Fife councillor suspended for two months

Linda Holt
Linda Holt

A Fife councillor has been suspended for two months after having been found to have broken the code of conduct.

The Standards Commission panel made the decision to suspend Cllr Linda Holt after it ruled she failed to register an interest when in a decision making role at a planning committee.

Cllr Holt, the Tory councillor for the East Neuk and Landward ward, was formerly part of a national campaign group, Scotland Against Spin (SAS), but failed to declare the interest when voting against a planning renewal for a wind turbine.

At the hearing in Glenrothes last week, Cllr Holt accepted that she had failed to both declare the interest and had moved to reject the application at the planning meeting in May 2018.

After weighing up the evidence, the panel decided that she should have revealed the link, and not taken part in the discussion. Even after resigning from SAS, and before being elected, Cllr Holt had continued to express her public views about wind farms.

The panel heard that she accepted that she had been quoted in two BBC reports in October and November 2016, respectively, as being a spokesperson for SAS.

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It also noted that while Cllr Holt’s position was that she had resigned as the group’s spokesperson in October 2016 – six months before the council elections – she remained the administrator for its Facebook page and referred, on her councillor website, to her involvement with the organisation as a lobbyist.

Tricia Stewart, Standards Commission member, who chaired the hearing panel, said: “The need to register and declare certain interests is a very important part of the Councillors’ code of conduct as it gives the public confidence that planning decisions are being made entirely on merit and are not influenced by any councillor’s own interest in the matter.

“Registering and declaring interests provides transparency and helps maintain the public’s confidence that a councillor’s personal interests will not influence their discussions and decision-making. The public must have confidence that councillors are considering any planning application objectively, on its individual merits.”

“The panel considered that not only should Cllr Holt have registered her interest in SAS, she should also have declared it at the planning meeting and should have taken no part in the discussion and voting on the planning application in question.”

While it was noted that Cllr Holt may have believed that she was able to consider the application in question on its merits, it found that a member of the public, with knowledge Cllr Holt’s history, would find her likely to be prejudiced in the discussion and decision-making.

This lead to the panel deciding to suspend Cllr Holt for two months, starting July 1, from all committees and sub-committees of Fife Council.