Part 3: Role of the Chairman and Council
A: Corporate responsibilities of the Chairman and members of Council
Members of the Council have corporate responsibility to ensure that the Service complies with any statutory and appropriate administrative requirements for the use of public funds. Responsibilities of the Council include:
- establishing Acas's overall strategic direction within the policy framework set out in statute and the resources framework agreed with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
- overseeing the delivery of planned results by monitoring performance against agreed strategic objectives and targets which take into account any guidance issued by the Department of Trade and Industry
- ensuring that the Council operates within the limits of its statutory authority, within the limits of the Council's financial authority agreed with BERR, and in accordance with any other conditions relating to the use of public funds. Members of the Council have a duty to ensure that public funds - which for this purpose should be taken to include all forms of receipts from fees, charges and other sources - are properly safeguarded and that Acas conducts its operations as economically, efficiently and effectively as possible, with full regard to relevant statutory provisions
- formulating a strategy for implementing the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, including prompt response to public requests for information
- ensuring that the Service operates sound environmental policies and practices in accordance with relevant Government guidance
- ensuring that high standards of corporate governance are observed at all times.
The Council of Acas is established under statute and has corporate responsibility for all actions taken by its Members, relating to Acas duties, including any wrongful ones. This means that, if judgement is made against the Council by any Court, any financial settlement would normally be made out of the Service's funds rather than from the personal assets of individual Members.
B: Role of the Chairman
The Chairman, has particular responsibility for providing effective strategic leadership on such matters as:
- formulating the Council's strategy for discharging its statutory duties
- representing the views of the Council to government, practitioner and other bodies concerned with employment relations and to the general public
- encouraging high standards of propriety, and promoting efficient and effective use of staff and other resources throughout the Service
- ensuring that the Council, in reaching decisions, takes proper account of relevant guidance provided by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his Department.
The Chairman is also responsible for providing the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, on request, with an assessment of performance of individual Members of the Council when they are being considered for reappointment to the Council or appointment to the Board of some other public body.
The Chairman should ensure that all Members of the Council, when taking up office, are fully briefed on the terms of their appointment and on their duties, rights and responsibilities. The Chairman should also ensure that Council members have a copy of this Code of Best Practice and the accompanying Management Statement and Financial Memorandum and have access to other relevant background material including the latest Corporate plan and Annual Report and Accounts, the Treasury's Memorandum "The Responsibilities of a NDPB Accounting Officer; The Treasury's Handbook Regularity and Propriety; notes describing the Service's organizational structure and statutory basis of operation and the procedures of the Council. The Chairman should encourage Members to attend an induction course on the duties of board members of public bodies or another suitable form of training related to their new responsibilities.
The Chairman should ensure that the Council meets at regular intervals throughout the year and that minutes of meetings accurately record decisions taken and, where appropriate, the views of individual Council Members.
Communications between the Council and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will normally be through the Chairman except where the Council has agreed that an individual Member or group of Members should act on its behalf. Nevertheless an individual Member has a right of access to the Secretary of State on any matter which he or she believes raises important issues relating to the Service. In such cases Council Members would normally be consulted before an approach was made.
The main point of contact between the Service and BERR on day to day matters will be the Chief Executive or such other members of staff as are authorized to act on behalf of the Council.
C: Responsibilities of individual Council members
Council Members should be aware of their wider responsibilities as Members of the Council. These include the duty to comply at all times with this Code of Best Practice (or any agreed modification to it) and with rules relating to the use of public funds; and to act in good faith and in the best interests of the Service. Members should not use information gained in the course of their public service for personal gain; nor seek to use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests or those of connected persons, firms, business or other organisations. Members should also ensure that they comply with the Service's rules on the acceptance of gifts and hospitality. Council Members should follow the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The principles are printed as Appendix 1.
Council members are expected not to occupy paid party political posts. Subject to that, members are free to engage in political activities, provided that they are conscious of their general public responsibilities and exercise a proper discretion, particularly in regard to the work of Council. On matters directly affecting that work, they should not make political speeches or engage in other political activities.
The restrictions in paragraph 14 do not apply to Council members who are MPs, local councillors or to Peers in relation to their conduct in the House of Lords.
In the absence of specific statutory provisions, the common law requires:
that members of Acas should not participate in the discussion or determination of matters in which they have a direct pecuniary interest. When an interest is not of a direct pecuniary kind members should consider whether participation in the discussion or determination of a matter would suggest a real danger of bias. In the above circumstances affected members should withdraw from the meeting.
The Chairman and Members should declare any personal or business interests which may conflict with their responsibilities as Council members. The Council will establish a register of interests of Members which will be open to public inspection and will be displayed on the Acas web site.
Although any legal proceedings initiated by a third party are likely to be brought against the Service, in exceptional cases proceedings (whether civil or criminal) may be brought against the Chairman or individual Members. For example a Member may be personally liable if he or she makes a fraudulent or negligent statement which results in loss to a third party. A Member who misuses information gained by virtue of his or her position may be liable for breach of confidence under common law or under insider dealing legislation.