Agenda item

Review of various corporate governance related matters


Arising from a number of concerns raised by councillors since the 2019 elections in relation to ethical standards, communications, and transparency, the Committee at its meeting in November 2019 established a cross-party task group, including a co-opted parish representative and an independent member of this Committee, with a wide remit to consider, review and make recommendations in respect of these matters.


The Committee considered a report on the review by the Task Group, including its recommendations, of:


(a)   the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, including the policy on acceptance of gifts and hospitality by councillors;

(b)   the 15 Best Practice recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) contained within its Report on Local Government Ethical Standards (January 2019); and

(c)   the Council’s guidance on the use of social media by councillors;


In reviewing the Code, the Task Group considered those Best Practice Recommendations suggested by the CSPL (nos.1 to 5), which were directly relevant to codes of conduct, notably Recommendation 1:


“Local authorities should include prohibitions on bullying and harassment in codes of conduct. These should include a definition of bullying and harassment, supplemented with a list of examples of the sort of behaviour covered by such a definition”.


In addition, following research by officers, the Task Group reviewed examples of other councils’ codes of conduct particularly in respect of matters covered by other codes which were not currently included in Guildford’s.


In considering the revised Code, the Task Group has tried to avoid being overly prescriptive.  The CSPL in its report acknowledges that codes of conduct “cannot be written to cover every eventuality and attempts to do so may actually make codes less effective. They should therefore not be ‘legalistic’ in tone, or overly technical in style.”  However, the Task Group were also keen to encourage robust challenge from councillors provided always that, in so doing, they conduct themselves in a respectful manner.


Following consideration of proposed revisions to the Code of Conduct, which now include:


·       a definition of “bullying” and “harassment” and examples of behaviour covered by such definitions,

·       a new requirement for councillors to register and declare non-pecuniary interests, and

·       revisions to the section of the Code dealing with Gifts and Hospitality


the Task Group agreed to consult all borough councillors and all parish councils on the proposed revisions.  The consultation took place from 5 March to 31 May 2020.   Summaries of the responses received from councillors and parish councils were appended to the report.


The Task Group met on 24 June 2020 to consider the responses and made further revisions to the Code.  A copy of the revised draft Code of Conduct, as now proposed by the task group, was also appended to the report.

In reviewing the Social Media Guidance for Councillors, the Task Group had noted that the increasing prevalence of social media in our personal and professional lives, whilst hugely beneficial on the one hand by enabling instant engagement and communication (and re-communication) of information and opinion, could also, if used improperly by councillors, lead to Code of Conduct complaints.


As the Council first introduced guidance on the use of social media by councillors in 2014, the opportunity had been taken to review the guidance in light of changing social media trends and increasing usage.  


The revised version of the guidance, as recommended by the Task Group was also appended to the report.


The Task Group had also considered each of the 15 Best Practice Recommendations proposed by the CSPL.  This included an assessment of the extent to which the Council currently complied with the recommendations and commentary on actions the Council could take to ensure future compliance.  As some of the Best Practice Recommendations were directly relevant to parish councils, the Task Group agreed to consult all parish councils in that regard as part of its consultation on the proposed revisions to the Code of Conduct. 


Having considered the Task Group’s recommendations, the Committee




(1)    That the Council, at its meeting on 6 October 2020, be requested to adopt the following recommendations:


(i)      That the draft revised Councillors’ Code of Conduct, as set out in Appendix 3 to the report submitted to the Committee, be adopted and implemented with immediate effect (CSPL Best Practice Recommendations 1 and 2 refer).


(ii)     That parish councils in the borough be invited to consider adopting at the earliest opportunity the revised Code of Conduct set out in Appendix 3, with such modifications as they deem necessary.


(iii)    That the Monitoring Officer be authorised to prepare, maintain and make available for inspection at the Council’s offices and online a revised register of councillors’ interests to comply with the requirements of the Localism Act 2011 and of the Council’s revised code of conduct.


(iv)   That the Council agrees that the code of conduct should normally be reviewed every four years during the year following the Borough Council Elections, with any such review involving formal consultation with parish councils within the borough (CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 3 refers).


(v)    That the Council’s Arrangements for Dealing with Allegations of Misconduct by Councillors (“the Arrangements”) be amended as follows:


(a)    paragraph 7.3 (g) iii) to read: “Whether the complaint appears to be trivial, malicious, vexatious, politically motivated or ‘tit-for-tat’”;


(b)    paragraph 7.4 (6) to read: “The complaint appears to be trivial, malicious, vexatious, politically motivated or ‘tit-for-tat’”;


(c)     paragraph 7.10 to read: “The decision of the Monitoring Officer, or Assessment Sub-Committee (as the case may be) shall be recorded in writing, and a decision notice will be sent to the Complainant and the Subject Member within 10 working days of the decision. The Independent Person shall be given the option to review and comment on allegations which the Monitoring Officer (or Assessment Sub-Committee) is minded to dismiss as being without merit, vexatious, or trivial. The decision notice will summarise the allegation, give the decision of the Monitoring Officer or Assessment Sub-Committee, and the reasons for their decision. There is no right of appeal against the decision of the Monitoring Officer or Assessment Sub-Committee.”; and


(d)    Substitute the following in place of paragraph 31 of Appendix 3 to the Arrangements (Procedure and Powers of the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee and Hearings Sub-Committee): “The Monitoring Officer will also arrange for a decision notice to be published as soon as possible on the Council’s website, including a brief statement of facts, the provisions of the code engaged by the allegations, the view of the Independent Person, the reasoning of the decision-maker, and any sanction applied..”


(CSPL Best Practice Recommendations 2, 8, and 9 refer).


(vi)   That no change be made to the Arrangements in respect of CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 6: that councils should publish a clear and straightforward public interest test against which allegations are filtered.


(vii)  That the Council notes that the role of the Monitoring Officer includes providing advice, support and management of investigations and adjudications on alleged breaches to parish councils within the remit of the principal authority, and agrees that the Monitoring Officer should be provided with adequate training, corporate support and resources to undertake this work (CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 12 refers).


(2)    That the Executive, at its meeting on 22 September 2020, be requested to adopt the following recommendations:


(i)       That the draft revised Social Media Guidance for Councillors, as set out in Appendix 4 to the report submitted to the Committee, be adopted.


(ii)      That the Council should report on separate bodies it sets up or which it owns (e.g. Guildford Borough Council Holdings Limited and North Downs Housing Limited) as part of the annual governance statement, and that such bodies should abide by the Nolan principle of openness and publish their board agendas and minutes and annual reports in an accessible place (CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 14 refers).


(3)    That the Council’s code of conduct be readily accessible to both councillors and the public in a more prominent position on the Council’s website and available for inspection at the Council offices (CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 4 refers).


(4)    That, notwithstanding the duty of all councillors to ensure that their register of interests (including gifts and hospitality) is kept up to date, the Democratic Services and Elections Manager be requested to prompt councillors to review their register of interests on a quarterly basis (CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 5 refers).


(5)    That the Committee notes that, by having a shared pool of seven Independent Persons jointly appointed by Guildford and six other Surrey councils for the four-year period 2019-23, the Council complies fully with CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 7: Local authorities should have access to at least two Independent Persons.


(6)    That the Monitoring Officer be requested to provide an indicative estimate of timescales for investigations and outcomes within the guidance on the Council’s website in respect of making a complaint under the Councillors’ Code of Conduct (CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 10 refers).


(7)    That the Committee agrees that CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 11: “Formal standards complaints about the conduct of a parish councillor towards a clerk should be made by the chair or by the parish council as a whole, rather than the clerk in all but exceptional circumstances” is a matter for individual parish councils, but that there should be no impediment for a clerk to make a formal complaint about the conduct of a parish councillor.


(8)    That should there be the need for assistance to a Parish Council in dealing with a conduct issue on the part of the Clerk, the Monitoring Officer could assist in this regard by offering advice, support, and guidance.


(9)    That the Councillor Development Steering Group be requested to look at extending training opportunities to parish councils wherever possible and encouraging parish councillors’ attendance at any such opportunities in the future.


(10)That the Committee notes that by having procedures already in place in the Council’s Arrangements to address any conflicts of interest that might arise when undertaking a standards investigation, the Council complies fully with CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 13.


(11)That the Committee notes that by having frequent meetings with political group leaders where the Managing Director is able to discuss various matters including, where necessary, ethical standards issues, the Council complies fully with CSPL Best Practice Recommendation 15.



·       To address various corporate governance and ethical standards related concerns raised by councillors.

·       To address the 15 Best Practice Recommendations of the Committee on Standards in public Life in their report Local Government Ethical Standards (January 2019)




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