The Ombudsman found that Former Councillor Van-Rees had relied on his position as a Member of the Authority and had written to the complainant to require removal of a gate which the Member had determined posed a fire risk. The evidence obtained by the Ombudsman suggested that the Member had no authority to determine whether the gate posed a fire risk and that such functions were for the Fire Service, not for the Authority or its Members.
The Ombudsman concluded that the Member may have breached paragraph 7(a) of the Code of Conduct as he used his position as a Member of the Authority improperly to secure an advantage for his clients in a private civil dispute.
The Ombudsman considered that the tone of the Member’s correspondence to the complainant was inappropriate. During the course of the investigation, the Member made a number of comments about the complainant’s mental health, which the Ombudsman considered to be disrespectful and discriminatory in respect of a potential disability.
The Ombudsman referred a report to the Authority and its Standards Committee concluded Former Councillor Van-Rees had breached paragraphs 4(a), 4(b), 6(1)(a) and 7(a) of the Code of Conduct. As Former Councillor Van-Rees was no longer a member of the Authority at the time of the hearing, the Standards Committee decided to censure him.
As the purpose of the ethical standards framework in Wales is to promote high standards for councillors and to maintain public confidence in local democracy, the Ombudsman welcomed the decision to censure the Former Councillor and thanked the members of the Standards Committee for their careful consideration of the case.
The Standards Committee’s report is available on the Fire Authority website – Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Authority Standards Committee – Decision Notice – Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (mawwfire.gov.uk)
The Local Government Act 2000 provides us with the statutory powers to investigate allegations that members of local authorities in Wales have breached their Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct for elected members is intended to maintain high standards in public life and includes the requirement that elected members should not bring their authority or their office as a councillor into disrepute.
Where our investigation finds that the evidence suggests that a member has breached the Code of Conduct and further action is required in the public interest, we may refer the matter to either the Adjudication Panel for Wales or a local Standards Committee for consideration.
Where the Adjudication Panel for Wales decides that a member has breached the Code of Conduct it may suspend a member from office for up to 12 months or disqualify the member from holding office for up to 5 years.
Where a Standards Committee decides that a member has breached the Code of Conduct it may suspend a member from office for up to 6 months or issue the member with a censure. Where a member subject to a referral to a Standards Committee no longer holds office as a member the standards committee may only censure the member.