneficial to look to offering guidance to all Members. Communications was high on the Leader’s list of priorities and conversations had been held with the LGA who were prepared to carry out a health check on TDC and advise where improvements could be made. Free social media training had also been offered. It was noted, at this stage, there were no plans to extend the training to the parishes but this could perhaps be done in house later.
It was proposed by Councillor Brown, seconded by Councillor Clarke and –
That a recommendation be made that Governance Manager be authorised to pursue the offer of free social media training.
(Vote: For – unanimous)
Councillor Brenton requested that the presentation, prefaced by the Nolan principles, be sent to all Councillors.
A comprehensive presentation on the Standards Hearing Procedure was given by Mr Clark.
Members discussed various issues and clarification was given as follows:
· A process for informal complaints also existed.