Lancaster councillor sanctioned for code of conduct breaches
A Lancaster City councillor has been sanctioned for twice breaching the members’ code of conduct.
Independent Coun Darren Clifford, who represents Harbour Ward, was found to have brought the council into disrepute by members of the council’s Standards Committee last Thursday, January 16.
Lancaster City Council said Coun Clifford did not attend the meeting, which proceeded in his absence.
The first allegation concerned him voting on a future increase in council tax despite being in arrears with his own.
This is a breach of section 106 of the Local Government and Finance Act 1992, which makes it an offence for a councillor to be more than two months in arrears with their council tax and take part in votes on financial matters.
An investigation found that Councillor Clifford had given assurances he was up to date with his payments before a Cabinet meeting on January 15 last year. During the meeting he took part in a vote which recommended the city council’s increase in council tax for 2019/20.
Further investigations, however, found that he had only cleared the balance after the meeting had taken place, which was substantiated by CCTV and electronic evidence.
The second breach of the code of conduct concerned him conducting a private tour of Lancaster Town Hall, despite being previously warned not to do so following similar incidents.
Evidence showed that Councillor Clifford had granted access to restricted areas of the town hall to two people last August. Neither of his visitors had been signed into the building.
Members of the Standards Committee decided that the breaches warranted his exclusion from council offices, with the exception of meeting rooms as necessary for attending meetings of council/committees, for six months.
A report will also be provided to Full Council outlining the investigations into both complaints.
Coun Mandy King, chair of the Standards Committee, said: “The public quite rightly expects councillors to uphold the highest of standards. Where these standards have not been met it is important that we investigate and impose an appropriate sanction in response.”
In 2018, Coun Clifford was disciplined over a relationship with a junior council officer.
A Standards Committee hearing found that the Heysham councillor had breached council guidelines by using official council equipment during office hours to send the woman risque emails.
However, they agreed that a full investigation was not necessary.
Coun Clifford then called for an inquiry into who leaked the emails to The Daily Mail newspaper.
Lancaster City Council said that it had concluded the inquiry, but as it was confidential, the outcome would not be released.
In 2019, Coun Clifford resigned from the Labour Party to stand as an independent councillor.
The Lancaster Guardian has attempted to contact Coun Clifford for comment.