Agenda item

Code of Conduct for Councillors - 6 monthly Update

To enable the committee to be assured that high standards of conduct continue to be promoted and maintained. To provide an overview of how the arrangements for dealing with complaints are working together.



The Head of Legal Services (HLS) introduced the report the following points were highlighted:


1.     The number of code of conduct (COC) complaints had been reducing since 2021 but the first 6 months of 2023 had generated 29 complaints, being almost the same number of complaints as the previous year. However it was explained that figures had been skewed by a set of complaints received relating to one parish council

2.     60% of complaints had been registered by residents with 34% of complaints having been registered by parish and town councillors. This was deemed disappointing as this scheme is meant to be in place primarily for members of the public. 

3.     80% of complaints related to parish and town councils which was unsurprising given the large numbers of parish councils Herefordshire comprises. It was noted almost 50% of all complaints related to a single parish council.

4.     70% of all complaints included disrespect and 20% of the complaints related to a failure to disclose an interest. It was highlighted that it did not mean all these complaints had been upheld but advice to members was to be mindful about how they perform their role and to disclose any interest even if it did not amount to a DPI or NRI.

5.     There had been 2 breaches of the COC relating to Councillors at Bartestree with Lugwardine Parish council during the period. Since the report was published the monitoring officer had received an update from the council who could confirm they had noted the monitoring officer’s recommendations and they now considered the matter as being closed.

6.     Members attention was drawn to ”Appendix 1 Historic Complaints per Parish Council” were it was noted 62% of all complaints related to just 6 parish and town councils with only 2 having had complaints in this year.

7.     Key Performance Indicators were currently in an early form as there had not been any dates captured before the current administrative year. Currently there are two captured indicators, time for initial assessment which was noted had reduced from an average of 61 days in March 2023 to 15 days in October 2023 and time for independent person response which currently on average is 1.7 days which is considered to be exceptional. It was noted that further data collection such as information in relation to the outcomes of recommendations provided to councils and the type of the complaint such as a planning or finance matter would be provided in the future. 

8.     A review of the code of conduct process was currently underway.

9.     A new governance paralegal was starting who would be a dedicated resource for COC.


In response to committee questions, it was noted:

        I.         The HLS agreed there is a high bar in relation to discussions had between members themselves and is considerably lower for any conversations with officers and members of the public. The courts had constantly disappointed with their judgments on what councillors can say amongst themselves as part of political discourse and in relation to an infringement of article 10 freedom of expression.

       II.         The HLS explained that the bar was the same between county and parish councillors and personal opinion was that there is higher demand on the chairperson but the duty is on all members to ensure that each member conducts themselves in an acceptable way and should treat each other with the respect they deserve.

     III.         The HLS explained that previously members of the legal department would handle COC as and when they arose but this would be conducted around other priorities that their lawyers had within their workload. The team have now freed up money to appoint a single member of staff who predominantly oversees the administrative arrangements for code of conduct and can ensure these matters are dealt with expeditiously.

    IV.         The Independent person (IP) explained up until a few years ago, there had been a dedicated member of staff who was managing the administration and gave his support for this post having been reinstated.

      V.         In relation to the number of complaints having been submitted by parish and town councillors, it was mentioned that training or recommendations could be suggested but this would be looked at again in the future once there was more comparison data.

    VI.         The HLS confirmed the changes to the standards panel as recommended by the Audit and Governance Committee on 12 December 2023 would be included on the agenda for the Council meeting on 8 March 2024.

   VII.         The HLS confirmed the review and simplifying of the existing COC arrangements was well underway and Cllr Woodall agreed to be the delegated member to be an early consultee on the changes.

 VIII.         The IP explained there are four IP’s appointed under the terms of the Localism Act, all are committed to supporting this service and highlighted that none of them wish to be or are remunerated to act in this position.

    IX.         The IP was not surprised and would expect to see a rise in the number of complaints coming in due to this being an election year.

      X.         The IP was in support of the inclusion of the “types of the complaints” for reporting and mentioned that having previously looked at this a third of complaints were related to planning applications.

    XI.         The IP confirmed after a period of significant change in the composition of the legal function in the council, in terms of administration the IP’s are now content that they are receiving the level of support and engagement that they should be for conducting this function.

   XII.         The IP explained that currently they work in pairs on a 3 month rolling basis but there were ongoing discussions with themselves and the HLS how that might work in the future.



That the Committee:

a) noted the 6 monthly update on the Code of Conduct complaints arrangements; and

b) Cllr Woodall was delegated to be the member of the Committee to be an early consultee on the changes to be recommended on the Code of Conduct arrangements (investigation process) as set out in paragraph 7 to 9 of this report.


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