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Farming dispensation reviewed

There will be no relaxation of rules to allow Powys councillors who have an interest or links to farming and agriculture to vote when the subject is debated in council meetings

4 weeks ago   2 minutes read   860 views

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By Elgan Hearn
Local Democracy Reporter

There will be no relaxation of rules to allow Powys councillors who have an interest or links to farming and agriculture to vote when the subject is debated in council meetings.

At a meeting of Powys County Council’s Standards committee on Wednesday, June 12, members took another look at the dispensation after calls had been made by councillors for it to be reconsidered.

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This followed chaotic scenes at a council meeting in March when a motion on the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Farming Scheme was debated by councllors.

The scheme which has now been delayed by the government had stoked much anger in Powys and throughout rural Wales.

At the meeting councillors who had personal and prejudicial interest in farming and agricultural matters were allowed to speak – but not to vote.

This strict rule had annoyed several councillors including Conservative group leader and farmer Cllr Aled Davies who walked out of the meeting in protest at not being allowed to vote.

Cllr Davies appeared before the standards committee to explain why the dispensation should be further relaxed.

He said: “The frustration for most is their ability to represent their community.

“If I and my family were the only farmers in Powys I can see the relevance, but I’m not, I’m one of a huge number of residents involved in farming.

“I do think that the restriction is far too tight in this circumstance.”

Join leader of the Powys Independents group and farmer, Cllr Ange Williams had written to the committee and her comments were read out to the members.

Cllr Williams said: “This item did not have a monetary value or represent any personal gain to anybody, and we should have been allowed to represent our communities by voting.

“Not been able to do this was very concerning,”

Head of legal services and monitoring officer Clive Pinney told the committee that there were 55 councillors at the meeting in March, and 25 had declared an interest.

Committee chairman and lay member Stephan Hays asked for a definition of personal and prejudicial interest to be given to the committee.

Mr Pinney explained that In this instance any councllors who have a business or is: “in receipt of a subsidy or any relative or close associate” would have an interest,

Mr Pinney added the Code of Conduct requires councillors to declare an interest and stops them taking part and voting on issues “unless” there is a dispensation.

Independent member Claire Moore asked whether definition could be tightened up to stop a councillor voting only when: “they have no financial interest.”

Mr Pinney said this would not have: “produced a different result on this particular occasion.”

Independent member Jonathan Goolden said: “I’m mindful of the numbers that were unable to vote.

“That does fall below 50 per cent of all members and is hard to square with the dispensation criteria and allowing councillors to vote on a matter on which they have a personal, prejudicial and financial interest.

“On balance I’m erring towards maintaining the dispensation as it stands in relation to participate but not vote.”

A vote was held and the committee unanimoulsy agreed to keep current dispensation.

The dispensation was originally asked for in 2021, approved in 2022 and re-approved last year.

In the past whenever the topic was brought up for discussion the chamber would clear with very few councillors left to debate the subject.

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