Agenda item

Ethical Standards

Minutes:

Matthew Boulter presented the report and requested the committee allow officers to refresh the Member code of conduct to bring it up to date with modern expectations and bring it in line with the Local Government Association model code of conduct. As part of the refresh officers would look at introducing a social media protocol to provide guidance for Members and officers, as well as a refresh of the Member/Officer Protocol and the potential to introduce a Member/Member protocol.

 

Councillor Collins referred to Appendix 3 and questioned whether any further complaints had been received and questioned what action would be taken on those. Matthew Boulter stated this was all that had been reported and as Interim Monitoring Officer he would work to resolve such complaints with the parties concerned. There were few sanctions the Council could apply if a member was found to have broken the code but the Standards and Audit Committee was the appropriate forum to present any breaches of that code. The aim of the report was to refresh the code of conduct to help officers and Members understand the parameters on how best to work with each other and how to set a good quality of overall behaviour.

 

Councillor Collins referred to the social media protocol and questioned what points would be considered as part of this, to which Matthew Boulter stated the protocol in Thurrock was slightly outdated with no guidance for members or officers on how members could be protected on how they act or were presented on social media. The legal team would be working on the protocol which would set out how members should conduct themselves on social media. Members training on social media would be arranged for the new municipal year to help members gain skills on how to deal with and navigate challenging or aggressive comments on social media.  

 

Councillor Carter welcomed the proposed refresh of the code of conduct.

 

Councillor Snell agreed the proposed refresh was overdue and when members were elected they would have been made aware of the standards of conduct that they should follow. There needed to be a suitable forum or local sanctions put in place for those members who breached the code. The Committee commented that some Members were also using their personal social media accounts to comment on council business, which they wondered might be addressed in the refresh if permitted by law. Matthew Boulter suggested this committee was the forum to consider any member behaviour to which the committee agreed to add an item “Member Complaints Update” to the work programme on an annual basis.

 

Councillor Snell agreed that the LGA recommendation was the best way forward to also learn from other local authorities but reiterated there had to be better sanctions in place for those members who continued to challenge their code of conduct.

 

Charles Clarke questioned whether there were any longer-term plans, apart from training, to set up single social media accounts for members to which Matthew Boulter stated he felt it would be up to individual members on how they wished to present themselves on social media either through their council or personal social media accounts. He stated Legal colleagues would be able to comment via the refresh whether the Council could require Members to present themselves in an official capacity online.  

 

Councillor Raper stated that if a code of conduct was drawn up for social media a requirement could be that member’s personal social media account should not be used for council business. Matthew Boulter stated there was the local legal power to set those expectations and these could be presented to committee members and full council for their decision.

 

Councillor Collins referred to the social media policy and questioned how members could be protected from continued harassment and abuse online to which Matthew Boulter stated his intention would be to build some resilience amongst members through a training tool-kit to help them navigate social media conversations

 

Councillor Kent welcomed the report and commented this committee should have the opportunity to see the policy before the report was presented to full council and stated she had not met or been introduced to the previous two monitoring officers and felt that this should be done to build trust and approachability.

 

RESOLVED

 

1.       The committee consider the LGA model Councillor Code of Conduct as set out in Appendix 1 and consider recommending to Council that this is adopted.

 

2.       The committee consider asking the Monitoring Officer to develop a social media policy which should be adopted at the same time as the model code of conduct.

 

3.       The Monitoring Officer to review the current process for handling member code of conduct complaints and the protocol for Member/officer relations and advise on any changes which should be made.

 

4.       Note the contents and actions to be taken as set in the exempt Appendix 3.

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