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Complaint to Lochgelly Community Council – Conflicts of Interest

Dear Community Councillors,

I am making a complaint against Lochgelly Community Councillors, Mr Murray, Mr Schulz and Ms MacDonald for failure to publicly disclose multiple potential conflicts of interest at the 11th January 2017 meeting with regards to discussions for the proposed visitor centre at Lochore Meadows (ref: 16/01820/FULL)[1].

All three individuals have attempted to steer the community council into supporting the proposals without any disclosure of competing non-financial interests and financial interests[2].

Under the Model Standing Orders for Community Councils[3], declaration of interests and actions are defined as:

11.0 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

11.1 Whether before or during any meeting of a Community Council a member of that Council becomes aware that he/she or any person connected with him/her has an interest in or relating to any matter to be or being considered he/she shall declare such interest. A member who declares a financial interest, or a non-financial interest which he/she considers would cause a member of the public, knowing all the relevant facts and acting reasonably, to form the view that he or she might be influenced by that interest shall withdraw from the meeting during such consideration and shall not speak or vote on any question relating to the matter.   Such declarations of interest shall be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Under the Conflict of Interest document produced by Lochgelly Community Council[4] it is agreed that “all decisions and actions taken by Community Councillors are as objective and as impartial as possible”, section 1.1.

All three community councilors fall foul of these rules due to political affiliations with the Fife Labour party. Mr Schulz and Mr Murray’s further conflicts of interest are through their employment with Fife Council.

Non-financial Conflicts of Interests

Labour councillors, including local councillor Mark Hood have been very supportive of the proposal at Lochore Meadows, including making public statements of support in local media and at various public meetings.

Ms MacDonald is well-known for Labour activism, often found distributing leaflets and canvassing for Labour outside polling stations in Lochgelly. Mr Schulz is reputed to be high up in the Fife Labour hierarchy, whereas Mr Murray served as the former election agent for Labour councillors Linda Erskine and Mark Hood in 2012.

The political affiliations with the Labour party whose administration at Fife Council originated the proposals at Lochore Meadows breaches Section 11.1 of the Model Standing Orders: “a non-financial interest which he/she considers would cause a member of the public, knowing all the relevant facts and acting reasonably, to form the view that he or she might be influenced by that interest[5].

Further breaches to LCC self-produced rules on Conflict of Interest include:

4.0 As a Community Councillor you may also be a member of a political organisation. So long as that organisation complies with the aims, values and objectives of the community council then this isn’t of any concern. You must not, however, use the Community Council to promote any political parties belief, policy or opinion.

My bold for emphasis.

With all three community councillors proposing in favour of the visitor centre, this upholds Fife Labour policy in an instance where it has become highly controversial and politicised. I fail to see how the three community councillors can claim to be a neutral or objective party, nor can the community councillors claim to be reflecting local community opinion when there has not been any public engagement by these community councillors. By failing to disclose their political activism, questions naturally arise about the integrity and selflessness of these three individuals.

Financial Conflicts of Interests

Both Mr Murray and Mr Schulz are employed by Fife Council for which they receive remuneration. Fife Council is the applicant and land owner at Lochore Meadows. As employees of Fife Council, both individuals have a contract with their employer which requires that employees adhere to the Employee Code of Conduct.

The Employee Code of Conduct[6] clearly states:

Selflessness: Decisions should be based solely on the Council’s best interests.

Integrity: Employees should always act with integrity and not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to any individual or any organization which might influence them in their work with the Council.

Accountability: Employees are accountable to Fife Council as their employer.

Section 2 – Conflicts of Interest from the Employee Code of Conduct states:

The best interests of the Council should always be the paramount consideration and you must not allow any private interest to influence your decisions…….

You should always act for the benefit of the Council and not to further your own interests or the interests of others…..

If the interest involves a decision to be taken by the Council, whether at Committee or under delegated powers, you should take no part in the process by which the decision is taken.

Both employees’ Code of Contract clearly conflicts with the Scheme for the Establishment of Community Councils in Fife, specifically:

Section 1.1: The general purpose of a Community Council shall be to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to matters for which those authorities are responsible, and to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it to be expedient and practicable.

Both community councillors are under contractual obligation to Fife Council which states that decisions taken should be in the best interests of Fife Council, so both employees should always act for the benefit of the employer. This contradicts the duty of a community councillor as described in the Scheme quoted above.

Additionally, both community councillors breach the rules published by LCC for conflicts of interest, specifically 3.1 and 3.2

3.0 Professional

3.1 You must not use the Community Council to promote, or be seen to promote, any professional interests which you may have and thereby gain from.

3.2 If you or any other organisation that you are engaged with may benefit, or be seen to benefit, from your actions you must declare an interest and not participate in that decision or debate.

With Mr Murray and Mr Schulz supporting the proposals from their employer, it may be seen as a professional interest that their employer gains and benefits from.

Their employment with Fife Council excludes both Mr Schulz and Mr Murray from the main task of representing the local community to the local authority, especially when community views conflict with those of their employer, such as the proposed support for Lochore Meadows visitor centre.

Both CCs are under contractual and financial obligation to put their employer first which conflicts directly with their role in serving the local community as community councillors.

I trust that action will be taken against all three community councillors to exclude them from future discussion on Lochore Meadows visitor centre, with a public apology to the local community, and a public declaration of their conflicts of interests.

I also believe it is of immediate interest to remove the Fife Council employees from their office bearer roles as they cannot represent the local community selflessly and objectively due to the terms of their financial contracts with their employer Fife Council.

Please note under the complaints procedure for Stage 1 of the complaint process, I expect to receive written acknowledgement of my complaint within 5 days from today, so no later than Tuesday 17th January 2017. I expect to be informed of the final outcome of my complaint by Thursday 23rd February 2017.

Yours sincerely

James Glen

 

[1] Planning Application – http://planning.fife.gov.uk/online/applicationDetails.do?previousCaseType=Property&previousKeyVal=I2QV4DHFLI586&activeTab=summary&previousCaseUprn=000320226897&previousCaseNumber=I2A7KGHFBU565&keyVal=O7OLEAHFMTK00

[2] . Audio extract from LCC meeting 11th January 2017 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLkDwp9qcyY

[3] Model Standing Orders for Community Councils – https://lochgellycommunitycouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/c64_Item04-MODELSTANDINGORDERS2006Updated2014.pdf

[4] LCC Conflicts of Interest – http://www.lochgellycc.org.uk/webs/99/documents/Conflict%20of%20interest%20guiidance%202016.pdf

[5] Model Standing Orders – https://lochgellycommunitycouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/01-Standing-Orders-2015.pdf

[6] Employee Code of Conduct (Fife Council) – http://publications.1fife.org.uk/uploadfiles/publications/c64_CC01CodeofConduct.pdf

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: How political interests distort proceedings at a so-called non-political community council | Lochgelly | Loch of Shining Waters

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