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Constitution - Part 6C - Member/Officer Protocol

 

 

1.1 The purpose of this Protocol is to guide both Elected members and 'officers' of the County Council in their relations with one another on some of the issues that most commonly arise and to assist with their working relationship generally.

1.2 The majority of the Protocol is a written statement of our current practice and conventions. However, where greater clarity would be helpful it tries to provide it.

1.3 Underpinning the Protocol are the rules of conduct which apply to both members and officers and which emphasise the high standards of personal conduct which the public have a right to expect. This Constitution also includes Part 4B 'Member Code of Conduct' and Part 6B 'Officers' Code of Conduct', which set out the obligations placed on members and officer, respectively.

1.4 Both members and officers are servants of the public and they are indispensable to one another.  But their responsibilities are distinct.  Members are responsible to the electorate and serve only so long as their term of office lasts.  Officers are responsible to the County Council and the Chief Executive as the Head of Paid Service.  Their job is to carry out the County Council's work under the general policies and overall strategic direction which has been approved by members.

1.5 Mutual respect between members and officers is essential to good local government.  Close personal familiarity between individual members and officers can damage this relationship and may prove embarrassing to other members and officers.

1.6 It is important that the relationship works well without compromising the ultimate responsibilities of all officers to the County Council as a whole, and with having regard to any technical, financial, professional and legal advice that officers provide to members. 

2.1 Members undertake many different roles. Broadly these are:

(a) Members express political values and support the policies of the party or group to which they belong (if any).

(b) Members represent their electoral division and all those citizens who live in that area.

(c) Members are often involved with other organisations as community leaders.

(d) Members contribute to the decisions taken in Council and the various bodies on which they serve, as well as joint committees, outside bodies and partnership organisations.

(e) Members help develop, monitor and review policy strategy and service quality.

(f) Members are involved in quasi-judicial work such as considering planning applications, through their membership of regulatory committees.

3.1 Briefly, officers have the following main roles:

(a) Managing and providing the services the Council has given them responsibility for.

(b) Providing advice to both the Council and its various bodies and to individual Members in respect of the services provided.

(c) Initiating and implementing policy proposals.

(d) Ensuring that the Council always acts in a lawful manner.

4.1 For the effective conduct of County Council business there must be mutual respect, trust and courtesy in all meetings and contacts, both formal and informal, between members and officers.  This plays an important part in the County Council's reputation and how it is seen by the public. 

4.2   It is very important that both members and officers remember their respective obligations to enhance the County Council's reputation and to do what they can to avoid criticism of other members, or other officers, in public places. 
5.1 It is important that, in any dealings between members and officers, neither should seek to take unfair advantage of their position. 

5.2 When dealing with both Corporate Directors and officers (especially junior officers), members need to be aware that it is easy for officers to be overawed and feel at a disadvantage.   

5.3 A member should not apply undue pressure on an officer to do anything that he or she is not authorised to do, or to do any work which is outside their normal duties or outside normal hours.  Particular care needs to be taken in connection with the use of County Council property and services. 

5.4 A  member  should  not  raise  matters  relating  to  the  conduct  or  capability  of  an  officer in public or  act in a way which does not reflect the principles set out in this Protocol, especially since an officer has no means of responding to such criticism in public.

5.5 Similarly, an officer must not seek to use undue influence on an individual member to make a decision in his or her favour, or raise personal matters to do with their job, or make claims or allegations about other officers.  The County Council has formal procedures for consultation, grievance, and discipline.  The one exception to this rule is the right of staff to report possible wrongdoing under the Council's Employee Whistle Blowing Policy

5.6 Reports to Committees should be written by the Corporate Director or another officer authorised by him or her.  It is likely that a sensitive report would be discussed with senior members at a briefing meeting held with the Corporate Director, and members may make suggestions to the Corporate Director as to the contents of the report.   However, the report is the Corporate Director's, and any amendments can only be made by the Corporate Director.  Obviously Members may move any amendments to any recommendations within a report at the formal meeting to consider the report.
6.1 Close personal familiarity between individual members and officers can damage the principle of mutual respect.  It could also intentionally or accidentally, lead to the passing of confidential information, such as personal details. 

6.2  Such familiarity could also cause embarrassment to other members and/or other officers and even give rise to suspicions of favouritism. 

6.3  For the above reasons close personal familiarity must be avoided. 

6.4 If a member considers that he or she has not been treated with proper respect or courtesy, he or she should try to resolve it by direct discussion with the officer initially, however if this is impractical or does not resolve it, then the matter should be raised as soon as possible with the officer's line manager or Corporate Director.  If the issue still remains unresolved, appropriate disciplinary action may be taken against an officer by the Corporate Director in accordance with the County Council's normal procedures.

6.5 If an officer feels the same way about a member, and a direct discussion is impractical or does not resolve the matter, he or she should raise the matter with their line manager or Corporate Director as soon as possible.  The Corporate Director will deal with it, depending on the circumstances, either by approaching the individual member and/or Party Group Leader.  The Chief Executive should be notified if the Party Group Leader becomes involved, or in any other case where that is appropriate.  Feedback should be given to the officer on the outcome.
7.1 Any member is entitled to apply to the Chief Executive or to any Corporate Director, for information and/or advice required in connection with his/her work as an elected member.  Except where the information involves, particularly in the Social Services field, the divulging of exempt information as defined in Section 100F of the Local Government Act 1972, it is the responsibility of the Corporate Director approached to give that information and/or advice, within the limits of his/her Department's resources and to the best of his/her ability.  Members should seek to act reasonably in the number and content of the applications they make.

7.2 If any member asks for specific information relating to the work of a particular County Council directorate, and it appears possible or likely that at a subsequent meeting issues will be raised or questions asked on the basis of the information provided, then the relevant Cabinet member should be informed.

7.3 The Leader or Spokesperson of each minority Group, recognised as such by the County Council, is entitled, for his/her own purposes as a Leader or Spokesperson, to apply to the Chief Executive and/or to the appropriate Corporate Director(s) for general background information on, or for further information in respect of, an item of business coming before the next meeting of a Committee or Sub-Committee of the Council.  The appropriate Chair or Council Spokesperson, as appropriate, should be informed of any new/additional information which has been supplied by the Corporate Director.

7.4 Technical/procedural information may be supplied, in confidence, to any Group Leader, to enable a budget to be presented by that Group which is in the legally correct form.

7.5  Information requested by a member to address a constituency issue may be supplied to that member in confidence.

7.6 If a request is made for routine factual information regarding a service, then, in addition to being supplied to the member concerned, it will normally be made available to all members through the members' Information Bulletin.

7.7 Any member of the Council may apply privately to the Chief Executive and/or to the appropriate Corporate Director for advice, in confidence, on information supplied by that member to the officer.
8.1 Senior officers, except those politically exempted, cannot be local authority members or members of Parliament, nor can they "speak or publish written work for the public at large or to a section of the public with the apparent intention of affecting public support for a political party". 

8.2 Officers are employed by the County Council as a whole.  They serve the County Council through Committees and are responsible to the Chief Executive ('Head of Paid Service') and their respective Corporate Directors, and not to individual members of the Council, whatever office they might hold. 

8.3 It is obviously important, though, for there to be regular contact between the Chief Executive, Corporate Directors, senior officers, and the Leaders of Political Groups on matters affecting the County Council, and between Corporate Directors, other senior officers, and Committee Chairs on matters affecting their respective Committees.
9.1 It is common practice for the Cabinet and Party Groups to give preliminary consideration to matters of County Council business before those matters are considered by the relevant Council decision making body. 

9.2 It is possible that a Corporate Director or other senior officer may be asked to attend Cabinet or any Party Group Meeting.

9.3 Any request for an officer to attend a Political Group meeting should be made to the Chief Executive outlining the name of the individual, the topic or information required and the reason it is necessary.

9.4 The Chief Executive after consultation with the relevant Corporate Director and the individual officer(s) concerned will decide whether permission can be given for the officer(s) concerned for them to attend the meeting provided they are willing to do so.  The decision will be notified to the relevant Group Leader, together with the Leaders of the other Groups, advising that similar arrangements will be made for them if they wish.

9.5 Since legally officers (including the Chief Executive and Corporate Directors) serve the whole County Council, and not individual Political Groups, their attendance at Political Group Meetings is entirely voluntary.

9.6  Officers are entitled to have their political neutrality respected should they agree to attend the Group Meeting, and to be treated in a fair and proper way.  Officers must not be placed in a position where they feel at a disadvantage or their political impartiality or integrity are put at risk.  Normally officers should leave the meeting having given information on the issue in question and before the Group decide what view to take on it as a Political Group.

9.7 To safeguard both officers and members, officers must not be asked to provide information and except where it relates to matters of County Council business.  Officers should not be expected to be present when matters of Party business are discussed.  Officers must be reminded on each occasion that they should leave a meeting if there is any suggestion that they are to be asked to comment on matters beyond the brief agreed in advance, or if they feel vulnerable or that their integrity was being put in question.

9.8 Any breach of these arrangements by either members or officers will be viewed seriously and appropriate action taken by Group Leaders or the Chief Executive respectively. 

9.9 Special care needs to be exercised whenever officers are involved in providing information and advice to a Party Group Meeting that includes persons who are not members of the County Council.  Such persons may be bound by the rules of the Group, but will not be bound by the Members' Code of Conduct (in particular, the provisions concerning the declaration of interests and confidentiality).  For this and other reasons officers may not be able to provide the same level of information and advice as they would to a "members-only" meeting. 

9.10 Officers must respect the confidentiality of any Party Group discussions at which they are present, in the sense that they should not relay the content of any such discussion to another Party Group. 

9.11 Any particular cases of difficulty or uncertainty in this area of officer advice to Party Groups should be raised with the Chief Executive who will discuss it with the relevant Group Leader(s).
10.1  In accordance with the Members' Code of Conduct a member must not disclose any information given to him or her as a member in breach of any confidence.

10.2 Confidential Committee papers are to be treated as confidential information unless the relevant Committee resolves not to exclude press and public. Members are reminded that the author of the report makes the initial decision as to whether or not the papers are to be treated as confidential. The decision as to whether they remain confidential is for the Committee.

10.3 Other information may be confidential because to disclose it would be against the County Council's or the public interest. Information may also be confidential because of the circumstances in which it was obtained.

10.4 Information and correspondence about an individual's private or business affairs will normally be confidential.

10.5 Officers should make it clear to members if they are giving them confidential information. If a member is not sure whether information is confidential, he or she should ask the relevant officer, but treat the information as confidential in the meantime.

10.6 Any County Council information provided to a member must only be used by the member in connection with the proper performance of the member's duties as a member of the County Council.

10.7 If a member receives confidential information and considers it should be disclosed to another person because it is reasonable and in the public interest to do so then he or she must first consult with the Monitoring Officer and shall not disclose the information without having regard to any advice given by that officer.
11.1 Each Council and Standing Committee etc. agenda will be prepared by the Assistant Director - Corporate Governance.

11.2 Normally a pre-agenda meeting will be held, and the Chair will be consulted at that stage.

11.3 The Chair will, in any event, be consulted once the draft agenda is available.

11.4 If there is disagreement between the Chair and the Assistant Director - Corporate Governance over the inclusion of a particular item on the agenda,  the Chief Executive ('Head of Paid Service') will decide if the item should appear on the agenda.

11.5 Minutes of Committees, Sub-Committees, and of the Council will continue to be prepared by the Assistant Director - Corporate Governance, after consultation with the appropriate Corporate Director.

11.6 Once draft minutes are in being, the Assistant Director - Corporate Governance will consult the relevant Chair (Vice-Chair in his/her absence) for comment.

11.7 If, in the exceptional event of a disagreement arising between the Chair and the Assistant Director - Corporate Governance as to the accuracy and/or content of a particular minute, and the Assistant Director - Corporate Governance is satisfied that his/her version is correct, then that version will appear in the minutes.   Subsequently, at the next meeting of the Committee, Sub-Committee, or the Council, as the case may be, it would be for members to adopt or amend that minute as they may decide.
12.1 The only basis on which the County Council can lawfully provide support services (e.g. stationery, typing, printing, photocopying, transport, etc) to members is to assist them in discharging their role as members of the County Council.  Such support services must therefore only be used on County Council business.  They should never be used in connection with Party political or campaigning activity or for private purposes.
13.1 Official letters on behalf of the County Council should be sent out in the name of the appropriate officer, rather than in the name of a member.  It may be appropriate in certain circumstances for a letter to be sent in the name of a Member, for example in response to a letter of complaint sent direct to that member.  But this should be the exception rather than the norm and should only be done following consultation with the Chief Executive or appropriate Corporate Director.

13.2 Letters which create obligations or give instructions on behalf of the County Council should never be sent out over the name of a member. 
14.1 By following good practice and maintaining sensible and practical working relationships between members and officers, where each understands and respects each other's role,  we will enhance  not only the reputation of the Council but also the delivery of high value quality services to the people of Cumbria.