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Standard Deviation

Standard DeviationIn this case, we’re not talking about a statistical measure of variation, but a failure of local councils generally, and Fylde in particular, to properly implement changed regulations governing the conduct of elected councillors.

We think there could be problems looming.

Some are of the Government's making because they didn't really leave councils enough time to close the old regime down and get the new one ready. Others are also the Government's fault, for failing to clearly detail what should happen to all the ' pipeline' cases

But some are Fylde's own fault for taking far too long to put the arrangements in place. They were supposed to have done this by 1 July 2012, but did not do so 28 January 2013.

As a result, we believe there are up to 25 cases of complaints about councillor conduct that may not have been dealt with as they should have been.

We believe some will have to be re-examined.

BACKGROUND
After the Cash for Questions scandal of 1994-98 at Westminster, Prime Minister John Major established the Committee on Standards in Public Life – which became known as the Nolan Committee after its Chairman’s name.

It established seven key principles regarding public life and against which conduct should be judged.

It led to the (in our view disastrous) Local Government Act 2000 from the Blair Government which included a requirement for all Councils to abandon the Committee system of governance, to introduce a revised ethical framework, to adopt of codes of conduct for elected members and to form local standards committees to implement those codes of conduct.

It also introduced a national Standards Board and Adjudication Panel to which serious complaints about councillors' conduct could be referred for adjudication and sanction.

In the worst cases they could suspend a councillor from office.

The 2000 Act also established 'Standards Committees' in most Councils. These Committees played a preparatory and filtering role, dealing with lesser complaints and filtering more serious ones through to the national Standards Board.

But the process quickly grew unwieldy - often from complaints made by one Councillor against another.

Things got so bad that the accumulated backlog of hearings at the national Standards Board level ran into years.

We never had much time for this daft idea of a Standards Board as we said in our article ‘It's Friday

THE CHANGES
So we were delighted when St Eric promised to abolish the national Standards Board and return control regarding councillor conduct (where the impropriety was less than a criminal offence), to local Councils.

At the same time, he promised to reduce the sanctions considerably, (to the extent that the most serious sanction that could be imposed by a Council was public censure of those who transgressed) - and he beefed up the sanctions regarding criminal behaviour.

There was also to be no national Code of Conduct any more.

The one that existed was also to be abolished.

Councils would be free to decide whether they needed one or not.

However a Lords' amendment as the Bill went through Parliament changed this, and required Councils to prepare their own Code of Conduct.

This amendment was late in the day and caused havoc with the implementation timetable. (In practice, most Councils based their new code on a sort of 'model code of conduct' that either the Government, or the Local Government Association, or the parish council’s association produced after the Lords' amendment).

In the regulations that followed the Act, the definition of 'Member Interests' was considerably changed.

This is especially important because it sets out what 'interest(s)' every councillor must declare, and that, in turn, affects whether they can take part in debates and so on.

(For example, a Councillor say, owning a property, would not be allowed to take part in decisions such as planning permissions that affected its value - they would have an interest that could cloud their judgement, so they would generally have to declare that interest and leave the room whilst debate and decisions took place on that item).

There were also to be new criminal sanctions for failure to make proper disclosures of such interests.

Finally, Councils had to appoint an 'Independent Person' (someone who was not a Councillor or an Officer or a close friend of either of these), who would advise the Council before it made a decision on an allegation made against a Councillor and be available to advise those against whom allegations had been made

PROBLEMS FROM GOVERNMENT
The fundamental problem was that the regulations giving effect to these different aspects of the Localism Act were not all ready at the same time, they were brought in by Government piecemeal, and, because of the Lord’s amendment, late in the day, giving councils little time to adopt them in time for the deadline.

The expected date of implementation was to have been June or July, but the draft versions of the regulations were only issued at the end of May 2012.

Then, finally, the (not) excitingly named "Localism Act 2011 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional, Savings and Transitory Provisions) Order 2012" - was actually made on 6th June 2012.

It said that from 7th June 2012, a Council could do the following:

  • adopt a code of conduct
  • make arrangements for investigations
  • prepare a register of interests
  • make standing orders
  • grant a dispensation,

It also set out some of the other regulations that would apply from 1 July.

The idea with this split implementation was to authorise councils to prepare the regulations so they could have them in force for 1 July – the date at which the old Standards regime was abolished and the new one implemented.

Another set of Regulations - (The Relevant Authorities (Disclosable Pecuniary Interests) Regulations) were also made on the 6 June 2012 and did not come into force until 1 July.

Most importantly in all of this, except for complaints against councillors that were already in the pipeline as at 1st July, these new regulations disapplied the old Standards regime as of 1 July 2012.

In particular, the new regulation specifically removed the power of an old-regime Standards Committee at Fylde and elsewhere to suspend or partially suspend a councillor found to be in breach of the Council's Code of Conduct.

Complaints about councillor conduct which, by 1 July 2012, had been investigated by or on behalf of a Councils Monitoring Officer, AND had been referred to the Council’s Standards Committee, were, from 1 July required to be dealt with under the Council’s new arrangements - but without a power to impose a suspension.

That change caused a few raised eyebrows. It had not been in the draft regulations and, because cases likely to result in suspension were generally more serious in nature, it pretty much weakened the sanctions that could be applied to Councillors who had been found wanting as the standards regimes changed.

Some councillors facing sanctions will have 'got off' much more lightly than they might otherwise have expected to do.

The Government was undoubtedly looking for a 'clean break' with the old system - and the upshot of all of this was that every Council was required to have adopted a new Code of Conduct, and to have put new 'Arrangements' (as set out in the Act and Orders) in place for handling councillor conduct complaints via its Full Council, by 1 July 2012.

But then the first tank-trap appeared in the regulations.

Their wording for the 'existing pipeline' situations appeared only to extend the life of complaints where the investigation *had already been completed* AND the matter has already been referred to the Council's Standards Committee for determination.

So - as far as we can tell - for all other complaints (i.e. for example, complaints where the investigation had begun but was not completed, or where a complaint had been made but no action to investigate had begun), there were simply no arrangements for them ever to be determined !

These complaints fell into an administrative Black Hole because Government had not legislated for them.

PROBLEMS FROM LOCAL COUNCILS
Some Councils were ahead of the field. They had drafted Codes of Conduct and new Arrangements ready for adoption on - or soon after - 1 July.

But some decided to wait for the remainder of the regulations to come into force on 1 July, before deciding to act at all.

There was also another problem.

By the start of the new regime on the 1 July, most councils had already held their annual meetings - and only a Full Council meeting can adopt a Code of Conduct.

Furthermore, the arrangements to appoint an 'Independent Person' (as required in the new regulations) had to be approved either by the Full Council or by the full council establishing a committee with appropriate delegated power.

And of course, new or changed Standing Orders governing how a council conducts it business would have to be approved by the Full Council as usual.

So it needed an Extra Ordinary meeting of Full Council to be held to consider and approve all these matters.

Some Councils were unable (or unwilling) to arrange an extra-ordinary meeting of the Full Council between the regulations being made on 6th June and their provisions that came into force on 1st July, and some decided (or defaulted) to hold the matter over until the next scheduled Full Council Meeting in the hope that, fingers crossed, everything would be OK.

Others (the better ones) decided to prepare their own short-term 'transitional' Code of Conduct (based on the draft Code and regulations). It was a sort of hybrid of the two systems, banking on what was expected to remain from the 'old' regulations, and importing the likely parts of what would become the new code once it was made by order having effect from 1 July.

These Councils had to have at least one and possibly two meetings of their Full Council to approve a transitional Code and a subsequent final Code and Arrangements etc.

But where this did not happen, in the less good councils, there was potential for complication.

And this is where the biggest tank-traps lay.

We have already seen one category of tank trap - where there was uncertainty regarding cases 'in the pipeline but not concluded' when the legislation changed.

But this was aggravated for a Council that did not adopt its own transitional or revised arrangements, because any behaviour falling foul of the Code of Conduct between the abolition of the old system on 1st July and the adoption of the new requirements by that Council, was for that time, a sort of no-mans-land.

If a complaint arose in this period, which Standards regime should they be judged by? - the old one (which had been abolished), the new one (which was not legally in force), or should they not be judged at all, and any complaint against a Councillor delayed until the Council had adopted all the new provisions?

Or should complaints against Councillors arising in this period simply not be accepted until the new regime was in place?  Should complainants have been told to come back when they had put arrangements in place?

The fact that such Councils may not have adopted revised Standing Orders in this period probably also meant that technically, there was no firm basis for asking Councillors to leave the room - even when they had declared an interest.

The absence of 'Arrangements' being made could mean that old complaints and new allegations could not have been processed at all. In some cases that’s what happened.

But if there was a long delay, it would bring the risk of the Councillor against whom an allegation had been made being able to say (with some justification) that the process had been unfair. (And equally, the complainant might have a case to allege maladministration on the part of the Council).

Likewise, the absence of an Independent Person having been appointed (by the Full Council) could jeopardise any attempt to process an old complaint or a new allegation, because the Councillor against whom an allegation had been made would be unable to consult them - and because no decision could be made by the Council in the absence of an Independent Person's advice to the Council !

So the period from 1st July 2012 was (and in some cases remains) a potential minefield for Councils that didn't have an Extra-Ordinary Full Council meeting on - or very soon after - 1 July 2013.

It was, of course, even worse for Councils that delayed adopting a Code of Conduct and putting in place new Arrangements until well after 1st July 2012.

Guess who didn’t approve their new Code of Conduct until a month after the deadline - on 30th July 2012? And guess who didn’t have all the Arrangements required under that Code in place until 28 January 2013

That's right, dear reader, you've got it in one.

PROBLEMS FROM FYLDE BOROUGH COUNCIL
For Fylde, we believe there could be serious problems because:

1). In common with other councils, any ‘pipeline’ complaints made before 1 July 2012, which had been investigated by or on behalf of a Councils Monitoring Officer, AND had been referred to the Council’s Standards Committee, were, from 1 July required to be dealt with under the Council’s new arrangements, but without a power to impose a suspension.

We’re not at all sure such complaints were so treated.

We suspect some may have been judged improperly under the old arrangements which Fylde appeared to believe ‘carried forward’ until they adopted their new Code and Arrangements.

2). Any ‘pipeline’ complaints made to FBC and any other council before by 1 July 2012 where the investigation had begun but was not completed, or where a complaint had been made but no action to investigate had begun might have been determined when there was no lawful authority for them to have been determined. Again, we suspect some of these might have been improperly determined under the ‘old’ regime.

3). Because FBC did not approve it’s new Code of Conduct until 30 July, any complaints about Councillor Conduct made between 1 July and 30 July (and we know of at least one) could not have been lawfully dealt with (because the old Standards regime was abolished and the new one had not been adopted by the Full Council as required by law). So we think anyone whose case was accepted and considered during this time probably has grounds either to make the complaint again, or (more likely) to make a claim of maladministration against FBC. Furthermore, anyone who was sanctioned during this period would have grounds to make a similar claim, and possibly have the decision reversed and the sanction annulled before a further investigation is made. This raises the spectre of case reviews and apologies by the Council.

4). But probably the potentially most serious issue is that because Fylde did not appoint its ‘Independent Person’ (either in a transitional capacity or the ‘permanent’ ones) until 28 January 2013, we cannot see how it could have fulfilled its obligation under the law to consult with, and to take account of the views of such a person before the Council made a decision on an allegation that it has decided to investigate (as it is obliged to do by the Localism Act).

Nor could they have had that Independent person available to any individual whose conduct was under investigation.

This must call into question any investigations that were undertaken, and any decisions made at Fylde between 1 July 2012 and 28 January 2013.

THE  DETAILED JUSTIFICATION FOR THESE VIEWS
For the fellow anoraks amongst our readers, our view of the lengthy chronology of events that has caused this situation is set out below (from 1 July 2012).

(Our ‘Bullet Point’ readers can stop at this point ;-))

Council of 30th July 2012 considered two relevant items.

The first (item 9) proposed revisions to the Council's Constitution The part affecting changes in Standards was set out in Appendix 1 section 7, (having arrived there as a recommendation from an earlier Audit Committee meeting on 21 June 2012). It said that new standards arrangements would need to be put in place by July 2012, and a new Code of Conduct would be presented to Council at its July Council meeting together with an outline of how the new framework would operate.

The item also proposed to retain the Standards Committee - and the Council, at its July meeting, was to consider the composition of this and agree a new code of conduct in compliance with legislation.

The Council approved these proposals which, themselves, gave immdiate life to the decision that had just been made by considering the next agenda item which was item 10 - ‘Code of Conduct Adoption’

It recommended adopting the revised Code of Conduct set out in an appendix as the Council’s Code of Conduct for the purposes of section 27 (2) of the Localism Act 2011

It also recommended the adoption of arrangements that were set out in paragraph 6.2 of the report (under which allegations could be investigated and decisions on investigations could be made for the purposes of section 28 (6) of the Localism Act 2011)

It recommended that the Standards Committee (which had been (re)constituted in an earlier item on the same agenda) should begin the process to appoint independent person(s) and a report be submitted to Council in due course with their recommendations.

There were also a number of other recommendations including, most notably, changes to the constitution and sharing an Independent Person with Blackpool.

Our more eagle eyed readers might, at this point, be wondering how the arrangements to investigate could be adopted by the Council, when an integral and mandatory part of them – the Independent Person - had not been appointed.

We agree.

The report also said "The item falls within the following cabinet portfolio: Finance and Resources (Councillor Karen Buckley).

We're a bit unsure about that and we don't exactly understand it.

The report is headed 'Report of the Monitoring Officer' and we think it should have been just that, an officers report made directly to Council - because all these matters are only for approval by the full council. They are amongst a few items that are not anything to do with the Cabinet.

But there it was on the agenda to be presented by Cabinet Portfolio Holder Cllr Buckley.

But Cllr Buckley did not appear in the list of people present at the meeting, and the minute says the report was presented by Cllr David Eaves.

So we're not *exactly* clear whose report it was, The Monitoring Officer, Cllr Buckley or Cllr Eaves.

This could become important later, as we shall see.

The report began by saying that "The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) having already abolished Standards for England (the former Standards Board), has now removed the other elements of the existing Standards regime, including statutory Standards Committees, with effect from 1st July 2012."

We've no problem with that.

At paragraph 3.2 the report continued "The Department for Communities and Local Government had indicated that transitional arrangements would have the effect of keeping the current code of conduct active until it is replaced by a Council’s own code. A revised code and any new arrangements are put forward for approval at this meeting."

We think this statement is plain wrong.

We think it might also be the basis for all the trouble that is brewing over Standards at Fylde.

The Localism Act (s 28 (5)) says that to conform with the new Standards regime, a council can revise its existing code or adopt a replacement one. (They were heavily encouraged toward the latter).

It makes no provision for keeping the old one active. In fact, the better opinion is that the whole intention of Government was to make a clean break between the two regimes.

At present, we can't tell if this statement was made to Full Council with the intention of deceiving, or whether it was simply incompetence. Given the confusion that had reigned only two months previously as the legislation was finalised, it was probably the latter.

Admittedly, there were some transitional arrangements set out in the regulation, and this could have given rise to confusion, but these related to 'pipeline cases' and even then, they only lasted up to July 1st when the former Standards regime was abolished.

So we think either the officers (if it was their report), or Cllr Mrs Buckley (if it was hers) or Cllr Eaves (if it was his) probably misled the Council on this matter, perhaps inadvertently, but in doing so, it appears to have had the effect of easing the pressure to produce and adopt a new Code of Conduct and to put Arrangements in place, because this is what seems to have happened at Fylde.

At paragraph 3.8, the report addresses the appointment of the ‘Independent person’ and notes that ‘A letter has been received from Bob Neil MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State on 28th June 2012, confirming it is permitted for current Independent members to be considered as part of the transitional arrangements in appointing an Independent person, but only for a maximum period of 12 months until 30th June 2013. One of the Council’s Independent members has shown an interest in continuing in this role. It is recommended that the Standards Committee commence the process for appointing Independent persons, with a final recommendation to Council. This process to also involve discussions with Blackpool Council regarding shared Independent person(s).’

The relevant paragraphs of Mr Neil's letter actually say: "Accordingly, I would particularly draw your attention to the role of the new independent person. This is in no way similar to the role of the independent chairman and independent members on the former standards committees. That former role was principally to be involved in the determination of allegations about misconduct of members. In contrast the role of the new independent person is wholly advisory, providing advice to the council on any allegation it is considering, and to a member facing an allegation who has sought the views of that person.

Notwithstanding these fundamental differences between the roles of the new independent person and members of standards committees, following representations from local government, we have made transitional arrangements to allow the appointment as an independent person of someone who has been an independent chairman or member of the authority’s standards committee.

However, given the importance that the new arrangements are, and are clearly perceived to be, a wholly fresh start we are minded to make further provision so that any former member of a standards committee appointed under the transitional arrangements as an independent person can hold that office only until 30 June 2013.'

So it was not a case of continuing in the former role - as appears to have been in the mind of the report's author - it was a case of utilising someone with experience of Standards matters to fill and undertake the (new and different) wholly advisory role during the period between 1 July 2012 and the recruitment of one or more new Independent persons appointed by the Full Council.

At Paragraph 3.10 the report notes "It is envisaged that the Standards Committee would need to meet at an early juncture to discuss these joint arrangements and in particular the appointment of an Independent person."

So even when the Council approved the recommendations on 30th July, the 'Arrangements' to undertake investigations could not have been in place because there was still to be a meeting of the Standards Committee to recommend the appointment of the 'Independent Person'.

Following the Report itself was a draft of a new ‘Code of Conduct’ for the Council to approve.

And here it gets really murky.

The Council was being asked to, and did, adopt this code on 30th July 2012.

 The footer of each page bears the date of 20/07/12.

Assuming this is the date the document was produced, common sense says its provisions could not apply from before it was written.

Yet under the heading of the Code (which says "THE CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS"), it adds "effective from 1st July 2012"

Yes really.

You might wonder, dear reader, how the Council (or at least those making recommendations to it) felt able to appear to backdate its decision on this matter as though the Code was introduced on 1 July when it appears to have been prepared on 20th and not approved by the Council until 30th.

We do not believe it is possible for the Council to ‘backdate’ its approval like this.

Fylde may well try to bluff this out - to try and get away with it - as it did with the Leadership interregnum (on the basis that few are likely to formally challenge it), but that doesn't make what it has done right. It simply means it might get away with not being hauled over hot coals for what is yet another governance failure.

The proposals were moved by Councillor Eaves and seconded by Councillor Little.

The Council resolved:

1. To adopt the revised Code of Conduct set out in the appendix as the Council’s Code of Conduct for the purposes of section 27 (2) of the Localism Act 2011

2. To adopt the arrangements set out in paragraph 6.2 of the report as the Council’s arrangements under which allegations can be investigated and decisions on investigations can be made for the purposes of section 28 (6) of the Localism Act 2011

3. To agree that the Standards Committee commence the process for the appointment of independent person(s) and a report be submitted to Council in due course with recommendations.

4. To agree to adopt a Procedure Rule as set out in paragraph 3.4, to be added to the Constitution (Procedural Standing Orders for Council and Committees).

5. To authorise the Monitoring Officer to continue discussions with the Monitoring Officer of Blackpool Council in relation to the shared use of independent persons and reciprocal arrangements for investigations.

6. That the Monitoring Officer prepare and maintain a new register of members interests to comply with the requirements of the Localism Act 2011and the Council’s code of conduct and ensure that it is available for inspection and publication, as required by the Act.

7. That the Monitoring Officer ensures that all members are informed of their duty to register interests.

8. Subject to the approval of the above recommendations, to agree that the Monitoring Officer be authorised to amend the Constitution accordingly.

The second point of Cllr Eaves’ resolution above purports to put the necessary arrangements in place to investigate and decide on complaints.

It refers to Paragraph 6.2 of the new arrangements.

At 6.2.2, those arrangements say 'That the Monitoring Officer be given delegated powers, after consultation with the Independent Person, to determine whether a complaint merits formal investigation and to arrange such investigation.' (NB: That’s our emboldening)

But the council did not appoint an Independent Person, not even a transitional one, (at least not until 6 months later).

It was therefore not possible for the Council (or anyone accused) to consult with someone who did not exist until they were appointed six months later.

It's possible Fylde knew this and either decided not to investigate some complaints, or it may have held them in abeyance until the Independent Person was properly appointed. We understand that is what happened at Fylde. But it's equally possible some were considered for investigation and perhaps actually investigated when there was no authority to do so, and even if that didn’t happen at Fylde it may have happened in councils elsewhere.

So in our view, although Fylde approved a code of Conduct on 30th July, it could not have made the necessary 'Arrangements' for that code to function under the Act and Order until it had appointed an 'Independent Person' - and the meeting on 30th July had only approved *consideration* of such an appointment by the Standards Committee.

They would have to bring the matter as a recommendation back to another meeting of the Full Council (because only Full Council can appoint the Independent Person).

We firmly believe the Council's arrangements - as proposed and adopted on 30th July could not have effect without that Independent Person having been appointed.

This begets the question as to whether Fylde's Standards regime could function at all if it had no arrangements to do so in place.

Frankly, we think the whole thing had become a mess.

At Council on 3 December 2012, there were several reports concerning governance, but none to appoint an Independent Person.

One, however further clarified some of the arrangements for dealing with matters relating to alleged member misconduct.

We wonder if this might have been because there was something of an uncertainty about when the ‘Independent Person’ must be involved.

We’d read the legislation to say they had to be involved before the council makes a decision on an allegation, but it’s not clear whether that means before it considers an allegation to see if an investigation is warranted, or once an investigation has been decided to be necessary, or once an investigation has been undertaken but before any sanction is decided.

Furthermore, none of this addresses the stage at which the ‘Independent Person’ should be made available to the ‘accused’ (eg is it as soon as they are notified of the allegation?, or when a decision to investigate has been made?, or at the conclusion of the investigation before sanction?, or some other time)

Fylde clarified its own view of the matter of consultation at its meeting of 3 December 2012 where it agreed a three stage approach

Firstly there was an optional, permissiory one ‘That the Monitoring Officer should seek resolution of complaints without formal investigation wherever practicable (this may include consultation with the independent person, if deemed necessary) and that she be given discretion to refer recommendations on investigation to the Standards Committee where she feel that it is inappropriate for her to take the decision and to report periodically on the discharge of this function’

And secondly, a mandatory one ‘That should the Monitoring Officer be considering whether a complaint merits formal investigation, this must involve consultation with an independent person’

Thirdly they agreed a mandatory and conditional one: ‘Where the investigation finds evidence of a failure to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Monitoring Officer after consultation with an independent person be authorised to seek local resolution to the satisfaction of the complainant in appropriate cases,…’

The second and third of these require Fylde’s consultation with the ‘Independent Person’ to take place when considering whether to undertake an investigation, and again after an investigation but before an outcome.

So by now, although the Code of Conduct, and the approach to undertake investigations were in place, there was still no Independent Person appointed who could be consulted.

So we do not believe Fylde had ‘Arrangements’ (as defined by Section 28 of the Localism Act) fully in place by 3 December 2012

It was not until Council of 28th January 2013 (6 months after the deadline date of 1 July 2012) that the Full Council considered a report recommending that they appoint three Independent Persons, as a shared resource with Blackpool Council, for a three year period running to 30 January 2016 and to appoint a former Independent member of Fylde’s previous Standards Board as an ‘Independent Person’ for a period running up to 30 June 2013.

This 3rd December report (correctly) concludes that "The legislation dictates that the actual appointment must be a decision undertaken by Council itself. Accordingly, this report is brought to Council for it to appoint the four candidates."

What this means is that (except for complaints which, by 1 July 2012 have been investigated by or on behalf of a Councils Monitoring Officer, AND had been referred to the Council's Standards Committee, which were, from 1 July required to be dealt with under the Council's new arrangements, without a power to impose a suspension), complaints made between 1 July 2012, when the former regime was ended and - in Fylde's Case, 28 January 2013 when its new Arrangements were said to be fully in place, had fallen into the Standard's Black Hole we referred to earlier.

Given the absence of the (legally required) Independent Person for the 'accused' to consult for advice, and the legal requirement for the Independent person to advise the Council before any action was taken (Section 28(7) of the Act requires local authorities to appoint at least one independent person to advise the council before it makes a decision on an allegation), and Fylde’s own requirement for mandatory consultation if their Monitoring Officer is simply *considering* whether a complaint merits formal investigation, we believe that none of the decisions taken on complaints received and considered for investigation by Fylde - and concerning FBC councillors or any of Fylde's Parish and Town Councils - between 1 July 2012 and 28 Jan 2013 could be valid.

This is because Complaints about councillor conduct could not be dealt with under the old Standards system - because that was abolished on 1 July 2012. They could not be investigated and determined under the new one - because Fylde did not have the Arrangements in place to permit lawful determination of such complaints until at last 28 January 2013.

So complaints during this period must either have been accepted but could not be investigated, or they should not have been accepted at all.

We know that from April 2012 to 6 November 2012 there were nine complaints received by FBC. (At present, we can't tell how many of these were already in the pipeline, and which (if any) of the nine were received after 1 July).

Three of these related to Borough councillors and six to Parish councillors. The transgressions alleged comprised: 2 for failure to treat others with respect; 4 for bringing authority into disrepute, and 3 regarding interests

Some of these had, by 6th November 2012 been closed by the Monitoring Officer, but 'a number' were still on-going.

'Some' were said to have been held in abeyance until the appointment of an independent person with whom the Monitoring Officer could confer, but again no detail of the dates and cases is provided in the agenda or minutes of the Standards Committee so it is not possible to identify when and which.

We also know that during the year-and-a-bit from 6th November 2012 to 9th October 2013, a further 16 Complaints were made. Again because no dates are given, we're not able to say how many of these were after 28 January 2013 when Fylde claimed to have regularised its position by appointing an 'Independent Person'

Five of these complaints were made against Borough Councillors, and eleven against Parish Councillors. The transgressions alleged comprise a total of: 4 for failure to treat others with respect; 6 for bringing the authority into disrepute, and 6 regarding interests.

So although (because of Fylde's somewhat secretive reporting system regarding Standards complaints), we can't tell which of these fell within the periods when Fylde was not operating with a new Code of Conduct and did not have proper 'Arrangements' in place, it is possible some were accepted and investigated when they should not have been, (and despite being told that at Fylde no matters were referred for investigation prior to the formal appointment of these independent persons in order that such conferrals could take place, we think we know of at least one case where there is a problem) so there may be some interesting times ahead.

We have admiration for councils that managed to comply in time, and have we some sympathy with Councils that were not able to move quickly enough to get their new Code of Conduct and ‘Arrangements’ in place by the deadline of 1 July 2012.

But we have less sympathy for those like Fylde where it took from 1 July 2012 until 28 January 2013 to complete the process.

It could be this delay stemmed from what we believe is the incorrect interpretation of the legislation (ie that Fylde thought it allowed them to carry on under the old Standards regime until the new one was adopted), when it did not.

We think this mistake could mean some or all cases between these dates will need to be reviewed, and some may need to be reconsidered.

We’ll keep an eye on what happens and keep our readers in touch.

Dated:   14 November 2013


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