St Andrews councillor Brian Thomson has been suspended from attending Fife Council planning meetings this month and next as a result of breaching the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
A Hearing of the Standards Commission for Scotland was held in Glenrothes yesterday to investigate a number of complaints relating to the alleged conduct of the Labour member during the course of an education authority public consultation process, planning pre-determination hearing and subsequent planning decision concerning Madras College, St Andrews.
The Hearing by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (CESPLS) considered documents and presentations and dismissed some of the complaints while referring a number to the Standards Commission for Scotland.
The Hearing Panel only considered those matters that had been referred to the Standards Commission.
Essentially the complaints related to the fact that Councillor Thomson failed to declare his non-financial interests in respect of a lobbying group which involved members of his family.
The Panel decided that he should have declared these interests and, as a consequence, should have withdrawn and taken no further part in the planning process after it had formally commenced. His actions were found to be contrary to the Councillors’ Code which is issued by Scottish Ministers in the promotion of ethical standards in public life.
Councillor Thomson accepted that he should have acted in accordance with the Councillors’ Code and declared his non-financial interest, the non-financial interest of his family and taken no part in the proceedings.
He offered an apology for his failure to do so.
The chairperson of the Hearing Panel said that it was important for elected members to work under the direction of the Councillors’ Code and to remember that it is their personal responsibility to do so at all times.
Following the Hearing, Councillor Thomson released a statement: “The code of conduct is in place to give guidance to councillors as to how they should act on a very wide range of issues, as they carry out the role they were elected to fulfil.
“On many issues the guidance is down to a matter of interpretation, particularly around the notion of what a hypothetical member of the public, with knowledge of the relevant facts, might think.
“A number complaints were submitted, and most of those were dismissed. It is important to note that the breaches of the code, which the panel confirmed, related to my failure to declare a non-financial interest concerning my sister and father-in-law speaking at the pre-determination meeting, and my interaction with Parent Voice prior to the submission of the planning application. It was acknowledged that there was no personal gain from this non declaration.
“In considering my position at key stages, I took the view that because the pre-determination meeting was an information gathering exercise, and not a decision making meeting, and because any interaction with Parent Voice was prior to the submission of the planning application - and had no link whatsoever to the planning application - I did not need to declare an interest.
“However, following the questioning from the Commissioner’s staff, having reflected on his initial findings, and taking everything into account, I now recognise that I did breach sections of the code.
“I think today’s hearing has been fair, and that the findings of the panel reflect that, whilst the code was breached, it was due to my misinterpretation of the code, rather than any malicious intent on my part.
“I accept the findings of the panel, but I maintain - and will always maintain - that whilst the code was breached, that was down to my misinterpretation of the code, rather than any malicious intent on my part, or any attempt to pursue some sort of personal gain.
“This has been hanging over me for the best part of 18 months, and I have to say I was - and remain - bewildered by some of, and the nature of, the other complaints - all of which were dismissed. I was elected just over three years ago to represent the citizens of St Andrews and Strathkinness as best as I could. That is what I have endeavoured to do over that time.
“I fully understand that I - indeed no Councillor - will be able to please everyone, but I would say to that small group of people who submitted these complaints that I will always be happy to work with them, or anyone else, for the betterment of St Andrews, and in particular for the improved educational facilities that the children of this area so badly need.”