Report of the Comptroller and City Solicitor.
The Committee considered a follow up report of the Comptroller and City on the Review of Local Government Ethical Standards by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. At their previous meeting on 3 May 2019 Members had indicated that there were a number of recommendations that they would like to look at again in more detail .
The Chair asked that the Committee consider each of the recommendations set out in further detail.
· CPSL Recommendation 1 – The Committee noted the latest position.
· CSPL Recommendation 2 – The Committee agreed to maintain the status quo with regard to the disclosure of Members’ home addresses in the public version of the register of interests.
· CSPL Recommendation 3 – In response to questions regarding the complaint that had already been dealt with regarding the use of social media, the Comptroller and City Solicitor highlighted that the issue in that particular case had been that the Member in question had listed their official roles prominently at the top of their Twitter account and had therefore made it difficult to separate their personal tweeting from their official capacity. A Co-opted Member questioned whether the City Corporation had a Social Media Policy in place. The Director of Communications reported that there were guidelines available to Members on acceptable social media use. The Committee asked that these be re-circulated to all elected Members and Co-opted Members.
· CPSL Recommendation 4 – Members noted the position in relation to the recommendation.
· CPSL Recommendation 6 – Members were of the view that the City Corporation’s existing threshold for registering gifts and hospitality was reasonable and should not be altered downwards.
· CSPL Recommendation 8 – Members agreed with this recommendation and requested that the Comptroller and City Solicitor report back to the Committee with specific proposals around this. The Chair clarified that it would seem sensible to look at applying the same term of office to Independent Persons as was currently given to other elected and Co-opted Members of the Committee (8 years in total and not for any shorter period) and that it would also seem sensible to stagger the terms for which Independent Persons were appointed.
· CSPL Recommendation 11 – The Committee noted that the arrangements to indemnify and/or insure the Independent Persons were now in place following final approval at the December 2019 Court of Common Council.
· CSPL Recommendation 15 – The Committee agreed that changes should be made to the format of the annual report to include information about the general nature of the complaints received.
· CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 1 – Members were of the view that this additional clarification around bullying and harassment should be added as an appendix to the Members’ Code of Conduct.
· CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 3 – Members were of the view that an internal review of the Members’ Code of Conduct should be carried out annually, at the January meeting of the Standards Committee, at the same meeting at which it currently reviewed it Terms of Reference. It was agreed that wider reviews of the document seeking, where possible, the views of the public, community organisations and neighbouring authorities, should take place every 3 years.
· CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 6 – Members were of the view that the wording in the existing Complaints Procedure regarding the initial assessment of complaints should remain unchanged.
· CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 9 – Members were of the view that the existing Complaints Procedure should remain unchanged. Rather than requiring the publication on the City Corporation’s website of a decision notice on every allegation that has formally been investigated, it was agreed that the appropriateness of this action should, instead, continue to be decided on a case by case basis.
· CSPL Bets Practice Recommendation 11 – The Comptroller and City Solicitor reported that, on the two previous occasions that this process had been used, it had been initiated by a decision taken under urgency. The Committee were of the view that it was preferable that, in future, such decisions on referral should be taken by the Standards Committee as a whole, but that all options should remain open.
The Deputy Chairman highlighted the fact that there may also be instances where Members wished to self-refer to the Standards Committee for exoneration for example.
· CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 13 – A Member commented that flexibility would be desirable here so that the City Corporation had the ability to ask either the Monitoring Officer of a different authority to undertake an investigation where appropriate or some other suitably qualified professional. The Comptroller and City Solicitor highlighted that this might be an idea that was better in theory rather than in practice. He commented that, of the three complaint to date that had progressed through all of the various stages of the Complaints Procedure, two had been outsourced and all three had been controversial cases. He thought it unlikely that any investigations would be dealt with in house for the foreseeable future but felt that there was enough flexibility in the current Complaints Procedure. Members were of the view that the existing arrangements should remain unchanged.