Agenda item

Group Leaders Discussion



Councillor Jane Mudd – Leader of Newport Labour Party

Councillor Matthew Evans – Leader of Newport Conservative Party

Councillor Allan Morris – Leader of Independent Party Lliswerry

Councillor Kevin Whitehead – Leader of Newport Independent Party


The Chair expressed his concern to Councillor M. Evans that Councillor Fouweather is meant to be a Member on the Standards Committee and has not sat in a meeting as of yet.


Councillor Evans apologised for the absence of his peer.


The Party Leaders were welcomed by the Chair and Committee, and were asked to confirm how they maintain the standards required from their political parties.


Councillor Jane Mudd – Leader of Newport City Council


The Leader explained that she has a dual role as Leader of the Council and Leader of the Labour Group. With regard to the role as Leader of the Council, the Leader explained she meets regularly with the Head of Law and Standards and Democratic Services Manager on a weekly basis to go through the training programme with informal discussions to address emerging issues and put measures in place.


The Leader used an example where she would like fellow elected Members to gain more confidence with IT which she felt would be important with standards not only in relation to the use of the equipment but also in terms of the language used by Members through email which has the potential to unintentionally offend others because of the tone.


The Leader reported that they are looking to address this issue. The Democratic Services Manager is going to introduce drop-in sessions with a more informal nature to discuss aspects that they may not feel confident about to encourage a better atmosphere.


The Leader then covered the group aspect as being Leader of Newport Labour. As with any political party, there are structures in place to implement group discipline. It is a part of Newport Labour’s Councillor contract as they are committed to high standards.  The structure includes a Party Whip is there for member support as well as other issues.


The Leader explained that as they have a vast number of Members, the new Members have been matched up with more experienced Members for support. The Leader explained that the party want their Councillors to be the best they possibly can for the communities they serve and recognised that they can face challenges on conduct.


Committee raised the following points


           The Chair understood that parties try to limit reputational damage and asked how the party tries to limit its Members being in breach of their Code of Conduct. The Chair also asked if the party has policies in place for reputational damage or would the Members go to the Head of Law and Standards.


The Leader confirmed that in that in those circumstances, Party Members would go to the Head of Law and Standards for guidance but explained that informal processes are in place before any formal actions are taken. The Local Resolution process is very successful.  Important to maintain dialogue and support people. The Leader commended the Head of Law and Standards for being helpful with that.


           Mrs Nurton referred to the attendance list and mentioned that 37 out of the 51 Members completed the ethical standards training and asked the Leader what she is doing to encourage all Members to undertake the training.


The Leader explained that they have a reporting structure in which the Democratic Services Manager is able to report back to the group business managers. As training took place early on straight after the election, a lot of Members were away after the campaign. The Leader ensured that they will follow up with a session to ensure as many Members as possible able to attend.  The Leader noted her confidence in the reporting process and mechanisms enable us to identify training attendance.


           Councillor Cockeram commented that he is mindful of the meetings being broadcast, such the pre-meeting chat in the 15 minutes prior to the meeting. Those participating are responsible for those discussions before the recording of the meetings start. The Member believed that all political groups need to be aware of that as it happened at the last full council meeting.


           Mr Watkins noted the mention of informal meetings with colleagues and asked if any of the meetings have been recorded in a formal manner and put in annual reports.


The Leader confirmed that as the Leader, she meets with the Democratic Services Manager and Head of Law and Standards regularly as part of the Cabinet Member Briefing programme with the Democratic Services having oversight of the internal process. The formal minutes are taken in the same way as a public meeting and the records of discussion are kept. The Member advised she could come back to those if the Committee would like them.


The Leader also mentioned the electronic system that the council has which records Members’ attendance, this is a huge advantage as it enables the team to download and access that information quickly.


The Chair raised whether in future group leaders would be required to provide something in writing or invite them to meetings to see how things are going.  Although next committee meeting is in January Chair suggested all standards training signed off by the second meeting in the New Year.


Following on the conversation, Councillor Evans added that if someone has not attended a meeting, it would be useful if he could be notified of that.


Councillor Matthew Evans - the Opposition Leader (Newport Conservatives)


Councillor Evans introduced himself to the Committee and explained that the Party has two new Councillors and that five of the seven are longstanding.  They also have a buddy system in place like Labour Group for support to meet informally and chat things through.


The Members are all signed up to the Conservative Councillor Association and abide by the party rules. All have gone through the selection process and are selected independently. They are offered opportunities for external and internal training.

The Opposition Leader went on to highlight that he has recently worked with officers for a local resolution as a Member of the group was abrupt in email correspondence. It was explained that this has been resolved as they have met with the Head of Law and Standards and Chief Whip.


Councillor Evans also mentioned that he has meetings with the Leader on a regular basis, talks to the independent party groups on a need to know basis, and stated that they all signed up to the Code of Conduct at the May Election.  As far as the mandatory training goes, we need to attend the training and set an example for all.


Committee raised the following points:


           Dr Worthington thanked Councillor Evans for his introduction and expressed his interest in the notion of buddying the newly Elected Members with longstanding ones. It is important that Members buddying up are fully signed up to the notion of the ethical standards and asked if that culture trickles down.


Councillor Evans mentioned that they have long standing Councillors and that it is important when you have any new Members just as taking on any trainee/apprentice in work that they do not get into any bad habits. Some of the Members of the Newport Conservative Party are long standing business people and Councillor Evans stressed that being a Councillor means having various roles to undertake, and that the Members are aware of their obligations and of his as Party Leader to them.


Councillor Allan Morris – Leader of the Lliswerry Independent Party


Councillor Morris introduced himself to the Committee and noted that his party is the smallest group with two other Members who are very sensible as independents and are reluctant to get involved in things that are beyond their Lliswerry ward. They have a meeting once a month and see Councillor Morris as a mentor, although he admitted that he has not had the training and would be more than happy to undertake any training sessions necessary.


The Chair thanked the Leaders for their introduction and time and asked the Leaders for their feedback on the pro-forma in the report pack.  The Chair asked for consideration of whether the Leaders provide verbal feedback for the committee or use the pro-forma.


Party Leader Comments in relation to the pro-forma


           The Leader of the Council pointed out that it refers to a few things as group leaders, with references to complaints to the ombudsman. The Leader highlighted that they are completely confidential. If the Members would find it helpful to provide the Leaders with a guide on what they would like to feedback to them on, the Leader said she was happy to do that.  The Leader felt that it would be helpful to have feedback in person as happened today.


           Councillor Evans agreed with Leader to ensure that Members receive the mandatory training for sitting on a committee. As those Councillors sitting on planning and licensing cannot sit in the meetings before they have the training. Member was happy to attend every meeting if necessary but commented that would be more of a tick box exercise.


The Chair thanked all of the Party Leaders for their comments and time and stated it is good to have a chance to meet to discuss how they can work together to ensure that council colleagues and the council reputation is kept safe.


Mr Watkins suggested that a simple annual written report would be essential for the committee to have a record of what has been obtained, and perhaps have a combination with personal interaction to ensure it is satisfactory for all. The Committee Member stated he liked the idea of building the reputation between the party leaders and the committee.


The Chair added that it could be added as the first item on the agenda annually with a short report from the Leaders.


           Mrs Nurton stated that she would prefer regular dialogue with the Leaders and expressed her disappointment that the Committee will have to wait for another two meetings for the Members to complete their training. It was suggested that perhaps those who have not undertaken the training may be long standing Councillors who are already aware of the required standards.


The Chair and Committee agreed that a personal visit biannually would be ideal and to try to receive reports through email from the Leaders.


           Mr Watkins felt that bi-annual meetings would be helpful and that at the end of the year would need something in writing they could know where they stand with training and the ethics involved with the training.


           Councillor Davies would like the committee to keep a record of training attendance; and ask the Members to attend and ask why it has not been carried out as Members should be doing it and suggested to look at next April for another meeting.


           Dr. Worthington agreed with the prior point that an audit written trail is important for good governance with a mix of personal visits and written reporting sounds right.  Agree not able to tick of 100% at this stage.


           The Committee agreed to invite the Party Leaders back to their April meeting to have an update on their training and other points to cover. The Chair suggested they could invite the leaders to provide a report beforehand on which way the discussion is likely to go, such as a brief of anything that has happened.   Chair asked colleagues in Democratic Services to invite the leaders to the April meeting.


           Councillor Cockeram felt it was important to note that the focus is not just about training but also it should set down what they expect from the Leaders. In his new role as Presiding Member as a longstanding Councillor, he is aware that some Members do not show up to meetings and there is a need to focus on absenteeism rates.  Previously needed to explain why not attending meetings. It was suggested that the Standards Committee should set standards for Leaders to confirm their absenteeism rates.  Suggested discussing absenteeism of meetings at Standards Committee.


           Councillor Hussain agreed with that notion and stated that Councillors need to be responsible with their role and that they should be notified of absence with an explanation.


The Head of Law and Standards reminded Members that Councillor Attendance is not a code of conduct issue, but behaviour is and that they monitor that. The Councillor Attendance records are published on the website and if they do not attend any meetings within 6 months then they are automatically disqualified. The Democratic Services team keep an active record and assured the Members that they take the point raised but reiterated that it is not about ethical standards.  


Similar to complaints to the ombudsman where constituents feel they are not represented much by their councillor which is a matter for voter choice.  The Head of Service explained that whilst non-attendance may not look good in a representational role, but it is not something the Council can monitor with code of conduct. 


           The Chair referred to the pro-forma leaders report form presented to the Committee, as it was mentioned by Councillor Mudd some parts may not be relevant to the council.


The Head of Law and Standards informed the Members that they are not wedded to the document as it came from Denbighshire Council as an example of some of the questions that might stimulate discussion in the committee meeting.


Agreed that some of the information in terms of numbers of complaints shouldn’t be included.  It was explained a later item in the meeting covers an update on complaints, presented in a schedule anonymously. The monitoring officer saw no reason why they cannot be shared with the group leaders anonymously, so they can be aware of ongoing complaints raised against Councillors.


The Head of Law highlighted in terms of the approach, the guidance advises that the Committee would need to receive a report from the group Leaders at least once a year which could be either a verbal or written report. And that it is up to the Committee if they would like to meet up with them more frequently should issues arise in the year to deal with specific items in the group or conduct issues.


           The Committee expressed an interest to invite the Leaders back in 6 months’ time in order to review their training records and the Officer advised that the committee could defer any written reports after that meeting to see if any specific issues to include.


It was explained that it is important to not make the report too onerous for the Leaders and on reflection of the training record for Code of Conduct training; Democratic Services has only done one training session on 16 May 2022. There are another 16 Members that need to be trained therefore it was acknowledged that the Council needs to arrange mop up sessions for that training in the New Year. The Monitoring Officer recognised that there is more that the council can do to help the Members attend the sessions. It was mentioned that the slides from the training sessions are available for the Members on a shared microsoft teams folder. Therefore, the Members have access to the materials from the training.  It is possible that some in their own time may have brushed up on their knowledge, but the team is conscious of the need to arrange some more training session in the New Year before April and advised that they can report back next time on that. 


           Mrs Nurton asked if the Members have the opportunity to do training on e-learning.


The Head of Law and Standards highlighted that the only issue with that is method is that they would need to create an e-learning module with questions.  At the moment the information in the shared folder are the presentation slides and the information.  Preference at the moment would be some further training sessions which can be remotely.  The team could look into developing a training module with IT in order to be interactive, but this option will be kept in reserve pending how many members attend the training.


           Mrs Nurton commented that hopefully the National Monitoring Officers Forum would be in place by then and we can share best practice with other Monitoring Officers.


           The Committee Members agreed to invite the Party Leaders back to the Committee in April to finish off 22/23 and then come to some agreement as to how it will be presented to the Committee from there.

Supporting documents: