SC0069 - Cllr I Ward

Rochford District Council
Decision of Monitoring Officer
Complaint: SC0069 – Cllr I Ward



Summary

I received a complaint from Mr Shaun Scrutton, the Managing Director of the Council, regarding the alleged conduct of Cllr Ian Ward (subject councillor), a District Councillor, on the 19th December 2019.

The circumstances which led to the complaint related to a meeting that was held on 22nd November 2019, between Cllr Ward, a Council Officer, a Planning Consultant and a developer. The meeting related to a live planning application, which had been refused a few months earlier at the Council’s Development Committee.

It is alleged that there were three potential breaches of the Code under:

  1. ground 3(3)(d) – do anything that comprises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the authority;
  2. ground 3(3)(e)- conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your authority into disrepute;
  3. ground 5(a) not to use or attempt to use or attempt to use your position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage.

    I carried out an initial review of the complaint in accordance with the Council’s Arrangements. The Independent Person was consulted on the matter and supported the view that the matter should progress to a further investigation.

    Olwen Brown (the Investigator) , Partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP, was instructed to carry out an investigation into the complaint and make findings as to whether there has been any breach of the Code by Cllr Ward.
     

Investigation Report

The Investigator interviewed the following persons:

  • Cllr Ian Ward;
  • the Planning Consultant
  • Mr Shaun Scrutton, Managing Director, Rochford DC:
  • Ms Louisa Moss, Assistant Director-People and Communities, Rochford DC
  • Mr Marcus Hotten, Assistant Director-Place and Environment, Rochford DC
  • the Housing Allocations and Enabling Officer, Rochford DC

Two of Cllr Ward’s witnesses were not available for interview.

The findings of the Investigator:

  1. Whether or not the Code of Conduct applied to the conduct of Cllr Ward at the relevant time. Under the provisions of the Localism Act 2011 the Code of Conduct only applies when members are acting in their role as a member. In this case, it appears that Cllr Ward was clearly acting in his role as member and therefore the Code of Conduct applies.

  2. The second finding is whether or not there is sufficient evidence to make a finding of a breach of the Code of Conduct against Cllr Ward. There are three potential breaches of the Code put forward by Mr Scrutton and the Investigator considered the evidence in relation to these very carefully.

    On the balance of probabilities test, the investigator does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to make a finding that Cllr Ward was guilty of a breach of conduct on any of the potential grounds put forward by Mr Scrutton, or indeed on any of the other grounds under the Code of Conduct.

    It should be noted that the correct standard of proof to apply in relation to a Code of Conduct matter is the civil standard of proof, which is the balance of probabilities test. Therefore, in making these findings the evidence is considered and applied the “is it more likely than not” test when considering if, on any of the potential grounds, there is sufficient evidence to justify a finding of a breach of the Code of Conduct.

Conclusion of the Investigation:

  1. Ground 3(3)(d) – You must not do anything that comprises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the authority;

    Based on the evidence, it would be quite possible for the involvement of a member, particularly a senior member such Cllr Ward, organising and being present at a meeting to be construed as putting pressure on an officer, this is more likely where the officer is junior or inexperienced. In this case, the evidence points to an Officer who is a trusted and highly experienced and, in the view of his senior officers, is someone who they regard as very sound. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the Officer felt that pressure was being put on him or that he gave any advice due to the involvement and presence of Cllr Ward which he would otherwise not have given; and as his evidence above says, he didn’t feel any pressure on his to change his mind.

  2. Ground 3(3)(e)- that Cllr Ward conducted himself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your authority into disrepute;

    Given the general level of public concerns and interest in the planning process, such allegations has to be taken seriously in the interests of the reputation of the Council. There are entirely legitimate concerns of the Managing Director to ensure that the authority runs in a legal and professional way, it was appropriate for the Managing Director to make the complaint.

    This is the potential breach where there has been the most evidence to consider; to weigh, and to decide upon on the balance of probabilities. Therefore, on the balance of probabilities and taking into account the propriety of Mr Scrutton making the complaint, it is found that there is not enough sufficient evidence to make a finding of a breach of paragraph 3(3)(e) of the Code of Conduct.

  3. Ground 5(a) - you not to use or attempt to use or attempt to use your position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage.

    Again, to make a finding of a breach of this part of the Code there must be sufficient evidence that the member improperly did seek to secure an advantage or disadvantage of any person.

    Putting aside for these purposes whether or not his action was appropriate given the conditions in the Council’s Constitution, it appears that Cllr Ward’s motivation in arranging the meeting was around concerns about the interests of the Council in fighting a potential planning appeal, and the wider issues with which he is concerned under his role as portfolio holder for planning and the way in which the district develops. Having seen the evidence, the Investigator is unable to make a finding that there has been a breach of the Code.


Decision

I have considered the report and the correspondence relating to the complaint. I agree with the Investigator’s finding above and that it was appropriate for the Managing Director to raise concerns.

It is clear that that Cllr Ward was acting in his capacity as a councillor when the meeting took place and the behaviour complained of was in his role as a Member of the Council, notwithstanding the fact that he is a Senior Member of the Council.

With regards to the three potential breaches above, the Investigator finds that there is insufficient evidence on the balance of probabilities that Cllr Ward has breached the Code. Therefore, this matter is now concluded without any further action.

3 September 2020
Monitoring Officer