Agenda and minutes
Venue: Committee Room 1 - Wallasey Town Hall
Contact: Shirley Hudspeth
Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Tony Cox and Bernie Mooney.
Members' Code of Conduct - Declarations of Interest
Members are asked to consider whether they have any disclosable pecuniary interests and/or any other relevant interest in connection with any item(s) on this agenda and, if so, to declare them and state the nature of the interest.
No declarations of absence were received.
To approve the accuracy of the minutes of the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee meeting held on 20 November 2018 and the Special Meeting held on 31 January 2019. Also attached are the meeting notes of the Standards Working Group workshop meeting held on 12 February 2019.
That the Minutes of the meetings of the Committee held on 20 November 2018 and 31 January 2019 be confirmed as a correct record.
The Head of ICT Strategy and Delivery introduced his report reminding Members that the Council was responsible for a wide variety of information, some of which was personal and sensitive. Elected Members were responsible for the personal information of Wirral citizens in their Ward/Constituency. Members and the Council had legal and moral responsibilities to ensure that the security of that information was maintained.
It was also reported that the Council maintained an Information Governance Framework which sought to protect the security of its information assets. This was a combination of policy, procedural and technical controls which together helped officers and Members to manage the risks to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of Council information.
Appended to the report at Appendix 1 was the Members’ Information and ICT Acceptable Use Policy which confirmed responsibilities as a new or existing Elected Member of Wirral Council in terms of the acceptable use of Council information and ICT facilities. As well as outlining responsibilities under the Data Protection Act it also detailed the key policy rules that must be followed to ensure the safe handling, storage and use of Council and constituents’ information.It supplemented the Members’ Code of Conduct, and replaced the existing ‘Members’ ICT Policy’ previously agreed by the Council on 19 December 2016.
The Head of ICT Strategy and Delivery informed that the Members’ ICT Policy had been updated to take account of the 1998 Data Protection Act and the 2018 Data Protection Act. A few small changes had been made in respect of the security of emails and improvements in technology.
The Committee noted that no other options had been considered because failure to adequately protect the Council or Constituents’ information would result in a compromise of its security which could have a number of negative consequences for the Council, including:
· Financial penalties - The ICO could issue monetary penalties up to €20 million to organisations which have failed to comply with the DPA.
· Legal ramifications – Serious breaches of the DPA could result in legal action, including prosecution.
· Reputational damage – Data breaches were often reported in the media and consequently result in the public perception of an organisation and/or the individuals who represent them, being damaged.
· Emotional / physical harm – The compromise of personal and sensitive data could result in harm to the individuals to whom the information related.
· Compliance – Failure to maintain information and ICT security could result in the Council not complying with the Public Services Network (PSN) and NHS Data Security and Protection Toolkit standards. This could result in the authority being unable to deliver key services.
Members then asked a number of questions which were answered by the Head of ICT Strategy and Delivery and the Director of Governance and Assurance. Issues raised included the following:
· The role of the Members’ Equipment Steering Group. It was considered that it should have had the opportunity to make recommendations on it and sign off the revised Policy.
· The webcasting service interruption during the Extraordinary ... view the full minutes text for item 26.
The Director of Governance and Assurance introduced a report which sought to address deficiencies in Standing Order 18 of the Council Procedure Rules (Part 4(A) of the Constitution) concerning voting methods. It had regard to the model standing order contained in statutory Guidance and recommended a revised standing order to make improvements and to cater for use of the electronic voting system in the Council Chamber.
Attached to the report was:
· Appendix A - the Council’s current standing order 18 on ‘Voting’.
· Appendix B - the Model Standing Order upon which the above was based and to which the Council must have regard.
· Appendix C – the recommended revised Standing Order on Voting.
The Committee was informed that the Council was legally required to have regard to the statutory Guidance in drafting Council standing orders. The draft revision at Appendix C was based on the model standing order contained within the Guidance, together with:
(a) those elements of the existing WBC standing order that appear to have been drafted with good reason and are not otherwise found in the Model; and
(b) amended to cater for the addition of an electronic voting system and the Council’s preferred custom and practice as set out in the report.
The Committee noted that another option available to it was that the current standing order remained unchanged. However, this would not address the issue of the current standing order requiring a vote at each meeting to allow for use of electronic voting. Alternatively, the standing order could be amended in some other way, perhaps as part of an overall review. This would mean a delay.
The Committee was aware that the Council Chamber’s Electronic Voting System had been activated in mid-August 2018. Demonstrations for Elected Members had taken place on 26 September and on 3, 8 and 10 October 2018 and the first Council meeting utilising the new electronic voting system had taken place on 15 October 2018.
Following the installation of the new electronic voting system in the Council Chamber, and consultation with Members on its usage, it had been identified that the Council’s Constitution would require revision of Standing Order 18 of the Council Procedure Rules. This was primarily that the default method of voting should be altered to electronic voting as opposed to a ‘show of hands’. This alteration would negate the need to vote and suspend standing orders at the beginning of every Council meeting, to enable use of the electronic voting system at future meetings.
Member’s views had been sought on an alteration to the existing standing order. Following debate, the Committee had formed the view that the additional sections suggested that covered the issue of electronic voting, taken largely from a detailed standing order used in another council, would alter the balance and flow of the meeting. Rather, the Committee requested that the Council Procedure Rule 18 be re-considered in its entirety, with a further Council meeting taking place between that meeting and the Committee considering this matter ... view the full minutes text for item 27.
The Acting Senior Manager Legal and Committee Services introduced a report that informed the Committee that in 2014 the Council had adopted a Members’ Code of Conduct and a process for dealing with complaints made under that Code following the changes to the ethical standards regime introduced by the Localism Act 2011.
Since 2014 there had been experience of dealing with complaints which had highlighted areas for improvement and clarification in the arrangements for dealing with complaints made under the Members’ Code of Conduct. In particular, issues had been raised in relation to the timeliness with which complaints had been dealt with under the current protocol.
On 7 November 2018 the Committee had resolved that Officers should be requested to draw up a new bespoke Protocol which detailed arrangements for investigating and making decisions in relation to allegations made under the Members’ Code of Conduct. Consequently, a draft revised Protocol was presented to the Committee on 31 January 2019 which resolved to convene a Working Group to consider the proposed draft in more detail.
This report sought authority to adopt the revised Protocol for investigating and making decisions in relation to allegations made under the Members’ Code of Conduct which had now been reviewed and revised taking account of the views expressed and proposals and suggestions put forward by Members at the Working Group meeting held on 12 February 2019.
Members noted that robust standards arrangements were required to safeguard local democracy, maintain high standards of conduct, and to protect ethical practice in local government. The proposed amendments would improve the clarity of the process and would provide the Committee and the Monitoring Officer with the opportunity of dealing with complaints in a timely manner in accordance with what was currently felt to be professional best practice.They would also provide clarity and transparency for the general public.
Appended to the report for Members’ information was an amended Protocol in respect of ‘Arrangements for Investigating and Making Decisions in relation to allegations made under the Members’ Code of Conduct’ and six appendices as follows:
· Appendix 1 – Complaint Form
· Appendix 2 – Standards Complaint Process Flowchart
· Appendix 3 – Procedure for Investigation
· Appendix 4 – Standards Panel Procedure
· Appendix 5 – Standards Appeal Panel Procedure
· Appendix 6 – The Assessment Panel’s Terms of Reference
Other options being considered were that the current protocol for dealing with complaints against Members remained unchanged or that the current protocol for dealing with complaints against Members was changed in some other way.
The Committee noted that adopting the revised Protocol document “Arrangements for investigating and making decisions in relation to allegations made under the members’ Code of Conduct” would streamline and clarify the process for dealing with allegations allowing for a faster resolution for suitable matters and reducing the risk of delay in the process.
The Acting Senior Manager Legal and Committee Services reported that the Working group had amended paragraph 2.2 of the revised Protocol to say that within five working days ... view the full minutes text for item 28.
The Director of Governance and Assurance introduced a report that informed Members of the outcome of the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review of Local Government Ethical Standards. The report kept Members abreast of developments with the ethical standards regime and sought approval for immediate actions to be taken in light of the review.
It was reported that on 25 May 2010, the coalition government had announced its intention to abolish the Standards Board regime set out in Part 3 of the Local Government Act 2000. The government had accepted that it was important to have safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of power and misuse of public money, given that those who elected Members to office had the right to expect the highest standards of behaviour. However, it had considered that the standards regime under the LGA 2000, under which all local authorities, by law, had to adopt a national code of conduct and a standards committee to oversee the behaviour of Members and receive complaints, regulated by Standards for England, was ineffective, bureaucratic and encouraged petty complaints or harmful accusations. It, therefore, proposed that, through the Localism Act 2011, local authorities would draw up their own local codes of conduct and it would become a criminal offence for Members to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a financial interest.
However, concerns had been raised by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) in various reports, following the implementation of the Localism Act 2011, on whether the sanctions for breach of standards were adequate and it would, therefore, be monitoring the implementation of the new local government standards regime.
The CSPL had taken a review with the following terms of reference:
1. Examine the structures, processes and practices in local government in England for:
a. Maintaining codes of conduct for local councillors
b. Investigating alleged breaches fairly and with due process
c. Enforcing codes and imposing sanctions for misconduct
d. Declaring interests and managing conflicts of interest
2. Assess whether the existing structures, processes and practices are conducive to high standards of conduct in local government.
3. Make any recommendations for how they can be improved.
4. Note any evidence of intimidation of councillors, and make recommendations for any measures that could be put in place to prevent and address such intimidation.
The review had covered all local authorities in England, of which there were 353 principal authorities, with 18,111 councillors in 2013, and an estimated 10,000 parish councils in England, with around 80,000 parish councillors. The The CSPL had not taken evidence relating to Combined Authorities, metro mayors, or the Mayor of London.
The review report had run to 100 pages and a list of recommendations was set out in a table in the report to assist the Committee in its deliberations. The CSPL’s review report and conclusions was appended to the report
The Committee noted that adopting the best practice recommended in the CSPL report would ensure robust standards arrangements were in place to ... view the full minutes text for item 29.