CODE : Duty to uphold the law
CODE - No Action Necessary
Abergele Town Council
The Ombudsman received a complaint that a Former Member (“the Member”) of Abergele Town Council (“the Council”) had breached the Code of Conduct because of failings when acting in their capacity as Clerk to a Board under the control of this and a neighbouring council (“the Board”).
The Member was appointed as Clerk to the Board. At the time of the appointment, the Member and the Board members believed the Board to be an autonomous body.
The complaint was that the Member failed to complete required tasks, incorrectly asserted that the Board was an autonomous body, when it was not, and that they inappropriately took a wage from the Board. The complaint suggested that these actions resulted in a critical report from Audit Wales which had a negative impact on the reputation of the Board and the councils associated with it.
The investigation considered the actions of the Member and the Board by reviewing documents and interviewing relevant witnesses. The investigation found that the Board and the councils associated with it were all acting under the misunderstanding that it was an independent body and there was no evidence to suggest action was taken by anyone to identify the correct legal position.
The investigation found that the Clerk was appointed through a recruitment process, and that all involved believed they were eligible to perform the role. The accounts and documents were poorly maintained and while the Member bore some responsibility for that, there was little to no oversight from the Board or the associated councils.
The investigation found that the Member was not acting in their capacity as an elected member when they undertook their role as Clerk, so the whole Code of Conduct was not engaged.
The responsibility for the poor governance of the Board lay with all those involved. It was also found that the Member took the wage in good faith and did not mislead anyone regarding her role or remuneration for that role. However, the Ombudsman considered that the Member was in large part responsible for failing to establish the legal position of the Board and that the Member should have undertaken proper research sooner. Failing to do so put the reputation of the Board and the Council at risk and is suggestive of a breach of paragraph 6(1)(a) of the Code of Conduct.
While it is noted that the Member’s actions were suggestive of a breach of the Code of Conduct, significant mitigation arose because all those involved were acting under the same mistaken belief that the Board was a separate entity and no one sought independent advice on this matter. Even if a referral to the Standards Committee would be made it seems that, given the mitigation, and the fact that the Member is also now retired from public life, it is unlikely, even if a breach of the Code of Conduct were proven, a sanction of any kind would be imposed. Therefore under Section 69(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000, the finding is that no action needs to be taken in respect of the matters investigated.