Report of the Town Clerk.
The Policy Chair began by thanking her Deputy Chairman for his hard work in managing the Member consultation sessions and relayed some of the key areas of feedback from Members of the wider Court.
Members then discussed each question laid out in the report as follows:-
(i) Do Members agree with the recommendation to establish an Independent Panel, composed only of independent persons?
The Sub-Committee were in unanimous agreement with this recommendation.
(ii) Should such a Panel receive allegations of misconduct, determine whether to investigate, present findings to the Court, and hear any appeal?
Members were supportive of the three-stage process outlined in the report, and some felt strongly that the first stage (an informal conversation with the Chief Commoner) should be mandatory. One Member suggested that, depending on the issue, the use of external dispute resolution experts also be considered at an early stage.
(iii) What should its composition be?
The Sub-Committee debated whether the composition should be entirely comprised of independent (i.e. external) individuals or whether there should be some Members (in the minority) who should be part of the Panel. Many felt that the Panel hearing appeals should be entirely independent (i.e. non-City Corporation Member), and that any independent individuals hearing the initial allegation should not also be part of the Appeals Panel.
Members also felt strongly that the Panel should be comprised of a diverse group of individuals.
There was a short discussion of the newly-appointed statutory IPs appointed under the Localism Act and it was agreed that these statutory IPs must be retained.
(iv) How should it be appointed to?
A Member suggested that the panel be appointed independently, but broadly the Sub-Committee were content with the suggested method of appointment.
(v) Should the positions on the Panel be remunerated?
The Sub-Committee supported the view that positions on the Panel should be remunerated and it was suggested that this should be undertaken at a standard rate of £300 per day.
(vi) Who should be responsible for supporting the Panel, or for producing the Panel’s rules and procedures (including possible sanctions)?
The Sub-Committee felt it was important for officers, particularly the Comptroller, to support the Panel.
(vii) How should the Court consider its recommendations (i.e. should a Standing Order, preventing debate on any of the Panel’s recommendations, be progressed)?
Members agreed that it was very embarrassing for all concerned when issues were debated in Court of Common Council. A Member suggested that this new process would ensure that allegations were dealt with properly and efficiently from the outset, which should obfuscate the need to debate in Court.
Abolition of Standards / Standards Appeals Committee
(viii) Do Members agree with the proposal to abolish the Standards Committee and Standards Appeals Committee?
The Sub-Committee were in agreement that the Standards Committee and the Standards Appeals Committee should be disbanded, but one Member flagged that there was currently no “home” for dispensation requests. A suggestion was made for the terms of reference of the Members Privileges Sub Committee to be expanded to include dispensation requests.
(ix) If yes, what is the preferred timescale for abolition?
Members felt that the process of abolition needed to start now and be completed by March 2021.
(x) If abolition is prior to the establishment of a new overall committee framework, what should happen in the interim to those areas of responsibility under the purview of Standards Committee which do not relate to complaints and so would not necessarily go to the new Panel?
(xi) In particular, where should responsibility for Dispensations and the Code of Conduct sit, and do any changes need to be sought to either procedure at this point in time?
Register of Interests
(xii) Are Members happy to support a change to the way in which the Register of Interests is set out?
Members were supportive of officers taking forward this change.
(xiii) Should training on standards and conduct matters be made mandatory?
The Sub-Committee heard that there had been a range of views on this matter expressed at the Member consultation sessions. The majority of the Sub-Committee felt that the training should be mandatory, but the training should also be purposeful and up-to-date. Members felt that training should be rolled out for all Members after each election and the Chief Commoner-Elect should receive such training before taking office each year.
(xiv) If so, what sanction should be applied in the event of non-compliance?
One Member felt that there should not be a pre-requisite or conditions placed on elected Members for taking training. Others felt that training fitted into the spirit of the Nolan’s principles of public life.
· The feedback provided by Members through the informal engagement process be noted.
· It be recommended that the Policy and Resources Committee agree the way forward for matters relating to the Standards Regime as outlined in the minute above.