Folkestone & Hythe District Council has an impact on the lives of residents in the district every day, by providing essential services to those it serves. Its decisions directly affect the quality of life of district residents. High standards of conduct in our Council and by our Councillors are needed to demonstrate that their decisions are taken in the public interest and to maintain public confidence.
“Any payment or provision of any other financial benefit (other than from the relevant authority) made or provided within the relevant period in respect of any expenses incurred by M in carrying out duties as a member, or towards the election expenses of M.
Cllrs are NOT acting in the public interest by restricting who paid towards the election expenses of” the said Cllr. We – the public – are allowed to know what goods, property or facilities were used by, or on behalf of, the candidate, and who paid for them.
We note since our last blog, two Cllrs have publicly acknowledged the issue we raised in our last blog post. Thankfully they have written to the monitoring officer seeking to change their entries.
Cllr Gary Fuller (Lib Dems), has informed our public face the wrong form for his Register of Interests and in particular the “Sponsorship” part, was published by the Council. He wrote to the Council who rectified the matter. Cllr Gary Fuller’s Register of Interests under the Sponsorship part of his form now reads:
The form clearly indicates that the local Lib Dem party paid for his election expenses. We are grateful to Cllr Fuller for clarifying and rectifying this matter, which went unresolved for four months. What other details may have been missed by Cllr Fuller? That question equally applies to the other nineteen Cllrs as well.
Also Cllr Georgina Treloar (Green) has also publicly commented that she “misunderstood this [sponsorship] part of the form”. We are grateful to Cllr Treloar for putting her hands up and admitting to her mistake and establishing the fact she has rectified this “oversight“.
However, that still leaves eighteen Cllrs who have failed to inform the public who paid for their election expenses as they are legally bound to. Why are they so shy we ask?
As an aside, can a Cllr collect his allowance while committing a criminal offence? Are the decision those Cllrs took lawful? Their failings raise these and other significant questions.
The Code of Conduct (CoC) in Part 9 of F&HDC’s constitution is out of date. It needs updating not just on the issue above, but Social Media too. The CoC fails to address adequately the important area of social media.
The widespread use of social media by our Cllrs – Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor, Instagram, Flickr et al – presents a particular challenge to determining whether a code of conduct applies to instances of behaviour. It’s clear our CoC does not deal with this matter and needs to.
We believe that when a social media account identifies the individual as a councillor or an individual makes comments related to their role as a councillor, then the code of conduct ought to apply. This ought to be the case even if the individual posts a ‘disclaimer’ to suggest that the account is a personal one.
Thankfully in Jan 2019 Lord Evans of Weardale KCB DL released the review into Local Government Ethical Standards, the review recommends something similar to what we believe:
Councillors should be presumed to be acting in an official capacity in their public conduct, including statements on publicly-accessible social media. Section 27(2) of the Localism Act 2011 should be amended to permit local authorities to presume so when deciding upon code of conduct breaches.
Councillors, should consider that their behaviour in public is rightly under public scrutiny and should adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life. This includes any comments or statements in print, and those made whilst speaking in public or on publicly accessible social media sites.
We need to talk about our Clllrs because its clear four months after their Register of Interests were published, eighteen still appear to be filled out incorrectly on the website, as of this morning. We understand from our readers, complaints have been lodged with the monitoring officer.
We need to talk about our Cllrs because there is no Social Media policy for them, nor the Council, in this day and age it would be sensible to have one.
Finally, we need to talk about our Cllrs because they are not acting in the public interest and maintaining public confidence, with regards to the issues addressed above. We hope that will change soon.
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful