On Wednesday 7 February, Rhian Kanat, Lib Dem Council Candidate in Bromley Town, asked the Council whether its code of conduct was fit for purpose. The question made reference to the negative public reaction to Cllr Catherine Rideout’s participation in the planning meeting on 25 January which revoked the Bullers Wood for Boys planning approval. Cllr Rideout had previously campaigned against the school as Chair of a local residents association, including authouring extremely partisan literature on the subject, but failed to declare that interest at the start of the meeting and then proceeded to speak in opposition to the application.
The Council leader, Cllr Colin Smith, responded to Rhian's question by stating that he considered there to have been no reputational damage to the Council as a result of Cllr Rideout’s participation and failure to declare her interest at the meeting. As the interest was not a financial or “pecuniary” one, she was not legally obliged to disclose it unless the Council’s code of conduct required her to do so, which it does not.
However, Rhian pointed out to the Council that their code did not seem to be in conformity with Local Government Association guidance on best practice which states that: “Councillors should think about how a reasonable member of the public, with full knowledge of all the relevant facts, would view the matter when considering whether the councillor’s involvement would be appropriate” and “If a councillor has a (non-pecuniary) personal interest, he or she should disclose that interest, but then may speak and vote on that particular item”.
She also queried whether failing to declare such an interest was in line with the "7 Principles of Public Life" published by the Government. Councillor Smith did not seem to be familiar with either document and referred the matter to the Council's legal team.
It is clear from the reaction of local residents who were present at the planning meeting in question that Cllr Rideout's failure to declare this interest led to distrust in the process of the meeting and therefore should have been declared in accordance with LGA best practice. The Liberal Democrats demand the highest levels of transparency in local government for the benefit of both Councillors and the public they serve. We have written to the Council's Monitoring Officer to ask that they consider updating the code of conduct.