For Members to consider and comment on the revised Member/Officer Protocol.
Declarations of interest:
Jackie Foglietta – Director of HR&OD
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. Members questioned whether parts of the revised protocol encroached on constitutional issues and were therefore not appropriate to be politicised and voted on. Officers informed Members that the issues in the document related to the vision and values of the Council rather than of its constitution.
2. Members highlighted areas where the protocol would benefit from re-wording to better reflect the roles of Cabinet Members, Councillors and Officers, as well as areas which editing was needed to clarify meaning.
3. Members queried whether the point about Members not criticising individual Officers in the public domain could be extended in the interest of balance to say that Officers should not criticise individual Members publicly. This was accepted by Officers present. It was also asked whether this policy creates a culture of bullying if private criticism is allowed. Officers stated that the protocol is not an HR policy rather, it is guidance for Members to not scrutinise individual Officers.
4. There was discussion whether “local Members” should be referred to as “divisional Members” to avoid confusion. Officers suggested that from an Officer perspective “local” was more clear but that a definition section could help clarify exact meaning.
5. Members expressed concern that Officers could not be expected to inform all political groups of every conversation they have with other groups and that it would require definitions of the differences between meetings, briefings and conversations as well as that sharing information regarding policy initiatives could be inappropriate. It was decided by Members and Officers that this point could be removed from the protocol as a later point which states information and advice being available on request better reflects the meaning of the protocol.
6. Members requested that the section entitled “Member support to Officers” should have a caveat added to highlight that this excludes Political Assistants whose role contributes to the business of individual political parties.
7. It was requested by Members that a point be added to the protocol to say that Officer contact details be private unless consent was explicitly given to share them.
8. Members expressed concern over lack of protection for Officers, particularly at junior and mid-level, feeling unable to voice conflicting priorities to Members. It was decided by Members and Officers that continued discussions would take place on the exact wording that should be used to make clear that wherever possible a mutually convenient time should be found to suit both the Member and Officer involved.
9. It was suggested that a point be added to the protocol to make clear that Officers’ contact information should not be disclosed to the public without the clear consent of the Officer.
10. Members thanked the report author for his hard work on revising the protocol.
Actions/ further information to be provided:
1. That the Senior Manager for Leadership and Member Support continue to work with Members and Officers to develop the Member/Officer Protocol before it is presented to full Council.
That amendments are made to the Member/Officer Protocol before it is recommended to County Council for approval.