Why are local politicians celebrating? The death of the hated Standards regime, that’s why!

The Localism Bill abolishes the mandatory Standards regime, put in place by the Local Government Act 2000, and replaces it with the freedom for councils to adopt a Voluntary Code of Conduct.

Before our councillors start popping the champagne corks, things are not as simple as that. The Localism Bill does not remove the obligation to act within the ‘Principles of Public Life’ and it will be interesting to see how those charged with the legal responsibility to ensure that Councillors private interests, do not conflict with their public duties, deal with these issues at the local level. Methinks, Richard Waller, is going to be busy?

Local Government Lawyer is a very useful resource not only to professionals but also to amateurs, such as the readership of this blog, helping us to hold those who are in power to account. This recent example, for which the author is grateful, is instructive.

See also: A plain English guide to the Localism Bill – Update.

Rob Foulds writes again on woeful RMBC website – FOI 372

Rob Foulds has enquired further when the promised improvements still do not work!

“Dear Mr Waller
For your advice the records of the Standards Committee Review Panel are still not appearing under the Council’s website page ‘Meetings, agendas and minutes’ in spite of your acceptance of the need for this to be the case.
It is noticeable however that the references on that web page, to the Standards Committee, have been altered since our previous correspondence and whilst links are offered to a would-be enquirer, these have been devised to result in the production of no useful information whatsoever.
This is the link to the page where I’m supposed to be able to find the records > http://moderngov.rotherham.gov.uk/ieListMeetings.aspx?CId=919&Year=2011 and you will see for yourself that there is nothing there of relevance to the Review Panel Hearings. In fact, why that page should offer me a link to Declarations of Interests, I really don’t know; furthermore it offers to provide me with the Interests of Cllr Cutts, for instance, and as you will know that should be (emphatically) “Mr Cutts”.
Yours sincerely
Robert Foulds”

Thanks to Rob Foulds, for keeping us updated on this particular saga. Anyone with a tale to tell on this issue, please tell us with a comment. Alternatively contact RikiLeaks  in confidence.

Rob Foulds probes further? FOI 372 – update on developments

Rob Foulds, has received a response from Richard Waller, I reproduce it below:

“On 27 September 2011 12:26, Waller, Richard <Richard.Waller@rotherham.gov.uk> wrote:

Dear Mr Foulds

I am writing in reply to your e-mail dated 15 September in which you state that you wish to make a formal complaint about the Council’s failure to make information about Standard Committee review panels freely and clearly available to the public.  You suggest that the Council has hidden this information from the public.  The reason is rather more mundane. 

 Save for written summaries, documentation in connection with meetings of the Standard Committee’s assessment and review panels is not available to the public by virtue of regulation 8 (application of the Local Government Act 1972) of the Standards Committee (England) Regulations 2008.  Regulation 8 (5) (a) of the 2008 Regulations disapplies Part VA (access to meetings and documents of certain authorities, committees and sub-committees) of the Local Government Act 1972 in relation to access to meetings and documents of the Standards Committee’s assessment and review panels.  Statutory guidance published by Standards for England explains why:  “Such meetings may have to consider unfounded and potentially damaging complaints about members, which it would not be appropriate to make public”.

However, in accordance with regulation 8 (5) (b) & (c) of the 2008 Regulations, a written summary of the hearing is published and can be found in the Standards Committee pages of the Council’s website in the Council and Democracy section under Standards Committee.  If you had clicked on that page you would have been able to access written summaries of assessment and review panel meetings (see the bottom of that page: Code of conduct complaints process – written summaries). 

 I agree however that the relevant page of the  Agenda, Reports, Minutes pages of the Council and Democracy section of the website should be cross-referenced to the Standards Committee page and shall arrange for this to be done.  I apologise for any inconvenience caused.    

If you are not satisfied with this internal review, you can appeal to the Information Commissioner. Contact details are: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire. SK9 5AF.  Telephone 01625 545700.  Alternatively go to www.ico.gov.org.

Kind regards

Richard Waller”

Clearly not content with this as an adequate response to his enquiry and replied in the following terms:

“Dear Mr Waller
The second-last paragraph of your response therefore agrees that my formal complaint is justified and you confirm that you will arrange to rectify the failings of Rotherham Council.
The analogy is simple: if I call in at Rotherham Library and seek a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I think it would be reasonable to find it in the classic fiction section thereof. And I would certainly not expect a librarian to ultimately advise me that it was “publicly available”  in the geography section, under Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, and thereafter provide me with an abstract explanation of why it was so filed.

In spite of your protestation of mundanity and voluminous quotes from various legislation, the real truth is that the records to which I refer, used to be filed under Agenda, Reports, Minutes and someone at Rotherham Council deliberately removed the records from that logical location and only after receiving a formal complaint, as usual, does your Authority decide to apply appropriate ‘standards’ of administration. By the way, there is still a major lack of information pertaining to the Standards Committee on the Agenda, Reports, Minutes web page.
Finally, it is notable that you have treated my formal complaint as an “internal review” of my original Freedom of Information request – again, the well-worn standard RMBC tactic of manipulation is employed. Surely to God, you must have realised by now that there are some members of the public who can see straight through your Authority’s manoeuvrings.
Yours sincerely

Robert Foulds”

Further developments on this FOI and others, visit The FOI Register.

Information kindly supplied by Rob Foulds, to whom we are grateful! Readers might like to have first go at highlighting the lessons this email exchange illuminates!