Request re Officers Advice to Councillors

Liam COYLE 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 In an attempt to get their point of view across to Members (Councillors) RiverOak have held two question and answer meetings.

20th August 2015
Custom House, Ramsgate, for Ramsgate Town Council
20th October 2015
Cliftonville.

On both occasions instructions or advice was relayed by officers of Thanet District Council to councillors attending or proposing to attend those meetings.

Please provide an agreed definition of the meaning of the phrase “official meeting”; one that has either been agreed by elected Members or defined by Statute.

Please provide details of the advice or instructions relayed to Councillors, District and Town, prior to the meeting on 20th August 2015. Where such communication was in writing (including email, internet messaging service or SMS text message) please provide copies of the communications.

Please provide details of the advice or instructions relayed to Councillors prior to the meeting on 20th October 2015. Where such communication was in writing (including email, internet messaging service or SMS text message) please provide copies of the communications.

Yours faithfully,

Liam COYLE

Claire Grant, Thanet District Council

 
 
Ref No:83164
Subject:Riveroak Meetings
 
Dear Mr Coyle
 
Thank you for your correspondence of 21/10/2015  requesting information
about instructions issued to Members regarding attendance at meetings.
 
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 contact me quoting the
reference number above.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 
 
 
 
Claire Grant
Customer Contact and Engagement Officer
 

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Tim Howes, Thanet District Council

 
 
Ref No: 83164 / 3121418
Subject:Riveroak Meetings
 
Dear Mr Coyle
 
Thank you for your communication received on 21/10/2015 where you
requested information about Member attendance at RiverOak meetings.
 
I am writing to advise you that, following a search of our paper and
electronic records, I have established that the information you requested
in respect of "an agreed definition of the meaning of the phrase “official
meeting”; one that has either been agreed by elected Members or defined by
Statute" is not held by Thanet District Council.
 
I am, however, able to provide copies of the emails sent to Members in
respect of the meetings to which you refer:
 
August meeting:
 
Dear Cabinet Member,
 
I have been informed that you have been invited to attend a private
meeting on Thursday with representatives from RiverOak organised by
Ramsgate Town Council. Giving that this has come to my notice I would be
failing in my duty if I did not advise Cabinet Members to be cautious
about attending this meeting.
 
In deciding whether or not to attend the meeting, Cabinet Members should
bear in mind that they will in the near future, be making a decision at
Cabinet on the suitability of RiverOak to be the Council’s Indemnity
Partner in a prospective CPO process. That decision is likely to be the
subject of intense external scrutiny from all parties and may be the
subject of legal challenge, so caution should be exercised by all those
involved in the decision-making process.
 
In making decisions, Cabinet Members must act fairly and avoid suggestion
of bias or predetermination. Whilst Cabinet Members might be predisposed
to a particular view, predetermination occurs where someone closes their
minds to any other possibility beyond that predisposition, with the effect
that they are unable to apply their judgement fully and properly to an
issue requiring a decision. The Localism Act 2011 makes it clear that if a
councillor has given a view on an issue, this, considered in isolation,
does not show the Councillor has a closed mind on the issue. However the
Act suggests that other factors combined with the statements made etc. can
still give rise to accusations of predetermination. This is the approach
that the courts have taken to this issue. When considering whether
predetermination has taken place they will consider all events leading up
to the decision, rather than looking at individual events in isolation.
 
My advice is that in deciding whether to attend, Cabinet Members need to
consider the purpose of the meeting with RiverOak,  the fact that 
Ramsgate Town Council has no role in the decision on whether or not to
appoint RiverOak and the fact that this is a meeting to be held in
private. You will need to balance the benefit of attending this meeting
against the risk of a legal challenge to the Council’s future decision
making process.
 
You should also be mindful that in determining whether there is
predetermination, the question the courts ask is not what your motives or
state of mind are but ‘whether the fair-minded and informed observer,
having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real
possibility that the (decision maker) was biased’.
 
October meeting:
 
Dear Councillor,
 
It has come to my attention that some of you may have been invited to a
presentation tomorrow evening by RiverOak. I understand that it is in
relation to them becoming appointed as the Council’s indemnity partner in
the acquisition of land at Manston Airport.
 
The Council is presently in negotiation with RiverOak through their
lawyers and it would be inappropriate for Members to put themselves in a
position to be lobbied.
 
As the Council’s Monitoring Officer, I am duty bound to advise you of the
provisions of the Council’s Anti-Fraud and Corruption Policy which says:
 
Unless an officer is also present, no Member will meet with a third party
to discuss:
 

* 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;
* 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;
* the actual or proposed development or redevelopment of Council owned
land including the terms on which such land may be developed or
redeveloped;
* the securing of planning obligations or other community benefits
arising out of or in connection with a planning application under
consideration by the Council;
* the award by the Council of financial assistance of any kind whether
by way of grant, pledge, indemnity or loan (whether secured or
unsecured).

 
This advice is especially relevant to Cabinet Members who will soon be
asked to make a decision on whether or not to appoint RiverOak on the
basis of a report prepared by officers. That decision is likely to be the
subject of intense external scrutiny from all parties and may be the
subject of legal challenge, so caution should be exercised by all those
involved in the decision-making process.
 
Should you require further detailed advice on this matter, please do not
hesitate to contact me.
 
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,
 
 
 
 
 
Timothy Howes
Director of Corporate Governance and Monitoring Officer

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