THE deputy leader of the Fife Conservative group has been suspended for two months for breaching the code of conduct for councillors.

The Standards Commission panel took action after Linda Holt failed to register an interest when in a decision-making role at a planning committee.

The councillor was formerly part of an anti-windfarm campaign group, Scotland Against Spin (SAS), but did not mention this when voting against a renewal for a wind turbine.

At the hearing in Glenrothes last week, Cllr Holt accepted that she had failed to both declare the interest and had moved to reject the application at the planning meeting in May 2018.

Tricia Stewart, who chaired the panel, said: “The need to register and declare certain interests is a very important part of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct as it gives the public confidence that planning decisions are being made entirely on merit and are not influenced by any councillor’s own interest in the matter.

“Registering and declaring interests provides transparency and helps maintain the public’s confidence that a councillor’s personal interests will not influence their discussions and decision-making. The public must have confidence that councillors are considering any planning application objectively, on its individual merits.

“The panel considered that not only should Cllr Holt have registered her interest in SAS, she should also have declared it at the planning meeting and should have taken no part in the discussion and voting on the planning application in question.”

Even after resigning from SAS, before being elected, Cllr Holt had continued to express her public views about windfarms and was quoted as a spokesperson for SAS in two BBC reports in October and November 2016.

While she resigned as spokesperson in October 2016, six months before the council elections, she remained the administrator for the SAS Facebook page and referred, on her councillor website, to her involvement with the organisation as a lobbyist.

The panel said that while Cllr Holt, who represents East Neuk and Landward, may have believed she could judge the application on its merits, a member of the public with knowledge of her history would find her likely to be prejudiced in the discussion and decision-making.

The two-month suspension, from all committees and sub-committees of Fife Council, started on July 1.

Cllr Holt told the Press: “I was disappointed by this decision. It is a shot across the bow for all councillors if they are associated with a policy position which is relevant to a planning application they have to determine.

"The Standards Commission took the view that an organisation I belonged to, and was never paid by, and which I resigned from seven months before I was elected and over a year-and-a-half before this planning application came to committee, constituted a sufficient interest to require me to declare it and withdraw from the planning meeting.

"It is up to individual councillors to judge whether they have an interest which they should declare. I took the view that long past membership of Scotland Against Spin and a policy position on wind energy did not prejudice me in determining a wind turbine application, and I still do not believe that it did.”

Cllr Holt has since been replaced as deputy leader. She did not stand for re-election at the recent AGM and Cllr Tony Miklinski has now assumed the role.