West Berkshire Council

Agenda item

Challenging Communication Issues - Update to the Officers Code of Conduct

Purpose: To advise of proposed amendments to the Code of Conduct relating to Officers use of Social Media.

Minutes:

The Committee considered a report (Agenda Item 5) which explained that in view of the increased use of social media as a form of communication, a review had been undertaken of the relevant Council policies to ensure that they remained fit for purpose. The report advised of proposed updates to those policies and related procedures.

The Finance and Governance Group (FaGG) had discussed the policy and had agreed that this policy should be incorporated into the Officers Code of Conduct (Part 13 Codes and Protocols) of the Constitution. This would then ensure that the policy was refreshed annually as part of the group’s cyclical review of the Constitution. Cognisance could then be taken of the changes in this ever evolving area. It would also give the Council greater powers to deal with any issues should they arise and would provide employees with greater clarity about what was and was not acceptable.

Sarah Clarke explained that Councillor Graham Bridgman had raised a few stylistic and formatting issues which would be amended prior to the item being considered at Full Council.

Councillor Jeff Beck noted that Section 3 (Gifts and Hospitality General) did not include a monetary threshold similar to the £25 threshold for gifts included in the Members’ Code of Conduct. Ms Clarke noted this and explained that this was something that FaGG would consider in due course.

In response to a query as to how this would impact on Members, it was explained that Members were not employees and that they would be required to abide by the Members’ Code of Conduct and the Social Media Protocol for Councillors.

 

Councillor Beck stated that the word ‘by’ should be inserted between the words ‘banked’ and ‘them’ in paragraph 18.1.

 

Councillor Steve Ardagh-Walter queried if other examples of good practice had been looked at during the preparation of this document. The Head of Legal Services explained that Councils differed from private organisations due to the political nature of the organisation. Some officers were employed in politically restricted posts. The document was largely prepared by HR and they had looked at other applicable organisations as well as relevant case law. It was hoped that the document explicitly set out what officers could do and how they should conduct themselves. She reminded Members that this Code was not applicable to them. Councillor Ardagh-Walter commented that it was encouraging to hear that other organisations had been consulted.

 

Councillor Dillon noted the comments around employees connecting with service users in paragraph 13.5 and queried what would happen about existing relationships. Ms Clarke noted that employees in the public sector had to maintain high standards of behaviour and that as such they should review these relationships on an ongoing basis to ensure they were appropriate to ensure that their impartiality was not questioned. Where service users preferred method of communication was via social media the policy allowed for permission being sought from the employee’s manager to communicate in that way.

 

Councillor Dillon noted that social media was not defined and queried whether that would be helpful.  For example, many chat forums were not regarded as social media and it would assist to clarify if these types of web based discussion forums were covered by the policy. It was agreed that it would help to provide some examples but that the document should make it clear that the social media applications listed were examples by including the statement that it was ‘including….but not limited to’ to future proof the document.

 

Councillor James Cole stated that he favoured the approach that had been taken in section 13 in that it warned employees rather than prohibited them from these interactions. He noted that there had been a request to extend the definition of harassment in section 16 of the report. Sarah Clarke confirmed that this would be picked up as part of the pre Council ‘tidying up’ process.

 

Councillor Geoff Mayes commented that the wording in the third to last bullet point of paragraph 19.3 was awkward and needed to be reworded.

 

Councillor Anthony Pick stated that this was a well thought out and presented document. In his view commenting on social media was similar to publishing albeit in a ‘private newspaper’.

 

It was agreed that paragraph 13.7 should be reworded to state that ‘personal social media sites must not be used by employees during their working hours for non-work related reasons’.

 

RESOLVED that the Officers Code of Conduct, subject to the inclusion of the agreed amendments, be recommend to full Council for approval at the 01 March 2018 meeting.

 

Supporting documents: