LBWF councillors’ Register of Interests sparks controversy… yet again

Over recent years, whenever anyone from outside the Town Hall examines councillors’ publicly declared interests – their jobs, landholding, membership of clubs and societies, etc. – it’s almost guaranteed that controversy will follow.

Who can forget, for example, that, extraordinarily, the immediate predecessors of the present Leader, Chris Robbins and Clare Coghill, were both found to have made wrong and misleading declarations?

And it seems as if this long-running saga continues, for this week there has been another dismal instalment.

It should be emphasised that the term Register of Interests is something of a misnomer, as LBWF does not in fact publish all the councillors’ declared interests together in one publicly available place. 

Rather, the approach taken is to use each councillor’s personal webpage, which lists their party affiliation, surgery times, contact details, etc., and insert into it a link to a form which displays their interests.

Unfortunately, however, as of Monday this week, in the case of four councillors – Rhiannon Eglin, Crystal Ihenachor, Sazimet-Palta Imre, and Zafran Malik – there was no such link.

Perhaps Cllr. Eglin et al. had correctly submitted information about their interests, but LBWF had neglected to process it.

Perhaps they had all simply forgotten.

But whatever the case, the law is clear.

The relevant statute is the Localism Act 2011. 

This states that when taking office, councillors must register their interests within 28 days, and subsequently add or subtract as necessary, again recording any change within 28 days of it occurring.

Moreover, there is no doubt as to where ultimate responsibility for collecting and publishing the data lies, with para. 29(1) reading ‘The monitoring officer of a relevant authority must establish and maintain a register of interests of members…of the authority’ [emphasis added], and para. 29(5) adding that he or she ‘must secure… that the register is published on the authority’s website’.

That being the case, the spotlight falls on LBWF Director of Governance and Law, Mark Hynes, who is the monitoring officer. 

Why has he failed in his legal duty to publish information about interests as the rules dictate ?

Another issue has also emerged. 

On some of the councillors’ personal pages, LBWF has started linking to their Twitter feeds.

There can be no objection to this if the councillors in question focus only on council policy, local events, and so forth.

But the Twitter feeds of Cllrs Douglas, Loakes, Mitchell, Moss, and Strathern are highly partisan, and deal extensively with party political issues (see examples below).

Thus, by choosing to signpost them, LBWF is breaking the legal requirement that it must remain completely neutral as regards party politics, and in addition must avoid advantaging one councillor over another (say a councillor who is familiar with Twitter as opposed to one who finds it either unfathomable or uninviting).

Currently, a complaint has been made about both these matters, and an update will follow in due course.

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LBWF councillors and their register of interests forms: an update and reflection UPDATED