Report of the Monitoring Officer
The Joint Head of Corporate Governance & Monitoring Officer presented a report to Committee on the draft Code of Conduct for Councillors, for their comment and consideration and to approve a version that they would recommend to Council.
It was also necessary for Committee to consider and recommend to Council what training should be undertaken on the new code of Conduct for Councillors once adopted by Council.
Committee was informed that under “Details of Proposals or Information” paragraph 2.2 of the report; that it would be changed so that it clearly reflected that members may remain to speak and vote on a matter if they do not meet the tests to declare a significant interest.
Committee heard that Councillors had an obligation to attend Essential Training within areas such as safeguarding and Equalities & Diversity, as well as for certain committees such as Planning and Standards.
Members enquired as to any potential sanctions for failing to attend essential training and heard that the Council could not legally enforce training but the individual political groups could decide to exercise discipline over their membership and remove members from their roles on committees but the Council was unable to do this. The Monitoring Officer had written to the Secretary of State but no change in the legislation would be forthcoming.
Although the Council was unable to legally enforce members to attend essential training, including it on the Code of Conduct highlighted what was expected of Members.
There was a consensus that the political groups should be asked to honour the agreement to attend essential training and Members raised the point that attendance of non-essential training should be left to the discretion of individual members. The Governance Manager informed Committee that a responsibility to monitor attendance of training had been included in the last Terms of Reference review and would be coming to future Standards Committee meetings.
Turning to the Code of Conduct the Committee requested that the complaints process be made simpler and heard that a review into this would be undertaken. It was also noted that there was no obligation to report complaints to political groups.
The Monitoring Officer indicated that she would look at adding some examples to the section on “Register and Disclose my Interests”.
The Committee were asked their preference on the best way to inform all District Councillors of the contents of the new Code of Conduct for all Councillors and to enable them to ask questions on its contents. One way of doing this would be delivering a presentation to Council on the contents as part of the referred item from Standards Committee. Alternatively, a separate session could be arranged for Members. It could also be useful to have a briefing note explaining the differences.
The Chair and Monitoring Officer would write to the Chairs of Parish and Town Councils following adoption by Council and recommend their adoption of the North East District Council Code of Conduct for Members. This would be particularly relevant when some Parish Councils have a code, the contents of which are solely the Nolan Principles. It was also suggested that a training session for Parish Councils could take place during the District Parish Liaison Group.
It was noted that certain members had found previous training sessions to be unsatisfactory.
Committee indicated their approval for District Councillors to be notified of changes to the Code of Conduct for all Councillors during a meeting of Council.
(1) That Members recommended to Council adoption of the draft Code of Conduct for Councillors as discussed within the meeting.
(2) That training for all District Councillors on the new Code of Conduct for Councillors should be delivered at Council.
(3) That Members request for the Monitoring Officer to write to Parish and Town Councils recommending that they adopt the Local Government Association Model Code of Conduct for Councillors.