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Flintshire councillors reject changes to gift declaration rules

Flintshire County Hall

CHANGES to how gifts are declared by Flintshire councillors have been rejected amid concerns they would be forced to disclose receiving cups of tea and biscuits from residents.

A full meeting of Flintshire County Council was held yesterday (Tuesday, 16 April), where politicians discussed a ‘rolling review’ of the members’ code of conduct.

Under the current rules, councillors must register any gift, advantage, material benefit or hospitality they receive worth more than £10.

An initial proposal was made which suggested increasing the the value to £25 to bring the local authority in line with others in the UK.

However, Gwernaffield and Gwernymynydd representative David Coggins Cogan said it should be reduced to zero to allow full transparency around any gifts received.

The proposal by the Liberal Democrat councillor was originally supported by some members, until questions were raised over whether it would mean having to declare having food and drink when visiting constituents.

The issue was raised by Cllr Sean Bibby (Lab), Flintshire’s cabinet member for housing and regeneration.

He said: “I think once we get below ten pounds, it might become a bit of a laborious task to register.

“Ultimately, there’s a question here about transparency and openness.

“The perception of politicians with the general public is not particularly the rosiest one, but maybe we are viewed a little bit better than our colleagues down in Westminster and Cardiff Bay.

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“There’s a balance and being given a cup of tea to the value of 25p, I don’t think that’s really worthwhile registering.”

His views were echoed by Brynford and Halkyn councillor Simon Jones (Lab).

He said: “I had a similar thought. I can see councillors having to declare cups of tea and custard creams they may be given when they are visiting residents.

“Could the legal officer advise if the figure was changed to zero, that this would indeed be the case.”

Flintshire’s chief governance officer Gareth Owens confirmed that any hospitality received at a resident’s home, including food and drink, would need to be declared if the limit was set at zero.

Connah’s Quay south representative Bill Crease (Ind) said he was concerned the resulting volume of declarations would put a strain on the workload of council staff.

He said: “It would be no bad thing to declare every cup of tea and chocolate biscuit we had, but what would be the impact on the workforce at County Hall of these declarations coming in?

“I think I had four cups of tea from different people yesterday, I had a slice of lemon drizzle cake and some chocolate digestives.”

His admission drew laughter from other councillors present in the council chamber at County Hall in Mold.

One member jokingly asked if they could join him on his future ward rounds.

Mr Owens said: “If we were to go to this level, we’d probably be looking at some sort of weekly or monthly roundup.

“You’ve got a lot of declaring to do to your personal trainer Cllr Crease.”

Council leader Ian Roberts (Lab) expressed similar concerns to his colleagues.

He said: “I have to admit, the first thing that came into my mind was cups of tea, or coffee, or a bit of cake.

“As you can see, I’m reasonably partial to them, particularly a piece of bara brith with butter on it.

“Yes, we want to be above board, we want to be honest, and we want to be truthful.

“But the fact is that you’ll go to a coffee morning somewhere and out of courtesy, you’re given a cup of tea and a piece of cake or a sandwich. How much is that worth?”

In response, Mr Owens said: “I’m looking around the room to see who likes cake and who doesn’t.

“I’m sitting back and working that out by the size of the waistband, which is probably highly inappropriate.”

Cllr Coggins Cogan later agreed to withdraw his recommendation, but said he still supported the principle of it.

He said: “I will withdraw my motion. I do think however, the rules can be drafted in such a way that hospitality which includes a cup of tea in a resident’s home could be excluded from the reporting thresholds. Even Cllr Crease’s copious intake of cakes could be excluded.”

Councillors voted in favour of keeping the declaration value at the current level of £10 at the end of the debate.