Section 6: Lobbying and access
Question 7: Do you have any comments on the changes proposed for Section 6: Lobbying and Access?
Twenty-two respondents (46%) made comments on the changes proposed for Secton 6, with 26 (54%) choosing not to comment.
Whilst some felt that the revised wording was clearer, one respondent felt that this section is currently more densely worded and looks different to the other sections in how it is laid out.
Comments were received relating to several paragraphs of the section, as well as relating to the explanatory notes that were provided within the consultation copy of the draft Code.
On Paragraph 6.1, two respondents noted that lobbying is not just for financial gain or advantage – and suggested that the wording should be clarified to ensure that the text makes it clear that any kind of advantage is meant here.
On Paragraph 6.2, one respondent felt that the objective test should go beyond members of the public to include others such as representatives of organisations and groups who are customers of the council.
On Paragraph 6.3, a few respondents commented on the statement that Councillors are not expected to respond to constituents in all cases. This was generally welcomed – for example, one respondent said that:
“It is helpful that the Code now provides that there may be circumstances in which it is best not to respond to a constituent, and that councillors are not obliged by the Code to respond to every contact.”
Another felt that
“Having clarity that there is no duty to respond affords protection for Elected Members and enables the use of their own judgement and discretion. Guidance on how this should be approached in practice would be helpful to assist Elected Members in understanding when a nil response would be appropriate and to manage the expectations of constituents. It is recognised that there will be particular circumstances where it would be generally not be appropriate to respond, for example in the case of persistent complainers or abusive behaviour. However there is also a balance to be struck in ensuring that a lack of response does not become commonplace given the duty Elected Members have to their constituents.”
One respondent felt that enquiries should at least be acknowledged, unless malicious/vexatious.
There were a few comments relating to Paragraph 6.4 on Community Engagement. Some respondents felt it was unclear what constitutes work ‘in public’, particularly during the current situation but also more generally, since some community engagement will typically take place in meetings that are not public, as well as in correspondence and by telephone. Another respondent was concerned to ensure that the requirements of the Code would not impede the proper sharing of information during community engagement.
On Paragraph 6.5, one respondent felt that ‘seeking to do business’ is too vague and should be more clear/specific. Another suggested a fourth option to add to the list of potential councillor actions to reflect a situation where a councilor does not publicly support the position of someone who is lobbying them.
Two respondents noted that Paragraph 6.6 should be clarified as to whether it relates specifically to regulatory or quasi-judicial matters.
In relation to Paragraph 6.8, one respondent felt that the difference between publicly supporting an issue and lobbying or influencing of officers/other councillors is not clear in the Code, and that this would benefit from further clarification.
Two respondents commented on Paragraph 6.9, which they felt to be too restrictive in certain respects.
Overall, a small number respondents felt that the tone and direction of the changes were unbalanced and do not reflect their view that lobbying has a legitimate role to play in the democratic system.
“The existing statements about appropriate participation and that lobbying is an essential part of the democratic system were useful, but appear not to have been retained. The overall tone of the proposed wording seems more cautious, and may deter Councillors from being involved in such activity.”
“It is not always that case that “lobbying” is problematic - sometimes it is useful to meet with experts or business working in the council area to get their input in to the work of the Council and what updates they think would be helpful. That does not mean that Councillors are working to their bidding, but under the current draft, these types of meetings would automatically be seen as suspicious, even when they are not.
This collaborative approach to working with stakeholders is important and building partnerships and relationships is a key part of the role of a Councillor which is being undermined in the Code.”
In particular, some respondents felt that the revised Code unfairly singles out applicants (particularly developers) in comparison with others who might be supporters or objectors to an application. This was particularly noted in relation to the language of the explanatory notes.
“Our members have strong concerns about the language used in the Explanatory Notes supporting Section 6. While our members agree with the general principles, they are concerned about the suggestion that developers and their agents may give selective information in favour of their proposals. They are also concerned at the weight given to councillors being aware that commercial developers and their agents are motivated by financial gain.”
“[Organisation] objects to the unbalanced manner in which consultation explains the need for caution in relation to lobbying and access. The Code itself must be very carefully scrutinized. All bias against applicants (and in consequence in favour of everyone else) must be removed as part of the wording changes that are being made.
The opening paragraph of the Explanatory Note on changes proposed for Section 6 correctly identifies those who might lobby Councillors in relation to an application for a consent from the Council might do so either in opposition to an application or in support of it. However, not all parts of Section 6 currently include that same balance.
Even with in the Explanatory Note to this section there is a significant imbalance between what is said of applicants / developers compared to wider stakeholders.”