At Tuesday’s (18 June) standards committee meeting, an officer took the committee through key elements of the new guidance, which was published in April, by the Planning Advisory Service and Local Government Association.
The first issue the officer drew the committee’s attention to is set out on agenda page 28, which referred to committee members or ward members speaking on behalf of lobby groups. See link to agenda papers here – http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_standards_agenda_180613.pdf
The guidance advises that councillors speaking on behalf of lobby groups should withdraw from the meeting once any public or ward member speaking opportunities had been completed “in order to counter any suggestion that members of the committee may have been influenced by their continuing presence.”
The officer advised that this may mean going beyond the practices that EDDC currently operates.
Cllr Alan Dent asked whether this meant if he was speaking up for residents, did that mean he was speaking on behalf of a lobby group?
The officer replied that this was a “matter of judgement.”
Committee chairman, Cllr Graham Godbeer, said he thought that this would only apply if the councillor was actually appointed to speak on behalf of a group.
The officer turned to agenda page 24 of the guidance, which contains the paragraph that states: “Officers and serving councillors must not act as agents for people pursuing planning matters within their authority, even if they are not involved in the decision making on it.”
This was guidance rather than law, the officer advised and EDDC doesn’t have “an absolute bar” on councillors acting as agents. It was open to debate, said the officer and suggested that there should be consultation with officers and members, before a decision was made.
Cllr Susie Bond asked: “As the ward member for Feniton and Buckerell,” (former Cllr Graham Brown’s ward) whether the guidance on councillors acting as agents could not simply be incorporated straight into EDDC’s constitution.
Independent committee member, Ray Davison, immediately seconded Susie’s proposal and made references to EDDC’s reputation in relation to planning matters.
Parish council member of the committee, David Mason, also voiced his strong support for this approach.
But no vote took place.
The officer replied that the council needed to check whether there were any councillors who were also planning agents. There needed to be consultation before any decision was made, the officer repeated.
Instead, the chairman said the issue would be debated further at the next standards committee meeting on Tuesday 23 July, at 10am, at EDDC’s offices, Sidmouth. The press and public are welcome to attend.