Agenda for Standards Committee on Thursday 6th December, 2018, 7.00 pm | Westminster City Council
Agenda and minutes

Agenda for Standards Committee on Thursday 6th December, 2018, 7.00 pm

Agenda and minutes

Venue: Room 3.4, 3rd Floor, 5 Strand, London, WC2 5HR. View directions

Contact: Toby Howes, Senior Committee and Governance Services Officer  Tel: 020 7641 8470; Email:  thowes@westminster.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Membership

The Senior Committee and Governance Officer to report any changes to the membership.

Minutes:

1.1       It was noted that Asif Iqbal MBE had been appointed as an Independent Person on the Committee.

2.

Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations by Members and Officers of the existence and nature of any personal or prejudicial interests to matters on the agenda.

Minutes:

2.1       There were no declarations of interest.

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 154 KB

To sign the minutes of the meeting held on 5 July 2018.

Minutes:

3.1       RESOLVED:

 

            That the Minutes of the meeting held on 5 July 2018 be signed by the Chairman as a correct record of the proceedings.

4.

Review of the May 2018 Induction Programme and Member Development Update pdf icon PDF 111 KB

Report of the Member Services Manager.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

4.1       Janis Best (Member Services Manager) presented the report and referred to the lessons learnt from the two programmes. This included the need to ensure that Members be advised that the induction sessions should be prioritised in their diaries, especially in the case of newly elected Members. Janis Best suggested that Frontline Services be integrated into the main service led part of any future induction programme. It was also recommended that there be mandatory Code of Conduct and governance/safeguarding sessions and the service led induction sessions should commence two weeks after elections. Janis Best advised that a report would go to the Leader regarding the timetable for Member Development. A new session on IBC, the new payroll system, was also available for Members.

 

4.2       During discussions, Councillor David Boothroyd stated that Member attendance had been disappointing in some instances, although he noted that all Members booked for the Code of Conduct session had attended. He welcomed Governance and Safeguarding becoming mandatory sessions. Councillor Patricia McAllister expressed disappointment on the lack of new Members who had attended sessions and she felt there was a role for the Group Whips to play to ensure better attendance.

 

4.3       Councillor Danny Chalkley concurred that new Members should be attending more sessions and he welcomed the content of the Induction Programme and Member Development Programme. Councillor Jonathan Glanz also agreed that new Members should attend sessions. He commented that most professions had continuous professional development and the same should apply for councillors. He felt that it would be useful to keep a record of training undertaken by each Member.

 

4.4       Councillor Louise Hyams also expressed disappointment on the number of Members attending and she suggested that all Members should undertake first aid training. Asif Iqbal MBE (Independent Member) asked what time the sessions took place and whether there was equality and diversity training.

 

4.5       In reply to issues raised, Janis Best advised that there was a record of Members’ training on the Council’s website and she would look into whether first aid training could be offered to Members. Most training sessions took place during the evening, although some involving frontline services took place during the day. There were not yet any sessions on equality and diversity, although consideration was being given into putting together such sessions in future.

 

4.6       The Chairman welcomed the Induction Programme and Member Development Programme and commented that it was well organised. She suggested that new Members should be obliged to attend sessions that were considered to be of particular importance and this should be looked into further. The Chairman requested that consideration be given as to how to measure the effectiveness of the training received by Members to see if it led to improvements.

 

4.7       RESOLVED:

 

            That the contents of the report be noted.

5.

Use of Social Media pdf icon PDF 233 KB

Report of the Director of Law.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

5.1       Hazel Best (Principal Solicitor) introduced the report which followed on from a previous report at the last meeting on 5 July, where Members had considered an example of guidance on social media for members from another local authority. The update included proposed guidance for Members and a list of ‘dos and don’ts’.

 

5.2       During discussions, Councillor David Boothroyd welcomed the guidance and he felt the ‘dos and don’ts’ were set out clearly. In respect of the last bullet point on page 27 of the report, bullet point 4 under ‘Don’ts’, he suggested that this be made clearer and it was important that social media was not used to name individual officers. He also suggested that it be made clear that members’ own social media was not covered by the Council’s legal indemnity.

 

5.3       Councillor Patricia McAllister felt that the guidance used clear, straightforward language, although there could be further explanation with regard to ‘exercising caution.’ Councillor Danny Chalkey commented that the guidance was sound and encouraged Members to use common sense. Councillor Louise Hyams stated that social media could present an unpleasant aspect of what both councillors and officers could face.

 

5.4       Councillor Jonathan Glanz also felt the guidance offered sensible advice and queried what kind of protection the Council could offer where a councillor was being trolled, particularly where the troll was anonymous. He suggested that it also be spelt out that it was inappropriate for councillors to follow undesirable people on social media, including Twitter, as it would add credibility to such people, or to be linked to malicious sites that were defamatory and incited hatred. Asif Iqbal MBE (Independent Person) asked what steps were taken where councillors or officers were repeatedly victimised. He also suggested that ‘buzz’ words could be used to help reinforce messages in respect of Members’ use of social media.

 

5.5       In reply, Hazel Best advised that the Council could take action against those who abused councillors and officers on social media, and this had been done in the past. Tasmin Shawkat (Monitoring Officer) added that steps could be taken to help Members report such abuse and posts could be removed where the provider of the site in question was known. The Council could also report to the Police or to the web host in respect of repeated victimisation, although Tasnim Shawkat acknowledged this was more difficult where the attacks were anonymous.

 

5.6       The Chairman suggested that the list of ‘dos and don’ts’ be circulated on the Members bulletin on a regular basis, possibly every quarter, to publicise and remind members regarding use of social media. It could also be raised during Members’ development. A contact point should also be provided for members if they were encountering any issues on this matter.

5.7       Members agreed that bullet point 4 of ‘don’ts’ on the list of ‘dos and ‘don’ts’ also state that social media not be used to attack or insult Council staff whether in a person’s own name or anonymously.

 

5.8       RESOLVED:  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Gifts and Hospitality pdf icon PDF 174 KB

Report of the Director of Law.

Minutes:

6.1       Tasnim Shawkat (Monitoring Officer) presented the report and drew Members’ attention to the recommendations proposed. The recommendations including noting that the Cabinet has requested that the guidance to Members involved in planning decisions be restated and that a further update on this issue would be brought to this Committee. The report also included a recommendation to note that Members need to pay particular attention to gifts and hospitality if there is a perception of conflict, for example, in the context of planning decisions.

 

6.2       Tasnim Shawkat advised Members that the Chief Executive had instructed Planning Advisory Services (PAS) to undertake a review of the Council’s Development Management Service in May 2018. An internal audit was also undertaken to assist this process. PAS had been asked to consider the effectiveness of the Development Management Service, the role hospitality plays, the delivery of corporate objectives and outcomes, the Planning Committee system and decision making. The PAS report was presented to Cabinet in October 2018 and was publically available on the Council’s website for transparency. Tasnim Shawkat then referred to the key findings of the PAS review as set out in section 4 of the report.

 

6.3       Tasnim Shawkat informed the Committee that she had been involved in correspondence with the public in respect of the PAS review and also regarding a recent investigation into a Member’s conduct following their own self-referral. Tasnim Shawkat welcomed the public’s views on the planning process and stated that she set out her role as Monitoring Officer to them, which included assessing whether there had been breaches in the Code of Conduct.  In respect of the investigation of an individual member, she emphasised the importance of remaining within the remit of the investigation. Planning decisions were subject to appeal mechanisms, including judicial reviews. The role of the Monitoring Officer did not include reviewing the planning decisions themselves, which was a matter for the Planning Inspectorate or the Court.

 

6.4       The Chairman then invited the Committee to comment. Baroness Julia Neuberger (Independent Person) welcomed the recommendations in the report but felt that consideration needed to be given as to whether they went far enough and could be made more robust. She suggested that the Committee could consider if it should make any recommendations on what standards should be for the Council in respect to gifts and hospitality.

 

6.5       Councillor David Boothroyd stated that the PAS review had highlighted that there was a perception that high standards of conduct were not always being promoted. He emphasised the importance of ensuring that policy did not impact negatively when reported by the press.

 

6.6       Councillor Patricia McAllister, in referring the to the investigation of the individual member, queried the wisdom of him chairing the Planning Committee over such a long period and why he had not been advised that the scale of the gifts and hospitality he had received was excessive and therefore that he should step down from his role.. She also asked whether his self-referral would possibly limit  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Independent Persons Update

The Senior Committee and Governance Officer to provide a verbal update.

Minutes:

7.1       The Chairman welcomed the appointment of Asif Iqbal MBE as an Independent Person on the Committee. Toby Howes (Senior Committee and Governance Officer) advised that the process of selecting candidates for the third Independent Person vacancy would commence in January 2019.

8.

Work Options and Work Programme pdf icon PDF 89 KB

Report of the Head of Committee and Governance Services.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

8.1       The Chairman requested that the annual report on complaints due to be considered at the next meeting also include a review of arrangements for dealing with complaints against councillors.

 

8.2       RESOLVED:

 

            That the Work Options and Work Programme be noted.

9.

Any Other Business The Chairman Considers Urgent

Minutes:

9.1       There was no other business.