Information related to Standards Commission Ruling related to councillors in Midlothian

Andrew Hardie made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Standards Commission for Scotland

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

Roedd y cais yn rhannol lwyddiannus.

Dear Professor Kevin Dunion,

I write this letter under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request the following information in relation to the cases LA/Mi/2166 & LA/Mi/2169 on 09/05/2019;

1. The basis on which it is considered improper for councillors to meet with parties in relation to planning objections.

2. Was any consideration given to advice which was given to councillors from Midlothian Council in regards to how they carry out their duties in relation to planning, did Standards Commission Scotland receive a copy of any advice given to Councillors in Midlothian.

3. Please provide information of costs incurred in relation to the aforementioned cases including the total final cost and a breakdown of costs.

4. Please provide copies of correspondence between Midlothian Council Officers and members of the Standards Commission Scotland in regards to the cases, including correspondence providing background details.

5. Please provide any other correspondence related to these cases including with parties who are not Midlothian Council Officers.

6. It has been advised that a Councillor was bullied and felt intimidated as part of these proceedings, if this was contained in a minute please provide this including any minutes that make reference to individuals being admonished for their language or manner of speech.

7. Please provide any communication between members of Standards Commission Scotland and members of the Dalkeith Tennis club which would indicate a relationship that was not purely linked to the aforementioned cases.

8. Please provide information that clarifies if Standards Commission Scotland were aware that this related to a retrospective planning application and that this was within a conservation area .

Yours faithfully,

Andrew Hardie

SCS Enquiries, Standards Commission for Scotland

Dear Mr Hardie

I am in receipt of your email of 16 May 2018 addressed to Professor Dunion and am responding on his behalf.

1. It is not improper for councillors to meet with parties, including objectors, in relation to planning applications. The two Respondents at the Hearing in question were not found to have breached the Code on that basis. I would refer you to the written decisions, which are available on the website at https://www.standardscommissionscotland.....

2. The Standards Commission did not request, or receive, a copy of any advice given by Midlothian Council to councillors about how they carry on their duties in relation to planning, therefore this information is not held. It was not considered necessary to seek this information to determine whether the Respondents had breached the Code as alleged.

The Respondents and / or their solicitor could have chosen to lodge any such advice as a production, should they have considered it appropriate or helpful to do so.

3. The costs associated with holding this Hearing are not yet fully known by the Standards Commission. It may assist you if I explain why this is the case. Hearing Panel Members are paid an hourly rate of £33.68 and are also reimbursed for any travel costs. They are expected to submit claim forms on a monthly basis. In this case we have not yet received claim forms from all three Members of the Hearing Panel. The information below provides a breakdown of all costs incurred by the Standards Commission as at the date of your enquiry.

Item Cost (£)
Members’ hourly rate claims*§ 1358.31
Members’ travel costs* 53.40
Staff travel costs* 21.60
Total 1433.31

* While the costs above have been incurred, to date they have not been paid. This are paid, at the end of month after receipt, through the payroll.

§ This sum does not include the Employers’ National Insurance contribution, which will be due to be paid by the Standards Commission through the payroll.

4. The only correspondence between officers of Midlothian Council and the Standards Commission in regard to the cases are letters and emails based on our standard templates and sent by the Commission to the Council’s Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer advising them that a Hearing would be held, the dates and venue of the Hearing and informing them of the decisions made. There was also administrative correspondence about the venue, including arrangements for how the room was to be set up, parking and catering.

I am unable to provide copies of all the correspondence referred to in the paragraph above with this response as the attachment is too large to send via our IT system as this is a very large file. I can send copies of this correspondence either as photocopies or saved to a USB flash drive. To enable me to provide you with copies of this correspondence, should this still be required, it would be helpful if you could please confirm what format you would prefer to receive the information together with a postal address to enable me to complete the action requested.

There was no correspondence with Midlothian Council officers about the provision of background details, therefore this information is not held.

5. The Standards Commission notified the complainers of the date, time and venue for the Hearing and sent them copies of the written decision.

In addition, the Standards Commission also exchanged correspondence with the Respondents and their representatives, and the Ethical Standards Commissioner.

I am unable to provide copies of the correspondence with this response as the attachments are too large to send via our IT system. I can send copies of this correspondence either as photocopies or saved to a USB flash drive. To enable me to provide you with copies of this correspondence, should this still be required, it would be helpful if you could please confirm what format you would prefer to receive the information together with a postal address to enable me to complete the action requested.

Please note that I may be unable to release any correspondence from the Respondents and their representatives, and the Ethical Standards Commissioner that was lodged and included as a production at the Hearing as this is covered by a FOISA exemption under Section 37: Court Records etc. FOISA Section 37(1)(b)(i) states that information is exempt information if it is contained in a document lodged with, or otherwise placed in the custody of, a person conducting an inquiry. Section 37(2) of FIOSA states that an “inquiry” as provided for in Section 37(1)(b)(i) means an inquiry or hearing held under provisions contained in, or made under, an enactment. Hearings are conducted by the Standards Commission under section 16(b) of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Act 2000.

6. No minute of the Hearing was made, therefore this information is not held. The Hearing decisions are a record of the evidence and submissions led and made. I would refer you to the written decisions, which are available on the website at https://www.standardscommissionscotland.....

The Standards Commission has received no indication or notification either during the Hearing or subsequently that any councillor involved was bullied and / or felt intimidated as a result of it. I would ask you to note that all councillors involved were legally represented at the Hearing.

The Standards Commission would take any allegation of bullying and intimidation very seriously.
The Standards Commission’s service charter can be found on Standards Commission’s website at https://www.standardscommissionscotland..... Details of how to make a complaint can be found here https://www.standardscommissionscotland..... You will note that you are entitled to make a complaint on behalf of someone else.

7. There has been no communication between members of the Commission and members of Dalkeith Tennis Club and, accordingly, no information is held by SCS.

No Standards Commission Members have a relationship with Dalkeith Tennis Club. The Standards Commission takes any allegations of impropriety seriously. If you have any concerns that there was improper conduct by any Member of the Standards Commission, and any evidence of this, please contact the Executive Director, Lorna Johnston, as a matter of urgency.

8. Information that the matter related to a partially retrospective planning application for premises located within a conservation area was contained within the report referred to the Standards Commission on 31 January 2019 by the Ethical Standards Commissioner. This report was lodged and included as a production at the Hearing as, therefore, is exempt information under Section 37(1)(b)(i) of FIOSA.

I look forward to hearing from you about the provision of copies of the correspondence referred to in response to questions 5 and 6 above.

If you are dissatisfied with the way I dealt with your request for information you are entitled to ask for a review of my decision. Your request for a review should be submitted within 40 working days of receipt of this email to:
Ms Lorna Johnston
Executive Director
Standards Commission for Scotland
T2.21, Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP.
[email address]

If following receipt of the response to your request for a review you remain unhappy with the decision you can submit an appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner at Kinburn Castle, Doubledykes Road, St Andrews Fife, KY16 9DS or by submitting an appeal directly through the Commissioner ‘s website using www.itspublicknowledge.info/Appeal.

Elaine McLean
Business Manager
Standards Commission for Scotland
Tel: 0131 348 6666
DD: 0131 348 6665
www.standardscommissionscotland.org.uk

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