The Standards Committee (Further Provisions) England Regulations 2009 set out new rules for the granting of dispensations in certain circumstances where Members had a personal and prejudicial interest. Under the Regulations a Standards Committee could grant a dispensation to a Member in the following circumstances:-
(a) Where more than 50% of the Members who would be entitled to a vote at a meeting are prohibited from voting as they have a personal and prejudicial interest, or
(b) Where the number of Members that are prohibited from voting at a meeting would upset the political balance in the meeting to the extent that the outcome of the voting would be prejudiced.
To decide whether these criteria applied, Members had to ignore any dispensations that had already been given to others at the meeting. This meant previously granted dispensations were disregarded for the purposes of working out whether the two circumstances above applied. Even where the criteria applied Members could not obtain a dispensation to:-
· allow them to take part in voting at an Overview & Scrutiny Committee about a decision made by any body of which they were a member at the time the decision was taken.
· allow an Executive Member with a prejudicial interest in an item of executive business to take an executive decision about it on their own.
A Member seeking a dispensation was required by law to submit an application in writing for consideration by the Standards Committee and it was up to the Committee to decide whether or not to grant a dispensation. There was no right of appeal from its decision.
The Standards Committee could decide the nature of the dispensation granted. For example, the dispensation might allow a Member to speak and not vote or to fully participate and vote. The Committee could also decide how long a dispensation should apply although it could be no longer than 4 years. After 4 years the dispensation automatically expired. Any dispensation decision had to be recorded in writing and kept with the Register of Members’ Interests maintained by the Monitoring Officer.
The Borough Solicitor and Secretary submitted the issues and criteria to be considered when granting dispensations which had been set out in the guidance document entitled “Dispensations “ published by Standards for England which he considered would be adequate for the purposes of the Council. He indicated that it was highly unlikely that the circumstances set out in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) above would apply to the Council and for this reason he considered no additional local criteria would be necessary.
(a) That a Standards (Dispensation) Sub-Committee comprising two Independent Members and three Councillors be appointed to consider requests for dispensations.
(b) That Councillors Choudhry, Hewitt and Mann together with The Reverend Paul Lipscomb and Mr Mike Field be appointed to serve on the Standards (Dispensation) Sub-Committee for the remainder of the current municipal year.
(c) That the Member Services Manager be requested to prepare an application form for use by Members who wished to apply for a dispensation.
(d) That the issues and criteria to be considered when granting dispensations as set out on pages 5 and 6 of the guidance issued by Standards for England entitled “Dispensations” be adopted.
(e) That the Member Panel on the Constitution be requested to recommend to Council that the Constitution be amended to reflect the establishment of the new Standards (Dispensation) Sub-Committee and its terms of reference now submitted.