Sara Randall Johnson exonerated of breach of rules but reminded of ‘the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act’
I’m posting extracts from the minutes of Devon County Council’s Standards Committee yesterday, concerning the allegations about Cllr Sara Randall Johnson’s Chairmanship of the Health Scrutiny Committee’s special meeting about the Seaton, Honiton and Okehampton hospital beds – mostly without comment, because I haven’t yet had time to fully absorb them or to decide with colleagues how to respond. One brief comment at the end, though …
The resolution, unanimously agreed, states
(a) that the Investigating Officer’s Report be acknowledged and endorsed as an exhaustive and thorough piece of work;
(b) that the Committee finds that the allegations are not proven and that there has not been any breach of the Code of Conduct or that they disclose any sufficiently serious potential breach that might warrant punitive action or sanction or that the subject member failed to apply one or more of the Principles of Public Life;
(c) that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the subject member failed to adhere to the Code of Conduct or had failed to treat others with respect or had failed to act in the public interest or had acted improperly or did not have regard to the relevant facts before taking part in any decision making process as alleged, specifically, in relation to paragraphs 4 and 5(a), (c), (d), (g) and (h) of the Code and that that complaints cannot therefore be upheld;
(d) that, notwithstanding the above, the Committee accepts that the events of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting on 25 July 2017 may not reflect well on individual Members or upon the Council as a whole, and further recognises that the perception gained by persons present at the meeting or subsequently viewing the webcast is not that which would have been desired: Group Leaders should therefore be asked to remind Members of the need to conduct themselves appropriately and respectfully at all times;
(e) that, additionally, the subject member be strongly reminded of the importance of the work of scrutiny committees – reinforcing the value of neutrality in scrutiny both generally and in calling the ‘health service’ to account – and the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act; the difference between perception and reality being not easily countered;
(f) that in light also of the evident lack of awareness of some Members of the procedures to be followed at meetings, further training be offered (i) to Members on the rules of debate including procedures relating to the moving of motions and amendments and voting at committee meetings and to remind them that assistance was available through the Council’s Democratic Services & Scrutiny Secretariat to help them in ensuring consideration of any matter by a Committee and in drafting motions or amendments and (ii) to Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of Scrutiny Committees, generally, relating to the management of those procedures at meetings;
(g) that Members be also reminded of the need to ensure microphones are switched on and used particularly when meetings are webcast and that Officers examine the potential within the current audio system to ensure that Members’ microphones are switched on remotely, if necessary, to ensure that their contributions are heard and recorded on the webcast; [This would appear to relate to the fact that Paul Diviani’s comments cannot be heard on the webcast]
(h) that, additionally, the Procedures Committee be asked at its next meeting to ensure the wording of the Council’s Constitution in relation to the appointment and membership of Scrutiny Committees is accurate and consistent throughout and reflects the provisions of the law and that the presentation of information about such appointments at the Annual Meeting of the Council is similarly made clearer in future; and
(i) that complainants be advised that any complaint over the conduct of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee’s Co-opted Member cannot be dealt with by the County Council and that as that Member was currently an East Devon District Councillor any such complaints should be referred to East Devon District Council’s Monitoring Officer.
Additional comments from the Investigating Officer about the Committee’s ‘scrutiny’ of the CCG’s proposal:
‘In relation to concerns that the subject member did not guide or direct Committee Members sufficiently robustly to discuss the relevant issues set out in the papers before that Committee or upon which representations had been made direct to Members, the Investigating Officer recognised that the subject member had been at pains to allow all parties present and able to speak with the Clinical Commissioning Group’s representatives, public speakers and local Members attending under Standing Orders addressing the Committee first and speaking on any aspect of the situation as they saw fit. Thereafter Members of the Scrutiny Committee were invited to speak – without restriction as to subject or time – to enable them to raise any issues they may have wished so to do and enable an informed discussion/debate: only then coming to a view, having first heard all the arguments.
‘It was felt to be entirely reasonable to have assumed that Members of the Committee had read and digested the information before and that it was for Members themselves to refer or raise in debate and discussion any specific issues they felt were necessary or worthy of so doing. The Investigating Officer was of the view that it would be wrong for anyone to assume that there had been no consideration of the issues highlighted in the Report CS/17/23 circulated at the 25 July meeting simply because Members had chosen not to speak specifically to any of those points.’
My comment – no one said ‘there had been no consideration of the issues highlighted in the Report CS/17/23 circulated at the 25 July meeting simply because Members had chosen not to speak specifically to any of those points.’ What we said, and I still say very strongly, is that there was not proper consideration, let alone scrutiny.
The full minutes, which will be posted on the DCC website shortly, are here: Standards Committee 29 August 2017