Whilst not strictly Pleasurama it is clear that dealing with the history of TDC's dealings with SFP and the public have an explanation in the lack of an open dialogue that is clear and transparent. This is apparent in this report which I reproduce in full and which will be debated on Thursday 21st 2013 in the Standards Committee.
1. Introduction and Background
1.1. The Localism Act 2011 changed the way in which complaints regarding the
behaviour and activities of elected Councillors were handled. In particular,
chapter 7 of the legislation sets out the responsibilities of Councils to
“…promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members…”. The
legislation disbanded the national Standards Board, and removed from
Councils formal sanctions that were available for breach of the Council’s
Code of Conduct.
1.2. Thanet District Council opted to retain a Standards Committee. Its remit is
reproduced on the Council’s website, and includes the following:
“To promote and maintain high standards of conduct by Members and coopted Members of the District Council and to make recommendations to
Council on improving standards”
This report is presented by the independent members of the Standards
Committee with this remit in mind.
1.3. There are four independent members of the Standards Committee of Thanet
District Council. Independent members of the Standards Committee are
drawn from the general public, and were appointed bythe Council following
recruitment campaigns. The current independent members of the Standards
Committee bring with them a wealth of experience, gained in professional
service and other arenas. This experience includes extensive management
and leadership gained both in the public and private sector, including District
Councils, membership of the local bench, and other voluntary organisations.
Independent members have also severally been trained in mediation and
have extensive experience of delivering training in a number of different
sectors. All the independent members of the Standards Committee aim to
utilise their experience in the service of the Council.
1.4. At a recent meeting of the independent members of the Standards Committee,
concern was raised regarding the conduct of councillors andthe perceptions
of that conduct by members of the public.
2. The Current Situation
2.1. Thanet District Council is a ‘hung’ council with a fine balance of power. This
political situation brings with it a number of practical challenges.
2.2. As a political organisation, it is not surprising that party politics are obvious,
not just in the debating chamber at Full Council, butalso in communications
between elected members and the local press, and in other fora including,
but not limited to, the use of social media (blogs, twitter, facebook and videoblogs (vlogs)).
2.3. The conviction of a former Councillor has had an adverse effect on the
perception of the Council in the mind of the public, and this presents
challenges for all members of the Council.
2.4. Recent decisions made by full Council have sought to control the ways in
which moving images of the Council’s meetings are produced and
disseminated. This has led to the ejection of a memberof the public from a
meeting of full Council.
2.5. Recent comments made by some Councillors towards members of the public
in public meetings have been less than respectful, and have led on occasion,
to the making of personal threats.
2.6. There have been suggestions that some Councillors have stated in public that
they intend not to comply with the democratically agreed decisions of the
Council, presumably in the full knowledge that there are no meaningful
sanctions that can be taken against them. While the independent members
of the Standards Committee have no doubt that these actions are taken with
the noblest of intentions, it does make a mockery of the rules of the Council
by which all Councillors are held to account and suggests that some
Councillors, at least, are not prepared to comply with the Code of Conduct.
2.7. There have been occasions on which Councillors have stated that they do not
intend to comply with the outcome of Standards hearings, again because
there are no meaningful sanctions that can apply.
2.8. It is suggested by the independent members of theStandards Committee that
the Council is held in low regard by the public. An,admittedly unscientific,
assessment of comments made (in the press, local bloggers, twitter,
personal conversations, by local interest groups etc) suggest that there is a
local suspicion of secrecy, corruption and distance between the Council as it
is perceived in the offices in Cecil Square, the reality of people’s lives and
the needs of the district.
2.9. Independent members of the Standards Committees have observed the
demeanour of Councillors within the Council chamber towards each other,
and towards members of the public. The perception of the independent
members of the Standards Committee is that of demonstrable distrust
between members, and between the councillors and the general public. On
some occasions this distrust has taken the form of outright hostility.
2.10. Independent members of the Standards Committee have witnessed many
personal attacks taking place between members during debates, and from
their position in the public gallery have heard the overwhelming view from
members of the public that the councillors are not serving the public by
whom they were elected. Indeed, attendance at Councilmeetings is seen by
some to be a form of entertainment.
2.11. Correspondence published in the local press, including official press releases
and the columns written by the leaders of the main political parties, include
personal attacks, between members, and on some occasions towards
individual members of the public.
2.12. The overall impression of the independent members of the Standards
Committee is of a Council whose members are distrustfulof each other, and
of the public. There appears to be a ‘siege mentality’, which in the view of
the independent members of the Standards Committee contributes to
behaviour which falls short of the Council’s stated aim of “high standards of
3. Standards Committee Input
3.1. Standards of behaviour are, and have been, subjects for discussion at the
Council’s Standards Committee at which there has been a general
consensus that some kind of action is necessary. However, the independent
members of the Standards Committee have seen little, if any, evidence that
this consensus is repeated outside the committee meeting. Certainly, no
changes in behaviour have been observed by the independent members of
the Standards Committee.
3.2. Independent members of the Standards Committee are of the strong opinion
that the low public perception of the Council is the responsibility of all the
members of the Council, and is not limited to those whose names and
profiles appear in the local media or those against whom complaints are
recorded. The Council has the appearance of a dysfunctional organisation
whose behaviour and internal squabbles adversely affect the delivery of
services, capital projects etc to the residents of the local district.
4.1. The independent members of the Standards Committee are of the mind that
this situation cannot be allowed to continue if Thanet District Council and its
Councillors are to be viewed as true leaders within the District. The
dominant view of the Council and its elected members must be rehabilitated
as a matter of urgency.
4.2. In particular, while the Council is a political organisation, by the very dint of
local politics and it being a creature of statute, its primary objective must be
the delivery of services to the district. Elected officials are accountable to the
public that they serve.
4.3. In order to be able to do this, it is the view of the independent members of the
Standards Committee that all Councillors should demonstrate respect in all
aspects of their work, including (but not limited to) their dealings with each
other, with Officers of the Council, and crucially with the public.
Demonstration of respect is, currently, lacking.
5.1. The Standards Committee is invited to consider the situation as above.
There are many options open to the Council to address such a situation,
including the use of external resources to review the efficiency and
effectiveness of the ways in which elected members conducttheir business.
However, such an option would entail financial considerations, which are not
realistic in the current financial climate.
5.2. The Committee may like to consider options as follows:
5.2.1. No action– that the current situation be allowed to continue. In the opinion
of the independent members of the Standards Committee, this option carries
considerable risk, both in the public perception of the Council, and in the
ability of the Council to deliver effectively its obligations to the public. This
option is not recommended by the independent members of the Standards
5.2.2. Action taken within political groups– that the leaders of political groups
take action to address the behaviour of their members. This option carries a
risk of a lack of consistency across the Council.
5.2.3. Training– that the Standards Committee consider the desirability of training
for all elected members of the Council. However, for training to be effective,
it is suggested by the independent members of the Standards Committee
that it should be compulsory. There are also financial implications associated
with this option, although some training can be delivered by resources
already within the Council.
I hope and pray that members of the Council take note of this report and don't assume it is all about Cllr Worrow and Cllr Driver. I have been at many meetings and listened to the points scoring, the reliance on old history and the fear that permeates the Chamber when past corruption is mentioned.
Thanet Council should be statesmen like and work TOGETHER for the people of Thanet not their own petty power plays