Venue: Council Chamber, Town Hall, Saturday Market Place, King's Lynn PE30 5DQ
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An apology for absence was received from Councillor S Squire.
To approve the minutes from the Standards Committee held on 3 February 2023.
The minutes of the meeting held on 3 February 2023 noted as being a correct record.
Please indicate if there are any interests which should be declared. A declaration of interest should indicate the nature of the interest (if not already declared on the Register of Interests) and the agenda item to which it relates. If a disclosable pecuniary interest is declared, the Member should withdraw from the room whilst the matter is discussed.
These declarations apply to all Members present, whether the Member is part of the meeting, attending to speak as a local Member on any item or simply observing the meeting from the public seating area.
There were no declarations of interest.
Urgent Business Under Standing Order 7
To consider any business which, by reason of special circumstances, the Chair proposed to accept as urgent under Section 100(b)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
There was no urgent business.
Members Present Pursuant to Standing Order 34
Members wishing to speak pursuant to Standing Order 34 should inform the Chair of their intention to do so and on what items they wish to be heard before a decision on that item is taken.
Councillor S Lintern and A Ryves were present under Standing Order 34.
Chair's Correspondence (if any)
The Chair advised that she had received an email from Councillor Ryves which would be addressed at the appropriate point in the meeting.
To receive a summary from the Monitoring Officer.
The Monitoring Officer presented the report which provided a summary and analysis of the Code of Conduct complaints received and/or determined in the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 in relation to both Borough Councillors and Parish Councillors from the 101 Parishes within West Norfolk.
The Committee’s attention was drawn to the key issues set out in the report. Members are directed to Appendix A.
The Chair thanked the Monitoring Officer for the report and invited questions and comments from the Committee and those Councillors attending under Standing Order 34.
In response to a question from Councillor Sandell, the Monitoring Officer provided clarification on “carry out duties”.
Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Ryves commented on the number of complaints received in relation to Methwold Parish Council (6 out of the 17 reported). In response, the Monitoring Officer outlined the reasons why there may have been an increase in the number of complaints received from Parish Councils.
Following questions from Ring on what happened with an investigation if a Councillor was re-elected, the Monitoring Officer explained that an investigation was terminated when a Councillor’s term came to an end or resigned. If, however, a Councillor was re-elected and a subsequent complaint was received regarding the same issue then a decision would be made to see if the work already undertaken could be used to look at the “new complaint.” The Monitoring Officer provided an overview of the process and referred to case law/tribunal in relation to a Freedom of Information of Information and Subject Access requests.
Under Standing Order 34, Councillor Ryves explained that the feedback received from Methwold Parish Council was that it took a lot of time to investigate a complaint. In response, the Monitoring Officer explained that the reason was that complaints were investigated by Eastlaw (the provider of legal services to the Borough Council). The Committee was advised that the legal and governance functions had now been brought back in-house and there was now the appropriate resource and key performance indicators had been set and would be monitored to give a decision within 25 to 30 working days from the date a complaint was received.
Following a further question from Councillor Ryves on the rights of the public under the Freedom of Information Act, the Monitoring Officer explained that it a request was received for a copy of the Decision Notice or the draft held on file there was a two stage process and very few occasions when a copy of the Decision Notice would not be released.
In response to questions and comments from Councillor Nash regarding a complaint he had personally raised and what would the right of appeal be, the Monitoring Officer explained this would be subject to a judicial review, legal advice by the complainant or by raising a corporate complaint/Local Government Ombudsman on the way the complaint had been handled. If the complaint was upheld by the Local ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
To receive a report from the Monitoring Officer.
The Monitoring Officer presented the report which placed before Members a range of options to increase support for Parish Councils in relation to the Standards regime.
The Committee’s attention was drawn to the key issues and issues for the Committee to consider set out in the report.
Within the Council’s Corporate Strategy 2023 – 2027, it states as follows with regards to the priority of ‘Efficient and Effective Delivery of the Council’s Services.’
‘Expand the Council’s support to help parish councils with governance and to attract new Members.’
The Committee was informed that the number of Parish Council complaints for 2023-2024 is almost double that received during the hole of 2022-2023 (thirty-two and seventeen respectively). Sixteen out of the seventeen Parish Councillor complaints in 2022-2023 came from fellow Parish Councillors.
The Committee was advised that the split of Parish Council complaints so far for the thirty-two 2023-2024 Parish Council complaints was seven from fellow Parish Councillors and twenty-five from members of the public.
The Monitoring Officer explained that it was hoped that by providing frontloaded support to Parish Councils, this will result in significantly reduced numbers of formal complaints, thereby saving the Borough Council the resource of its officers (including significant proportions of time of the Monitoring Officer and Deputy Monitoring Officer) which can be deployed elsewhere..
The Chair thanked the Monitoring Officer for the report and invited questions and comments from the Committee and Councillors attending under Standing Order 34.
The Monitoring Officer invited the Committee to consider the four recommendations set out in the report.
With regard to Recommendation 1, the Monitoring Officer explained that there would be training and resource available for Member Champions to try and resolve any governance dispute. The Monitoring Officer advised that clarification would be sought regarding Member expenses and added that if the Committee wished to consider this option and recommendation could be made via the Constitution Informal Work Group under the Corporate Performance Panel.
Councillor Sandell commented that there were 101 parishes which would be significant amount of work for one Member Champion.
Councillor Sandell stated that the a forum for all Parish Council Clerks and Chairs would be good idea and that a dedicated page on the Borough Council’s website would be beneficial for Parish Councils to access when required and to ask questions.
The Monitoring Officer explained that there were two strands for Parish Councils:
· Conduct of Parish Councillors.
· Borough Council’s Corporate Strategy – to expand support to help Parish Councils with governance and to attract new members. It was noted that a page was being developed for the Council’s website which would contain links to information and a mail box would also be set up to signpost Councillors.
The Chair commented that although governance and conduct standards were two separate issues they often became mixed. The Chair acknowledged the email received from Councillor Ryves but advised that it was not appropriate to discuss the content at ... view the full minutes text for item 8.
Date of Next Meeting
To be advised.
Date to be advised late February/early March 2024.