Standards Committee Hearing 15 March 2023 Complaint Concerning Cllr Ed Malcolm
South Tyneside Council's Standards Committee is recommending to Borough Council that Cllr Ed Malcolm be issued with a formal censure.
It also recommended that Cllr Malcolm be removed from his position as a member of Constitution Committee and not to be reappointed to that committee for the municipal year 2023/2024. Both recommendations are subject to approval from the Council.
The move follows a Standards Committee hearing on Wednesday 15 March where the Committee found Cllr Malcom failed to comply (whether intentionally or otherwise) with the requirements of declaring a disclosable pecuniary interest which he had previously registered, when attending relevant meetings of the Council. This is a breach of the Council Procedure Rules and the Code of Conduct and the Committee found it could reasonably be regarded as bringing his role as Councillor and the Council into disrepute.
The Committee went on to uphold on the balance of probabilities that Cllr Malcolm's failure to comply with the requirements to disclose his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest also amounted to a breach of the principles of public life, specifically the Principles of Integrity, Accountability and Openness. The Committee felt that the failure to comply was also a breach of the Leadership principle as Cllr Malcolm was a senior councillor and a member of the Executive and was in a position of leadership. The Committee accepts the Investigating Officer's finding that there has been no breach of the Principles of Selflessness, Objectivity, and Honesty.
The Committee found that Cllr Malcolm was conducting the business of the office of an elected member and was acting as a member of the Council at all relevant times of the complaint period and that the Code of Conduct applied. Furthermore, that the conduct complained of, namely the failure to declare disclosable pecuniary interests, does fall within the Code of Conduct.
Council Procedure Rules have for a considerable period directed that a Councillor must withdraw from a meeting during the consideration of any item of business in which they have a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest, except where a Dispensation is granted permitting the Councillor to remain and participate. The Committee were clear that it is a personal responsibility of each elected member to decide whether they should declare an interest in a meeting and for them to identify whether a conflict of interest does arise or if a potential conflict may arise.
The Committee upheld, on the balance of probabilities, the Investigating Officer's unopposed findings that Cllr Ed Malcolm did not necessarily have a serious conflict of interest, but that there was potential that a conflict of interest could arise that would need careful management in his dual roles as Chair of South Tyneside Homes and Leader Member for Resources and Innovation at the material times.
In reaching its decision, the Committee took into account that Cllr Malcolm had registered his Disclosable Pecuniary Interest in the Register of Members Interests annually, and he had no intention to conceal this interest. A lot of work has been done to improve awareness and understanding amongst elected members of their personal responsibilities concerning registration and declaration of interests, but that as a long-standing councillor, Cllr Malcolm should reasonably have been expected to be aware of what his personal responsibilities are.
Any allowances and remuneration paid to Cllr Malcolm for his role as Lead Member and Chair of South Tyneside Homes during the complaint period would have been paid to him in any event irrespective of whether a declaration of interest was made or whether a Dispensation had been obtained. The Committee find that there was no evidence presented to them of any intention to gain financially from the failure to comply with the requirements to declare interests.
Cllr Malcolm accepted the findings of the Investigating Officer as well as the recommendations as to sanctions.
Professor Grahame Wright the independent chairman of South Tyneside Council's Standards Committee said: "After a lengthy deliberation, the Council's Standards Committee, concluded (with a majority 5:1) that Borough Council recommend a censure for Cllr Malcolm and his removal from the Constitution Committee for the municipal year 2023/2024 and that the Monitoring Officer refer the matter to the police for investigation of any potential offences under the Localism Act 2011."
The Committee determined that the following would represent a proportionate and appropriate response, that the Decision of the Committee:
(a) be referred to Borough Council at the next ordinary meeting of the council with a recommendation that Borough Council (rather than the Standards Committee) issues a formal censure to Cllr Malcolm;
(b) be referred to Borough Council with a recommendation that Borough Council remove Cllr Malcolm from his position as a member of Constitution Committee (5:1 majority, Cllr Clare dissenting) and not be reappointed to that committee for the municipal year 2023/2024;
The Committee also determined that:
(c) the Monitoring Officer be instructed to refer the matter to the police for investigation of any potential offences under the Localism Act 2011 and that the referral should include the investigation report, appendices and this Decision Notice in full so that the police can finalise their involvement in this matter;
(d) that the Standards Committee will consider member induction material and member training and development material more generally to rectify any deficiencies or perceived deficiencies in respect of Elected Members understanding of their personal responsibilities to register and declare interests and to apply for a Dispensation where necessary and appropriate and recommend that further training on interests and dispensations be mandatory for all councillors.
Borough Council will consider the recommendation that Cllr Ed Malcolm be removed from his position as a member of Constitution Committee at its next ordinary meeting.