CHANGES have been made to St Helens Council’s constitution in an effort to remove any perception of a conflict of interest within its scrutiny functions.

Councillors will no longer be able to chair any scrutiny committee if their partner of family member is heading up the department they are scrutinising.

A number of councillors are related or connected through marriage, prompting accusations of nepotism from some sections of the public.

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The change, which was put forward by Conservative councillor Rob Reynolds, received cross-party support and was agreed at the local authority’s annual council meeting this week.

As part of the general review of its constitution, the council requested an independent audit be carried out by Bevan Brittan solicitors.

That audit highlighted a number of changes were required to the constitution in order to make it fit for purpose and to strengthen it.

In addition, the audit also suggested a number of other changes should be considered.

A number of these changes were put before the council on Wednesday.

One of them was to approve the amended overview and scrutiny procedure rules, including revised terms of reference for the overview and scrutiny commission and scrutiny committees.

However, Cllr Reynolds suggested an amendment to the rules of procedure, relating to who chairs overview and scrutiny committees.

In the original document, it stated that chairs of the overview and scrutiny committees will be drawn from members of the relevant committee.

Cllr Reynolds’ amendment proposed that no member may be appointed as chair if their spouse, civil partner, a person who they are living with as a spouse or civil partner, sibling, son or daughter is a cabinet member/portfolio holder for which the relevant scrutiny committees will be scrutinising decisions relating to that portfolio/department.

St Helens Star: Cllr Rob Reynolds, Conservative councillor for Rainford Cllr Rob Reynolds, Conservative councillor for Rainford

In response, Moss Bank Labour councillor John Fulham said that he wished members had been given more notice of the proposal, and suggested reviewing it at a later date.

However, Cllr Martin Bond, cabinet member for finance and governance, said he had no objections to the amendment.

Cllr Bond said he received the proposals on Tuesday night and had asked Cllr Reynolds to define what relationships needed to be included, which he did.

“If there is anything that removes any perception of any conflict of interest then it probably is incumbent on us to take that seriously,” Cllr Bond said.

“And whilst there is no accusation of any conflict of interest, I’m sure, in Cllr Reynolds’ motivation in this, to remove the perception of it I think is no bad thing.

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“I mentioned last night the fact that we need to define what relationships would potentially give rise to this and Cllr Reynolds has done that, and I’m grateful to that.

“And I have no objection to the recommendation from Cllr Reynolds for the amendment.”

Cllr Reynolds’ amendment was approved by all councillors present at the meeting.