Complaint Number: LA/Fi/1705
Date case started: 20 Feb 2015
Decision issued: 25 Mar 2015
Allegation against: Councillor Tim Brett
Complaint Categories: 3.14, 6.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.11
Nature of allegation
Breach of specified provisions in the Councillors’ Code of Conduct set out in section 3 (General Conduct - Confidentiality Requirements), section 6 (Lobbying and Access to Councillors) and section 7 (Taking Decisions on Quasi-judicial or Regulatory Applications) of the Code.
Decision by Commissioner
Decision that the matters raised against Councillor Tim Brett could not amount to a contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
Complaint no. LA/Fi/1705 concerning an alleged contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct by Councillor Tim Brett of Fife Council
1. Complaint number LA/Fi/1705 alleged a contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct (“the Code”) by Councillor Tim Brett (“the respondent”).
2. It was alleged that the respondent had contravened the Code, in particular, responsibilities on Lobbying and Access to Councillors and obligations relation to prejudgement and bias in the consideration and determination of Quasi-judicial or Regulatory Applications.
3. The person complaining (“the complainant”) alleged that the content of the respondent’s Facebook relating to a detailed planning application in respect of the proposed new Madras College in St Andrews conflicted with the respondent’s duty not to demonstrate prejudgement or bias in considering the application.
4. The application was due to be considered by the North-East Committee of Fife Council on 10 December 2014. On 5 December 2014 the respondent’s Facebook included a posting from a local Group “Parent Voice” which supported the detailed planning application.
5. The Council provided me with a copy of the officer report recommending conditional approval of the detailed planning application. I was also provided with an excerpt of the Committee minute confirming the approval of the application. I noted that the respondent participated in that consideration and moved an amendment to approve the officer report and grant the application.
6. The respondent refuted that his conduct amounted to a breach of the Code. He stated that he had checked back on all of his Facebook posts and had confirmed that he had not at any time posted any information stating or implying his position on the detailed planning application in advance of the matter being considered by the Committee.
7. The complainant recognised that Facebook had a facility (“posts to page”) which allowed members of the public to post their own views. The respondent also emphasised this point in particular. He was of the view that this was an important function of Facebook and stated that he found it acceptable in a free country that such entitlement existed. He did not accept that a third party comment by Parent Voice could be reasonably construed as giving his views on an issue as he had not commented or endorsed it in any way. He exampled the existence of a recent post to page on his Facebook critical of his political party.
8. The question which I had to consider was whether or not the complaint was covered by the Code and, if so, whether or not the conduct of the respondent amounted to a breach of his Code obligations.
9. The purpose of the Code is to seek to regulate certain specified aspects of individual conduct by councillors. Paragraph 2.1 and the Guidance issued by the Standards Commission for Scotland in November 2011 make it clear that section 2 provides a context for and underpins the Code. However contravention of one or more of the key principles does not in itself constitute a breach of the Code. In order to constitute a breach, there has to be contravention of one or more of the substantive sections of the Code which follows. The specific aspects of individual conduct which the Code seeks to regulate are set out in sections 3 to 7 and Annex C of the Code.
10. As presently framed, I found that the Code contained no specific obligations in relation to the method of operation of social media by a councillor. Whilst there are Code obligations in relation to considering regulatory applications, including the issues of bias and prejudgement, there are no provisions which required the regulation of third party posts. There was no information before me that the respondent endorsed or passed any Facebook comment on the post to page comment in question. In such circumstances, I did not consider the presence of the posting by Parent Voice was evidence of any bias or pre-determination on the part of the respondent.
11. In the absence of any other relevant evidence, I therefore concluded that the provisions of the Code were not engaged and the matters raised against Councillor Tim Brett did not amount to a contravention of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
91 Haymarket Terrace
25 March 2015