Agenda and draft minutes

Council - Monday, 14th December, 2020 4.00 pm

Venue: Via Zoom Video Conferencing System

Items
No. Item

C26/20

Previous Minutes pdf icon PDF 377 KB

To confirm the minutes of 8 September 2020.

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting of 8 September 2020 were confirmed.

C27/20

To receive any announcements from the Chairman of the Council and/or the Head of Paid Service.

Minutes:

Councillor Miscandlon announced that it was with regret he had cancelled the annual Chairman's Carol Service and staff visits but he has recorded a Christmas message to staff to thank them for and in recognition of their sterling work during the global pandemic, delivering the usual and additional services to residents at such a difficult time. 

 

C28/20

To receive questions from, and provide answers to, councillors in relation to matters which, in the opinion of the Chairman, accord with the provisions of Procedure Rules 8.4 and 8.6.

Minutes:

Councillor Miscandlon stated that no questions had been submitted under Procedure Rules 8.6 and asked if there were any questions under Procedure Rule 8.4 from Councillor Tanfield as Leader of the Opposition Group.

 

Councillor Tanfield said that it is becoming a frequent occurrence to receive late updates or amendments to agenda items, and this means the Independent Group do not have a chance to discuss these in advance. It is unfair to start having to make decisions at such short notice and we need to be more careful that it does not seem we are being undemocratic when we have not had the chance to have a look at the papers properly as a group.

 

Councillor Tanfield said she is concerned about the Conduct Committee updates. The LGA has an explanation about what bullying and intimidation can be and more comprehensive wording than FDC about bullying and she does not understand why we are not protecting members of the public or fellow councillors from bullying in local government. We talk about there being a difference regarding councillors when they are being individuals, especially online, but characters outside of being a councillor is important when it comes to the principals of public life. (8.50) She would like to know why FDC has a watered-down version of a conduct committee code of practice when the LGA version is much more comprehensive. In her view our version appears to allow bullying and intimidation with no redress, and she would like to know why we do not have an updated and full version of a code of conduct for the conduct committee. 

 

Councillor Boden responded to Councillor Tanfield's observation about late amendments and updates and said that he had recently made a similar comment to Paul Medd. Every effort will be made to ensure that this is repeated as little as possible; however there is a lot going on within the Council at the moment and perhaps we have been over ambitious in trying to do too much in a short space of time. He has said to Paul Medd that it is important that deadlines are met but we will make every effort to ensure we see less of that in the future and as maximum amount of notice is given as possible. 

 

In respect of the Conduct Committee, Councillor Boden said that codes of conduct belong to each individual council and it is up to the councillors of each council to decide what their own codes of conduct should be. The proposed code of conduct for later discussion has been worked on for over 15 months; it is for the Conduct Committee to decide to then take forward to full Council to debate what is appropriate.  He fully agrees however that it is appropriate to look at our own circumstances and our own failings over the last few years in which the way the code has been abused and to decide about what is appropriate for us at FDC. 

 

Councillor Tanfield thanked  ...  view the full minutes text for item C28/20

C29/20

To receive reports from and ask questions of Cabinet members with portfolio holder responsibilities, in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2. pdf icon PDF 1 MB

Minutes:

Members asked questions of Portfolio Holders in accordance with Procedure Rules 8.1 and 8.2 as follows:

 

1.    Councillor Sutton addressed Councillor Boden and said that he had mentioned in response to Councillor Tanfield that there are failings in the current conduct procedure in Fenland. He asked what he felt those failings are.

2.    Councillor Boden said some individuals, not necessarily councillors, have abused the current system. It is therefore important to ensure we have a robust conduct process so that the potential for abuse is dealt with.

3.    Councillor Sutton addressed Councillor Mrs Laws regarding the five-year land supply and asked why the application number has been changed to a code number because it has made it more difficult to follow. Councillor Mrs Laws explained that Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) monitors the progress of the housing development sites on behalf of Fenland and also provides this service for a number of other local authorities. Each authority uses a different format for its planning application references, so to manage this the CCC supplies its own case number to provide a consistent format across the authorities.  The case number shown in the five-year land supply report merely reflects the content of the data received from CCC.  The case number is similar to Fenland's planning application references but with slight differences.  However, CCC has agreed to show the case number with the planning application number in future versions of the report. Councillor Sutton thanked Councillor Mrs Laws. He also queried several planning references and whether the number of properties had been double counted. Councillor Mrs Laws thanked Councillor Sutton for bringing this to her attention and that she would investigate this further.

4.    Councillor Sutton addressed Councillor Mrs Laws further and said the new local plan is very difficult to find on our website. This is such an important document and he asked if this could be made more visible on the website. Councillor Mrs Laws agreed that she would address this.

5.    Councillor Sutton addressed Councillor Hoy and asked that given that Julie Spence, the Queens representative, sent a congratulatory letter to 50 Backpacks Vision, had she also written to them? Councillor Hoy said she had not sent letters to any of the local organisations across the district that had been supporting homeless people.

6.    Councillor Sutton said that with the vast amount of money coming into local government it was worth looking at working with 50 Backpacks Vision as they seem to be able to re-house rough sleepers where we sometimes fail, and that is not a reflection on officers but a failing of the system. He asked if Councillor Hoy could work with Councillor Boden and channel some of that money into this organisation, which will help get rough sleepers off the street and into a settled home. Councillor Hoy said we are happy to work with any organisation that wants to work with us but is sure he can appreciate as a council we must have proper checks and  ...  view the full minutes text for item C29/20

C30/20

Motion pdf icon PDF 118 KB

Proposed amendment to a motion passed by Full Council on 8 September 2020 in relation to a moratorium of Fenland District Council land in Wisbech submitted by Councillor Cornwell and, in accordance with Rule 14.1 of the Council Procedure Rules, supported by Councillors Sutton, Bligh, Booth, Divine, Marks, Meekins, Patrick, Tanfield, Wicks, Wilkes and Yeulett.

Minutes:

Councillor Cornwell presented a proposed amendment to a motion passed by Full Council on 8 September 2020 in relation to a moratorium of Fenland District Council land in Wisbech in accordance with Rule 14.1 of the Council Procedure Rules, supported by Councillors Sutton, Bligh, Booth, Divine, Meekins, Patrick, Tanfield, Wicks, Wilkes and Yeulett. 

 

FDC has consistently supported the reintroduction of a rail service into Wisbech and has opposed the proposal to build a mega-incinerator in Wisbech. In the near future, both schemes will reach critical milestones.

 

To help promote the re-instatement of the railway line, and to help defeat the incinerator proposal, Full Council recommends that those exercising delegated authority for decisions connected with the disposal of land within 500 metres of the track of the decommissioned railway line in Wisbech or within 500 metres of any part of the site of the proposed new incinerator) continue to exercise their powers so as to achieve these objectives.  Those powers should also be used to promote continued development and opportunity within Fenland provided that this serves the purpose of: 

 

(a) promoting the re-instatement of the railway line but not the incinerator; and

(b) assists in the fight to oppose the proposed incinerator but not harm the proposal to re-instate the railway line; and

 

that in order to achieve that, consideration is given to the use of restrictive covenants and/or retaining strategic parcels/strips of land as part of its overall assessment of the disposal.

 

The previous moratorium should now be lifted in favour of the proposals set out above with this guidance to remain in place for a period of 12 months again recognising however transactions which FDC are obliged to complete by a Court, or under the terms of a Compulsory Purchase Order, or under threat of legal action against FDC which FDC is unlikely to be able to defend successfully will prevail.

 

Councillor Sutton seconded the motion and Councillor Miscandlon opened the motion for debate.

 

1.    Councillor Yeulett said that he supports the motion, the knock-on effect of the decision taken at last full Council will be detrimental to the Fenland economy and businesses. The strapline 'Open for Business' will become meaningless. Wisbech businesses will suffer as will employment prospects in the area and this will have a similar effect throughout the rest of Fenland.  He said he felt that two Cabinet members had been compromised in their original decision.

2.    Councillor Tierney said that he believes 'Open for Business' means we support every attempt to increase all businesses in the Fenland area as best as we can, but it does not mean we will support every business no matter how damaging to the residents. You could argue the incinerator is business, but this Council passed a near unanimous motion not to support the incinerator so clearly that is a type of business we thought differently about. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place; any choice we make regarding the sale of land could go one  ...  view the full minutes text for item C30/20

C31/20

Treasury Management Strategy Statement & Annual Investment Strategy Mid-Year Review 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 194 KB

The purpose of this report is to review the Council’s Treasury Management activity for the first six months of 2020/21.

 

Minutes:

Members considered the Treasury Management Strategy Statement & Annual Investment Strategy Mid-Year Review 2020/21 report presented by Councillor Boden. 

 

Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Benney and decided that Council AGREE to note the report. 

 

C32/20

Polling Districts and Polling Places Review pdf icon PDF 407 KB

To consider the outcome of the recent review of polling districts and places, as required by the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013.

 

Minutes:

Members considered the Polling Districts and Polling Places Review report presented by Councillor Boden.

 

Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Mrs Laws and decided that Council AGREE to:

 

·         Note the outcome of the review and the consultation undertaken;

·         Agree the changes recommended to polling districts and polling places as detailed in the report at Appendix C;

·         Note that a review of all polling districts will be undertaken at least every five years and delegate authority to the Returning Officer/Electoral Registration Officer to keep polling districts under review in the intervening period between compulsory reviews, and propose any changes which appear necessary to Full Council for its consideration and determination.

 

C33/20

Member's Allowances Scope pdf icon PDF 126 KB

For Council to agree the scope and terms of reference for the forthcoming review of the Member Allowances Scheme by an Independent Remuneration Panel.

 

Minutes:

Members considered the Members' Allowances Scheme Review Scope Report presented by Councillor Boden.

 

Members made comments asked questions and received responses as follows.

 

1.    Councillor Booth said in the previous review it was recommended we look at this, but he does not believe there have been many changes since the last review was completed. He would suggest that we postpone this review until the year before the next municipal elections and then go to the electorate with the review. We will also have a better idea of the work of the Investment Board, which has barely started and with everything else officers are dealing with now considering the pandemic, this is something we can do without at the moment.

2.    Councillor Boden said there is little point in having an independent review body unless we decide to follow up on their recommendations. They made a conscious decision not to make any changes hoping that in 18 months’ time it would be possible for them to make a more rational decision, which he finds perfectly reasonable. Therefore, he feels that we should go ahead with the review, also there does not have to be a cycle of when they take place and it should not be manipulated for political purposes.  He proposes we go ahead with the recommendation that came from the independent review panel.

3.    Councillor Booth said he did not suggest a delay for political purposes but if we delay it for 18 months the electorate will know what the allowance is.  Regulations state that this can be done once every four-year term.

4.    Councillor Boden agreed that Councillor Booth is correct regarding the legislation, but we do have the recommendation from the independent panel that they wanted this review to take place after 18 months. He clarified that he meant that political considerations and electoral timetables should not come into the calculation and was not implying that Councillor Booth himself was being political. Nevertheless, we should follow what the panel suggested, and we have no reason not to do so. We must have a very specific reason to go against their recommendations.

5.    Councillor Tierney said that it was important to note that just because there is a review pending it does not mean that members are looking to have their allowances increased. It is almost universally agreed within this authority that although members work hard, they do not want any more money and are not seeking a rise in allowances.

6.    Councillor Booth thanked Councillor Boden for clarifying his remark regarding political considerations and that it was not aimed at him. He did point out that he was thinking in terms of the work of the Investment Board which was one of the reasons for holding off the review, and as their work had been held up due to the pandemic this was why he had suggested the postponement.

 

Proposed by Councillor Boden, seconded by Councillor Mrs French and decided that Council AGREE the scope of the  ...  view the full minutes text for item C33/20

C34/20

Statement of Licensing Policy 2021-2026 pdf icon PDF 687 KB

To adopt the Statement of Licensing Policy for the period of 2021 – 2026.

 

Minutes:

Members considered the Revised Statement of Licensing Policy 2021-2026 presented by Councillor Humphrey. 

 

 

Proposed by Councillor Humphrey, seconded by Councillor Meekins and decided that Council AGREE to adopt the Statement of Licensing Policy 2021-2026 as set out at Appendix A of the report.

 

C35/20

Revised Code of Conduct for Members pdf icon PDF 134 KB

Minutes:

Members considered the Amendments to the Member Code of Conduct Report presented by Councillor Topgood.

 

Members made comments, asked questions and received responses as follows:

 

1.    Councillor Hoy said she believed the process is abused because people have the right to confidentiality. When she chaired the Conduct Committee some members will be unaware that several investigations were undertaken into complaints against councillors because that confidentiality was respected. However, some members have aired their complaints with the press before the conclusion of any process and this is unfair. The most powerful action that the Committee can undertake is to release a statement to the press about a breach, but this is almost pointless if that name is already public. Although it is a legal requirement, Councillor Hoy personally does not believe we should have a code of conduct and any decision should rest with the local electorate. 

2.    Councillor Tanfield said that nobody should be bullied but her issue with the code of conduct is that it is watered down too much. Councillor Hoy is correct that the most that the Conduct Committee can do is issue a statement about a councillor, but her concern is who we are trying to protect, and it is important that people do feel protected. She thinks we do not do enough in local government to ensure we are protecting people and that is why she thinks we should choose the LGA version of the Code of Conduct to make the system more robust and ensure that a complaint is substantial and not made on a whim or because of a political difference.  It is her opinion that this revised code does not do enough to protect people.

3.    Councillor Tierney said he thinks the LGA document is poor; the LGA itself has no authority over local councils and he agreed with the Leader's earlier comment that it is for local authorities to decide their own code of conduct. He feels the document is not watered down but clarifies the code of conduct so the system cannot be abused.  Furthermore, people who have a genuine problem will now know what they can do to get the help they need.

4.    Councillor Booth agreed largely with Councillor Tanfield; he also wants to know why we are introducing these changes as the whole code of conduct regime is being reviewed by the LGA so there will be further changes down the line.  Councillors do have private lives and should be able to live their lives in that manner, but this is tinkering at the edges so why do we not incorporate these changes at a later time.

5.    Councillor Mrs French said it was requested 15 months ago that the Code of Conduct be looked at and is something we certainly need.

6.    Councillor Maul said he agrees with Councillor Booth and a comment repeatedly made is 'let's see how it goes' - if that is the case then more research and consideration need to be  ...  view the full minutes text for item C35/20

C36/20

Constitutional Amendments pdf icon PDF 94 KB

For Council to consider changes to the constitution as outlined in the report.

 

Minutes:

Members considered the Constitutional Amendments Report presented by Councillor Boden.

 

Members made comments, asked questions and received responses as follows:

 

1.    Councillor Mrs French said she welcomed this report. The alignment of days for Motions on Notice should have been brought in years ago when she first pointed it out.  She also agreed with all other aspects of the report.

2.    Councillor Sutton said he supported the report albeit he feels there should be some clarification; under the previous administration both he and Councillor Mrs Laws thought it undemocratic that the six or more separate sources were deemed as separate households by officers.  For example, Councillor Sutton may have a different opinion to a planning application than his wife and so he is sure that we asked back then that those separate sources be individuals and not households. He would therefore suggest that this report interpret this to clarify matters that individuals from a household have an equal right to submit their own opinion. If it must be separate households then let us clarify that also. He would like that issue clarified certainly before voting on this item, he believes he has given wrong advice to members of the public before now not realising that officers interpreted the rule of six differently, and he would be interested to see what Councillor Mrs Laws thinks.

3.    Councillor Booth said he supports most of the changes in the report and he believes he suggested the amendment to the constitution when it was reviewed a couple of years ago regarding minor applications about it being the ward or adjacent ward. He thought that it was left that anyone from across Fenland could comment on major applications because as councillors we do not just represent our wards, but we have the interests of the whole district at heart.  He would therefore like to amend the point regarding major applications to say if they are received from within the Fenland District Council area. 

4.    Councillor Mrs Laws agreed with Councillor Sutton that at the time they believed everyone had the democratic right to submit their own views and their opinion counted and went towards six letters of objection or support. It is right that there is the need for clarification, but her understanding is that moving forward individuals in each household in the ward or adjacent ward would be counted as responses. Secondly, in respect of major developments she would disagree and think that major applications have more impact on ward and adjacent wards and yes they may be of interest to people in the wider Fenland area but will not have the same impact as on more local people therefore she would like to retain and be consistent with the minor and major applications that we just go for any views submitted on the ward or adjacent wards.

5.    Councillor Sutton said he is pleased that Councillor Mrs Laws still agrees with him therefore he would propose that the document be amended and at  ...  view the full minutes text for item C36/20

C37/20

Update on Committees and Panels pdf icon PDF 226 KB

For Council to consider changes to the Council’s Committees and Panels namely the merging of Staff Committee and Corporate Governance Committee.

 

Minutes:

Councillor Miscandlon announced that a proposed alteration to the original recommendation had been tabled to Members prior to the meeting. The proposed alteration was screen shared during this item to allow members of the press and public to see the proposed amendments.

 

Members considered the Update on Committees and Panels report presented by Councillor Boden.

 

Members made comments, asked questions and received responses as follows:

 

1.    Councillor Booth said he was concerned to read in the original report of the external auditors raising their concerns and asked Councillor Boden if they had been advised of this amendment and were happy with the proposed change. Councillor Boden responded that he could only confirm it had gone through our own legal staff to check the legal requirements that exist to ensure the points raised by the auditors will be satisfied by these arrangements.

2.    Councillor Tanfield said that with no disrespect to our own legal staff it is difficult to vote on this without confirmation that the external auditors are satisfied; we have received little information and guidance on this amendment and she is not satisfied if we are going to make a major change like this with little notice or discussion and without finding out if CIPFA and our external auditors are in approval. Councillor Boden said he could assure Councillor Tanfield that our legal team have been meticulous in their attention to the detail of what was required by our CIPFA and the external auditors.

3.    Councillor Sutton said this was all very well, but our legal officers had approved the previous paper and that was opposed by the external auditors. He asked that this be deferred until the auditors could give their opinion. He does not think we should rush into this and will not be voting for it. Furthermore, there is no statutory requirement to have a Staff Committee so why do we not just end it without trying to amalgamate the two. He also raised an anomaly with the Audit and Risk Management sub-committee stating there was a contradiction within the report regarding who could sit on it. Councillor Boden responded that our legal officers were happy for the first version of the report to be brought forward because it said that this Council recommended both mitigations and additional measures to address the concerns which had been raised. Therefore, it was on that basis that officers were willing to produce the report for the agenda, but those sections were able to be removed once the mitigations and measures were incorporated. Regarding Councillor Sutton’s suggestion to abolish Staff Committee, even though it has not met as often as it used to, the committee still fulfils certain functions and those functions still need to be exercised so it is important that they are still allocated to appropriate bodies. Councillor Boden explained that there was no anomaly with the sub-committee and Councillor Sutton had misunderstood the details. This is an ad-hoc sub-committee; members will be determined from the existing members  ...  view the full minutes text for item C37/20