An elected member of any local authority is bound by the ethics and standards of public office however many public offices are held by that member. Cllr Paul Moon, local member for Hesketh-with -Becconsall is somewhat unique insofar as he’s also the member for Preesall in Wyre. Public expectations of Moon in both council wards are that he serves them, not himself. But in bizarre circumstances Moon, as a councillor landlord in Preesall was able to speak about landlord housing matters in West Lancashire while six West Lancashire councillor landlords were denied that right.
Principles (often now called the Nolan Principles) – Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership – have been accepted and expected by the public and those active in public life as appropriate determinants of behaviour, and now underpin much of the UK public sector ethical infrastructure. If you work in local government, if you are elected, if you are a statutory officer, if you are an administrator or even if your organisation delivers a service paid for by the taxpayer, these Seven Principles are the ethical framework that should underpin your work. They outline what your baseline ethical considerations should be in administering the public interest as an appointed, employed, or elected person in local government, be it as a holder of one seat or more. And they do not apply on an individual “pick and mix” choice.
Readers may recall an exchange of emails in October 2016 between Conservative Wyre and West Lancashire member Paul Moon and OWL West Lancashire member Adrian Owens that included the public admission from Moon “I also have a property in Preesall which I rent out from which I supplement my pension as a retired firefighter”. In simple terms, Moon is a Wyre landlord. Moon’s Wyre declaration of a disclosable pecuniary interest in respect of 4 Unsworth Avenue, Preesall repeats his admission to Cllr Owens. These are indisputable facts. It must surely follow that reference to the basic ethical considerations of selflessness and integrity should follow Cllr Moon into both of his elected posts to serve the public and not his aim of supplementing his pension. Or perhaps not?
In a matter of national law “Minute 36 Agenda Item 13 ‘Housing and Planning Act 2016: Civil Penalties & Rent Repayment Orders’ as landlords” that was considered at the WLBC Full Council meeting held on Wednesday 18th October 2017 Moon did not mention his pecuniary interest as a landlord and hence the question of twin-hatting became an issue of member standards, transparency, ethical, and moral principles. At the time of Moon’s “twin-hat outing” Lancashire MP Cat Smith said it “looks self-serving”.
On 18th October not only did Moon NOT declare himself to be a landlord, albeit in Wyre, but as a self confessed landlord he watched as Councillors Blane, Bullock, G Hodson, J Hodson, C Marshall and Mrs Marshall declared Disclosable Pecuniary Interests and left the room whilst this item was under consideration. Insofar as the six WLBC council members who left the room did so in respect of their Disclosable Pecuniary Interests, their constituent electors were consequently left unrepresented, unlike the constituent electors of Cllr Moon who were represented by his presence and opinions given. He spoke about carbon monoxide detectors, matters of serious consideration for any landlord, in Wyre or West Lancashire.
Moon had a choice, of declaring himself as a Wyre landlord and seeking dispensation from the Borough Solicitor to speak as a landlord in West Lancashire, or sitting on his hands and shutting up. That he did not do so was a perverse and unacceptable situation for many WLBC electors. Case law already exists that suggests that in Essex the County Council and Fire Authority Joint Standards Committee authorised the grant of dispensation for “twin-hatted members” who are members of other public authorities, under Section 33(2) Localism Act 2011. Section 34 of the LA 2011 creates a criminal offence where a member fails without reasonable excuse to comply with the requirements to declare discloseable pecuniary interests or takes part in council business at meetings.
An opinion suggested locally is that because the subject of WLBC Minute 36 being discussed on 18th October applied only in West Lancashire, Moon was not officially barred from speaking as a Wyre landlord. But with the memory of 88% of residents in a local newspaper poll calling on Moon to resign his West Lancashire seat, this is a further ethical test of local democracy. As stated earlier “An elected member of any local authority is bound by the ethics and standards of office”. Do they change between Wyre and West Lancashire whose council tax payers fund both seats but with different standards?
As for the leadership of Moon’s West Lancashire Tory party, its ethical stance is invisible on this matter even though three of its members did the right thing and left the meeting. No surprise there then. In this case the determinant of behaviour has no binding ethics but a loose relationship with them.