Following an allegation that Councillor Little had failed to declare a personal interest at the council meeting held on March 3, 2022, the Standards Committee has imposed a sanction upon Councillor Cheryl Little.
Councillor Little has been described as ‘a well-known and popular figure in Fairhaven – Cheryl represents the ward on both Borough and St. Anne’s on the Sea Town Councils.’
The allegations was in relation to a proposed catering facility within her ward. The alleged personal interest arose because Councillor Little had a close association with Mx X, who was to have been the operator of the facility. Councillor Little was alleged “to have closer personal ties when they stood together in the same Ward”.
Councillor Little was also alleged to have invited Mx X “as her personal guest to a Mayoral event”. It was therefore alleged, a personal interest should have been declared by Councillor Little at the Budget Council meeting held on 3rd March 2022, when a discussion relating to the proposed catering facility, in which Mx X had an interest, arose.
The committee reached the conclusion that there was a breach of the Code of Conduct in that Councillor Little failed to declare a personal interest at the council meeting on March 3, 2022, in relation to an item of business concerning a proposed catering facility based on the evidence considered. The Committee noted that Councillor Little felt that she did not have a close association with Mx X, but the Committee agreed with the investigator that the question of a close association fell to be decided in line with how the matter would be perceived by a reasonable member of the public.
On that basis the Committee found that there was a close association.
The Committee noted that Councillor Little did not intend to breach the code, and that the breach therefore was down to some measure of carelessness, rather than deliberate calculation. Against this, the committee also noted that Councillor Little was a very experienced councillor who had served in leading council positions such as chairman of the Tourism and Leisure Committee, under whose remit the proposed development fell, cabinet member and deputy mayor.
Where there is a personal interest, there is also the possibility that a prejudicial interest could arise. The complaint that the committee considered did not allege the existence of a prejudicial interest, so the committee did not need to reach a definitive view on that possibility. Therefore the Committee confined itself to the observation that by failing to declare a personal interest, Councillor Little closed off the possibility of any consideration of whether there was also a prejudicial interest, which would have necessitated her leaving the meeting while the item was discussed.
The Committee determined it would not be appropriate to impose no sanction. In the circumstances, it was decided to recommend that Councillor Little’s political group remove her as a member of the Tourism and Leisure Committee until that committee is discontinued in the new municipal year. This would emphasise that the Audit and Standards Committee takes seriously the duty of councillors to uphold the Code, while allowing Councillor Little to return to such roles as are allocated to her as a councillor within a reasonable time.
The Committee also determined that its formal decision notice should be drawn to the attention of the council as an information item.
There is no right of appeal from this decision which is final
Mark Towers was the investigating officer. The meeting was attended by the Chair Councillor Eleanor Gaunt and Councillors Ed Nash (Vice-Chairman), Brenda Blackshaw (substitute member), Delma Collins, Peter Collins, Will Harris, Gavin Harrison (substitute member), Elaine Silverwood (substitute member).
The written decision notice of hearing in relation to a possible failure to follow the Code of Conduct was signed by Councillor Eleanor Gaunt the Chairman of the Audit and Standards Committee and dated 27th January 2023.