Agenda item

Draft Gloucestershire Code of Conduct for Councillors

The Committee is asked to note the progress made and agree the content of that draft as the basis for consultation with County Councillors during August and September. 


Rob Ayliffe, Monitoring Officer presented the report and requested Committee's agreement to consult with members of the Council on the text of a draft Gloucestershire Councils’ Councillor Code of Conduct.


The Committee were advised that the Councillor Code of Conduct was a key element of the Council’s Corporate Governance Framework.  The purpose of the Code was to ensure that Councillors understood their individual role in maintaining high standards of conduct, to ensure that such standards were maintained at all times, and to allow action to be taken when breaches of the Code occurred.


It was recognised the Council’s current Code of Conduct had been in place and had remained unchanged, when it was introduced in response to the Localism Act 2011 which abolished the previous regime.  It had been reviewed on an annual basis by this committee but has remained unchanged. 


In 2019, a national review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) on the content of local Codes of Conduct and recommended that the LGA develop a common model Code of Conduct that Councils that Authorities could use as a mode and adopt and/or adapt to suit their circumstances.  The LGA accepted this recommendation, and completed work on a Model Code of Conduct in December 2020, which had since been modified to correct a number of minor anomalies.  


In March 2021, as the body responsible for overseeing and reviewing this Council’s Code of Conduct for Councillors, Audit & Governance committee reviewed the draft LGA Model Code of Conduct.   It was recognised that, while the LGA Code of Conduct provided a helpful starting point, the early indications were that it would not be adopted wholesale by all of Gloucestershire’s District Councils.  Members at the time felt GCC's code of conduct was unhelpfully brief and adopted a high level code which focused on the principles of public life and the legal requirements. 


Over time the Monitoring Officer had come to the view that in some ways the broad principles were helpful but in others they weren't. In practice, in determining the merits of a complaint and given that the code principles were broad he had to look at precedents and other codes in order to take a view.  It was also misleading to members of the public in terms of the complaints process in that it gave them the impression that the code is broader than it can be in practice. 


It was explained there was previously support for a shared Code of Conduct with Gloucestershire’s District Councils with a view to achieving a common Code of Conduct across all tiers of local government in Gloucestershire. 


Members were advised that initial progress in drafting that code was hampered by a number of changes in those occupying the Monitoring Officer role in District Councils.  However, greater stability over the past few months had enabled significant progress to be made, resulting in a draft Code of Conduct which the Monitoring Officers of all 7 councils are happy to recommend to their authorities as the basis for further consultation. 


Members were advised that these potential benefits had been strengthened by the involvement of Gloucestershire Association of Parish and Town Councils (GAPTC).  It was noted while individual parishes are under no obligation to adopt a common Gloucestershire Code, GAPTC is extremely supportive of them doing so, as it would enable them to provide better advice, support and training. 


It was intended that the draft Code of Conduct was used as the basis for each council to consult with its members.  Each Council would determine how best to do that.  In the case of Gloucestershire County Council, with this committee’s agreement, the Monitoring Officer proposed to share the draft Code of Conduct with all members as soon as possible, and to seek written responses between now and the end of September.   It was noted that Members may wish to respond individually, or collectively through their political groups.


The Monitoring Officer explained he and his District counterparts would reconvene in September to consider the feedback received and produce a final draft which we will recommend to each Council for approval.  In Gloucestershire’s case, the process would be:

                      30 September – Audit & Governance Committee: to seek the                        committee’s support for the final draft

                      10 October – Constitution Committee: to seek the committee’s                      approval to recommend the final draft to County Council

                      9 November – County Council:  to seek agreement to adopt the                    Code of Conduct.


It was noted that some parishes had recently renewed their codes but Members would like the opportunity to read, compare and comment on the code. 


The Committee felt the draft was clearly an improvement on the current code but that gap in terms of scope and the reasonable public perception of member's behaviour in terms of their private and personal life puts them in conflict of the principles in the code.  The Monitoring Officer explained that the private life element was sometimes difficult and case law determined what was included in the code.   Members accepted that point but felt that some councillors could commit vexatious breaches that were matters of public concern.  The MO explained in some cases the code should work in accordance with the political group discipline measures. 


In response to a question, it was recognised that not all councils had elections at the same time, it would be for the Districts to decide when to implement the code.  However, it was noted that all Monitoring Officers were happy to take it through their appropriate processes.  The dilemma was that the 7 Primary Councils and 200+ Parishes would never align, so there was a need for give and take. Members were asked to differentiate between non-negotiable issues and enhancements in the code, in order to assist the Monitoring Officer.


During the discussion, it was suggested that Councillors who represent themselves as a resident, for example in the case of homes for Ukraine scheme and perhaps the code should include some guidance on this area, given the dividing line and not wanting to over step the mark.  The MO agreed to take the point on board and reminded members if ever they were unsure they should call him for advice to discuss the issue. 


Some members felt that governance could change on a daily basis and questioned what guidance was available.  The Nolan principles were referred to page 210, as that gave a comprehensive list of how to behave and the foundation which the code was built.  The MO explained there was an enhanced right of freedom of speech as a Councillor and this had been tested through the courts.  Members noted there was a fine line between freedom of speech and being offensive. 



Members questioned the word “unlawfully” under the rules of conduct, as defined in paragraph 4 (page 211 of the report).  It was explained that this point had been widely debated by the MO group.  It was included to distinguish between unlawful discrimination, and those occasions where it might be necessary for the Council to discriminate between those who were eligible for a service and those who were not. 


Members asked about the extent to which complaints were co-ordinated between the different tiers of council, particularly for those members who were dual or triple hatted.  The MO explained that it would depend on what capacity the Councillor was acting in when the complaint was made, and if necessary a complaint would be referred to another MO. 


In response to a question, it was noted that training workshops would be scheduled once the code had been adopted by the Council. 




That the committee noted the progress made on developing a draft Gloucestershire Councils’ Councillor Code of Conduct and agreed the content of the draft be shared as the basis for consultation with County Councillors during August and September.


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