Members conducting business meetings without officers present

Andrew McCulloch made this Freedom of Information request to Thanet District Council

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

The request was successful.

Dear Thanet District Council,

On 7th October 2016 I emailed The Chief Executive, Ms Homer, with the following.

"I have always understood that it is desirable that whenever a Member attends a meeting in any way connected to the business of the Council that an Officer is also present, to protect the interests of both the Member and the Council. Revisiting some Freedom of Information requests from the last twelve months it would seem possible that this is not always happening; I refer you to the meeting in July 2015 between Cllr Wells and the Chief Executive of Stockton on Tees Borough Council, but there are other examples.

Since the local elections in May 2015 has the Chief Executive reminded, informed or instructed the Leader of the Council or any other Member in this important requirement? If so, please supply copies of all written communications between the Chief Executive and Members.

I would hope that you understand that I am asking you in this fashion to avoid yet another FoI request. Cllr Wells has already chastised me for over zealousness but obviously if you are unwilling or unable to furnish a suitable response then I will reluctantly be forced to use this approach instead."

Unfortunately I have had no response to my email so I would be grateful so I would be grateful if you would supply the following information.

Since the local elections in May 2015 has the Chief Executive reminded, informed or instructed the Leader of the Council or any other Member of the necessity for an Officer of the Council to be present whenever a Member holds a meeting with a third party relating in any way to the business of the Council? If so, please supply copies of all written communications between the Chief Executive and Members.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew McCulloch

Pauline McGandy, Thanet District Council

 
 
 
Ref No:93658
Subject:Business Of The Council - Member Advice
 
 
 
 
Dear Mr McCulloch
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 10/10/2016 where you requested
whether, since the local elections in May 2015, the Chief Executive has
reminded, informed or instructed the Leader of the Council or any other
Member of the necessity for an Officer of the Council to be present
whenever a Member holds a meeting with a third party relating in any way
to the business of the Council.
 
Your request is being dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and will be answered within 20 working days. 
 
If you have any queries about this request, please direct them to
[1][email address] quoting the reference number above.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
 
 
 
 
Information Governance and Equality Team
 

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Tim Howes, Thanet District Council

 
 
 
Ref No: 93658/3658212
Subject:        Business Of The Council - Member Advice
 
Dear Mr Mcculloch
 
Thank you for your communication received on 10/10/2016 where you
requested information about advice to members.In particular you said:
Since the local elections in May 2015 has the Chief Executive reminded,
informed or instructed the Leader of the Council or any other Member of
the necessity for an Officer of the Council to be present whenever a
Member holds a meeting with a third party relating in any way to the
business of the Council? If so, please supply copies of all written
communications between the Chief Executive and Members.

There is no blanket requirement for an officer to be present whenever a
councillor holds a meeting with a third party relating in any way to the
business of the council. Clearly, if there were such a requirement in
place, it would make a councillor's work in representing their
constituents impossible if an officer had to be present at all meetings
with them or other third parties.
 
However, there is a specific provision in the anti-fraud and corruption
policy which says:
 
'Unless an officer is also present, no Member will meet with a third party
to discuss:
 

 1. the acquisition of goods and services by or on behalf of the Council
including the terms on which such goods and services are to be
acquired;

 1. the acquisition or disposal by the Council of land or an interest in
land including the terms on which such land or interest in land is to
be acquired or disposed of;

 1. the actual or proposed development or redevelopment of Council owned
land including the terms on which such land may be developed or
redeveloped;

 1. the securing of planning obligations or other community benefits
arising out of or in connection with a planning application under
consideration by the Council;

 1. the award by the Council of financial assistance of any kind whether
by way of grant, pledge, indemnity or loan (whether secured or
unsecured).

 
The Chief Executive has no record of any advice that she has given to
members concerning the anti-fraud and corruption policy since such matters
are generally dealt with by the Monitoring Officer. Advice has been given
since the 2015 election, by the Monitoring Officer to Members in relation
to meetings with potential indemnity partners for Manston Airport (related
to the terms for the acquisition of land).
 
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the
right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be
submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your
original letter and should be addressed to: Information Request Assessor,
Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Cecil Street, Margate, Kent CT9 1XZ, or
email to [email address]
 
Please quote the reference number above in any future communications.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Information Adviser
 

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Dear Thanet District Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Thanet District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Members conducting business meetings without officers present'.

I appreciate that you say that the Chief Executive does not usually deal with these matters, but that it is generally the responsibility of the Monitoring Officer. I would therefore request that you review your response, substituting Monitoring Officer for Chief Executive in the original questions.

Thank you

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/m...

Yours faithfully,

Andrew McCulloch

Pauline McGandy, Thanet District Council

 
3 November 2016
 
 
Ref No:93658/0
Subject:Business Of The Council - Member Advice
 
 
 
Dear Mr McCulloch
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 24/10/2016 in which you requested an
internal review of the response provided on 21/10/2016. However, in view
of the following I have submitted a new Freedom of Information request:
 
I appreciate that you say that the Chief Executive does not usually deal
with these matters, but that it is generally the responsibility of the
Monitoring Officer. I would therefore request that you review your
response, substituting Monitoring Officer for Chief Executive in the
original questions.

If you still wish for an internal review of the response given to 93658 we
would be grateful if you could let us know by return to to
[1][email address] quoting the reference number above.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
 
 
 
 
Information Governance and Equality Team
 
 
 

show quoted sections

Pauline McGandy, Thanet District Council

 
 
 
 
Ref No:94307
Subject:Business Of The Council - Advice To Members
 
 
 
 
Dear Mr McCulloch
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 24/10/2016 requesting information
about advice given to Members of the Council by the Monitoring Officer on
conducting business meetings without officers present.
 
Your request is being dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and will be answered within 20 working days. 
 
If you have any queries about this request, please direct them to
[1][email address] quoting the reference number above.
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
 
 
 
 
Information Governance and Equality Team
 
 

show quoted sections

Dear Pauline McGandy,

Thanks for your response. I'm quite happy for you to treat this as a new FoI request and assume that I will therefore expect an answer by 1st December 2016

Yours sincerely,

Andrew McCulloch

Tim Howes, Thanet District Council

 
 
Ref No: 94307/3695129
Subject:        Business Of The Council - Advice To Members
 
Dear Mr McCulloch
 
Thank you for your communication received on 24/10/2016 where you
requested information about advice to members.In particular you said:
Since the local elections in May 2015 has the Monitoring Officer reminded,
informed or instructed the Leader of the Council or any other Member of
the necessity for an Officer of the Council to be present whenever a
Member holds a meeting with a third party relating in any way to the
business of the Council? If so, please supply copies of all written
communications between the Monitoring Officer and
Members.                                                                                          

There is no blanket requirement for an officer to be present whenever a
councillor holds a meeting with a third party relating in any way to the
business of the council. Clearly, if there were such a requirement in
place, it would make a councillor's work in representing their
constituents impossible if an officer had to be present at all meetings
with them or other third parties.
 
However, there is a specific provision in the anti-fraud and corruption
policy which says:
 
'Unless an officer is also present, no Member will meet with a third party
to discuss:
 

 1. the acquisition of goods and services by or on behalf of the Council
including the terms on which such goods and services are to be
acquired;

 1. the acquisition or disposal by the Council of land or an interest in
land including the terms on which such land or interest in land is to
be acquired or disposed of;

 1. the actual or proposed development or redevelopment of Council owned
land including the terms on which such land may be developed or
redeveloped;

 1. the securing of planning obligations or other community benefits
arising out of or in connection with a planning application under
consideration by the Council;

 1. the award by the Council of financial assistance of any kind whether
by way of grant, pledge, indemnity or loan (whether secured or
unsecured).

 
Advice has been given since the 2015 election, by the Monitoring Officer
to Members in relation to meetings with potential indemnity partners for
Manston Airport (related to the terms for the acquisition of land).
 
There are two items of recorded information which are attached.
 

 1. An email of the 19 October 2015 to all Members
 1. An email of the 7 April 2016 to the Leader

 
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the
right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be
submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your
original letter and should be addressed to: Information Request Assessor,
Thanet District Council, P O Box 9 Cecil Street, Margate Kent CT9 1XZ, or
send an email to [email address].
 
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
 
 
 
Tim Howes
Director of Corporate Governance
 
 

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Dear Tim Howes,
Thank you for your prompt response.

You refer to two emails

1. An email of the 19 October 2015 to all Members
1. An email of the 7 April 2016 to the Leader

Unfortunately they do not appear to have been attached.

I appreciate that there are rules in place to protect the Council and Members against accusations of fraud or corruption and I accept that in the case of a CPO the Council would have been the body acquiring land. However since the failure (twice) to accept Riveroak as a CPO Indemnity partner, Thanet District Council are no longer involved in the acquisition of the Manston Airport site and therefore such prohibitions are irrelevant.

Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011 clarified the rules on predetermination. These rules were developed to ensure that councillors came to council discussions - on, for example, planning applications - with an open mind. Open mindedness is when even if you think you are right, you know that you can be wrong and are always willing to listen to and hear an opposing or contradictory view. Open mindedness means listening to both sides of an argument. Do you therefore agree that Section 25 mandates (in fact demands) a presentation by RiverOak to Members regarding their DCO application before Council make a final decision on the next draft of the Local Plan?

Yours sincerely,

Andrew McCulloch

Tim Howes, Thanet District Council

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Dear Mr McCulloch,

Thank you for your email. I attach further copies of the two emails which should have been attached and I apologise if this was not the case.

I can confirm that the prohibitions in the anti-fraud and corruption strategy about the presence of an officer in meetings, remain relevant in the circumstances set out in my last email.

Turning to section 25 of the Localism Act 2011, it is (in the words of Jonathan Swift QC) 'intended to do no more than to clarify the common law on unlawful predetermination'. Section 25 patently does not mandate (or demand) a presentation to members by RiverOak regarding their DCO application.

However, I understand that RiverOak are obliged to consult with the council as part of the DCO process but it is for them to determine when and how that should happen.

Best Regards

Tim Howes

Timothy Howes, Solicitor
Director of Corporate Governance and Monitoring Officer
Thanet District Council
PA: Lynda Howard 01843 577071
[mobile number]
Email: [email address]

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Dear Tim Howes,

Thanks you for your prompt response. Only time will tell whether your interpretation of Localism 2011 is correct or not - I refer you to my definition of open mindedness included in my last email.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew McCulloch

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