December 6, 2018

Commissioner rules on first local government conflict of interest case

The Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards has imposed a 3-month partial suspension on Alderman Jim Rodgers (Belfast City Council) following an Adjudication Hearing held in Belfast yesterday (5 December 2018).

Alderman Rodgers has been suspended from membership of the East Belfast Area Working Group and the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee of Belfast City Council. The suspension does not affect his wider responsibilities as a councillor.


The Commissioner held at a previous Hearing on 21 November that Alderman Rodgers had breached the Local Government Code of Conduct (the Code) by:

– Failing to register his interests in Belmont Bowling Club and Ashfield Girls’ High School

– Failing to declare a significant non-pecuniary interest in Belmont Bowling Club at five meetings of the East Belfast Area Working Group (EBAWG)

– Failing to leave two meetings of the EBAWG after having declared an interest in Belmont Bowling Club.

– Failing to declare an interest in Ashfield Girls’ High School at two meetings of the EBAWG

– Voting on a matter affecting the finances and property of Ashfield Girls’ High School, having declared a significant non-pecuniary interest in the school.

Deputy Commissioner Mr Paul McFadden explained at the Hearing that during his investigation into a complaint made against Alderman Rodgers, he had established that money had been made available by Belfast City Council under its Local Investment Fund (LIF). This was to be allocated to various local projects. Belmont Bowling Club applied to the East Belfast Area Working Group of the LIF for £200,000, and Ashfield Girls’ School applied for £130,000.

The Deputy Commissioner stated that Alderman Rodgers was a longstanding Board of Governor for Ashfield Girls’ High School and an honorary member of Belmont Bowling Club.

As both were registerable interests, he stated that the Alderman’s failure to register them with the council breached the requirements of paragraphs 5.2 (ee) and 5.3.

The Deputy Commissioner also argued that in the light of the available evidence, he believed there had been a breach of paragraph 6.4 which concerned the need for councillors to withdraw from any meeting when matters relating to their interests are being discussed.

The Commissioner heard evidence in mitigation from a legal representative of Alderman Rodgers, stating that he was no longer a Board of Governor of Ashfield Girls’ School, and that he does not have a participative or an active role in Belmont Bowling club.

Announcing her decision, the Commissioner found that Alderman Rodgers has significant, non-pecuniary interests in both organisations, and that they ought to have been registered by him. She was satisfied that in failing to do so he had breached paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3.

She also found that the failures to declare his interests at a number of meetings, as well as a failure to leave the room when the interests were being discussed, amounted to ‘substantial breaches’.

At the Hearing held on 5 December to decide on sanction, the Commissioner imposed a partial suspension on Alderman Rodgers, preventing him from membership of the East Belfast Area Working Group, and the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee for a period of 3 months. The Commissioner commented that but for his exemplary record of public service, she would have imposed a full suspension.

The partial suspension has no impact on Alderman Rogers’ other roles within the council.

Notes:

The Respondent may appeal to the High Court against this decision in accordance with the provisions of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014.

The Commissioner’s decision in full will be available within 10 days at: https://nipso.org.uk/nilgcs/hearings-and-adjudication-decisions/

A full transcript of the public hearing is also available upon request.