Personal and Prejudicial Interests and Predetermination
All Councillors must declare any “interests” that they have, that might be seen as relevant when they are involved in discussing or making a decision on an issue.
We do this because it is important that members of the public can have confidence in their elected representatives to make impartial and fair decisions.
It is very important that Liberal Democrat Councillors follow the procedures around interests properly. Failure to do so can result in suspension from the Council or in worst cases disqualification from holding public office.
Register of Members Interests
Every year all Councillors are asked to complete their entry for the Register of Members Interests. Everyone needs to do this.
This is a public document and needs to be filled in carefully. Many Council’s publish the actual document on their website so take time to write this carefully (or type if your handwriting is not for public display!)
The register will ask you for:
– your employment- property you own or have an interest in within the Authority- organisations you are involved in- ownership of companies.
It is probably best to say more than less. So don’t forget to include:
– second jobs- public appointments to other bodies- a house you own that you rent out in the authority- membership of organisations – including the Liberal Democrats and ALDC- school governorships- membership of outside committees that you have been appointed to by the Council
Many forms ask you who contributes to funding your election campaign. For most people the answer is simple, it is the local Liberal Democrats – e.g. “Sheffield Liberal Democrats”.
Declaring Interests at Meetings.
Every Council Meeting will have an agenda item where Councillors are asked to declare any interests relevant to the meeting.
You must declare any relevant interests at the start of the meeting – if in doubt ask the Council Solicitor, or the member of staff from your Committee Services team for advice before the meeting starts.
If the issue is not on the agenda, and comes up during the meeting (e.g. a verbal question), you must declare any interests straight away.
There are two types of interest:
A – An interest that is on your register of Interests (you need to declare this again at the meeting, even though it is on your register of interests)
B – An interest that is not on your register where your well being or financial position could be affected by the business of the authority, more than it would affect the majority of residents
If you declare a personal interest “you can remain in the meeting, speak and vote on the matter. Unless your personal interest is also a prejudicial interest.
You must, however, declare any personal interest at a meeting before the matter is discussed or as soon as it becomes apparent to you, even if it is on your register of interests.
There are exemptions to declaring personal interests:
Any other body to which you were appointed or nominated by the authority
Any other body exercising functions of a public nature eg other councils, RDAs, Public Health Bodies
A Personal Interest will also be a Prejudicial Interest if it meets all of the following conditions:
– The issue does not fall within one of the exempt categories – such as if you are a council house tenant, have children at school or a parent school governor, unless the issue directly relates to that school
– The matter affects your financial interests or relates to a licensing or regulatory matter – the matter affects the financial position of any person or body through whom you have a personal interest
A member of the public who knows the facts, would reasonably think your personal interest is so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest
There has been a significant change to the rules affecting Prejudicial Interests. If you have a prejudicial interest you should leave the room immediately “unless members of the public are allowed to make representations, give evidence, or answer questions about the matter”. If this is the case you can also attend the meeting to make a representation, but unlike the public you must leave before the matter is discussed.
The test of course is still whether members of the public, it used to be the mythical person on the Clapham omnibus, would think that the councillor was unable to make an unbiased judgement because of their interest.
I am a postal worker ,and the Council is discussing Post Office Closures – at the most this is probably a “personal interest” – in reality it is a different business, but a member of the public might think you have an interest – best to declare a personal interest but stay and take part in the debate and vote.
I am a Director of a Company that is being awarded a contract by the Council – a prejudicial interest – you MUST NOT TAKE PART IN THIS DECISION.
My partner is a teacher at Sunnyside School which the Council is proposing to close – a prejudicial interest – do not take part in the decision.
A planning application for an extension to my next door neighbour’s house – prejudicial!
Predetermination or bias
Councillors must no predetermine their decision, particularly as it relates to regulatory or quasi-judicial issues (planning or licensing).
For example, you must not say in a press release that you will “never allow this development to go ahead” and then go to the Planning Meeting and take part in the vote. You will have predetermined your decision!
Predetermination or bias is where a councillor is closed to the merits of any arguments relating to a particular issue, such as an application for planning permission, and makes a decision on the issue without taking them into account.
Councillors must not even appear to have already decided how they will vote at the meeting, so that nothing will change their minds.
An impression of predetermination can be created in a number of different ways such as quotes given in the press, and what has been said at meetings or written in correspondence. Rarely will membership of an organisation, such as a national charity, amount to predetermination or bias on its own unless it has a particular vested interest in the outcome of a specific decision that a councillor is involved in making.
Councillors who are not involved with making a decision are generally free to speak about how they want that decision to go.
Once again the test is if a fair-minded observer having considered the facts, decides there is a real possibility that the councillor had predetermined the issue or was biased?
On all of these issues, if in doubt, councillors should take advice from their monitoring officer. Some monitoring officers are more cautious than others and they can also be wrong, but if you have confidence in the officer’s opinion it is wise to go with the advice
On planning issues predetermination can be a tricky issue, particularly when you want to “stand up for your ward”, but you are a member of Planning.
Two ways round
– your ward colleagues (if you have them) can do the campaigning and standing up for your ward – you can do the Planning Committee.
– You may choose that you better serve your residents by NOT voting on planning, but campaigning publicly against the issue.
Useful external links
Updates and comment
Last updated by Tim Pickstone 5 August 2009.
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It seems odd that a councillor with a prejudicial interest must physically leave the room when withdrawing from the meeting. That gives them less right to hear the debate than even a non-resident present as a member of the public