A FORMER council leader has been banned from attending high-profile meetings for one month after he was found to have breached the councillors’ code of conduct.

Mark Rowley failed to declare his paid employment as a strategy manager with South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) at three council meetings, held between February and August 2022, when matters concerning or that could impact upon its work were being discussed.

The Conservative councillor was barred from attending full Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and Executive Committee meetings for one month. The judgement was made following an online Standards Commission Panel hearing on Monday.

Ashleigh Dunn, Standards Commission member and chair of the hearing panel, said: “The panel found that Coun Rowley failed to declare an interest in relation to agenda items relating to matters in which the South of Scotland Enterprise was involved and, instead, took part in the discussion and decision-making.”

The panel acknowledged that Rowley, currently SBC’s executive member for service delivery and transformation, had recorded promptly his employment on his register of interests and was satisfied there was no attempt to conceal it.

It nevertheless considered that the Mid Berwickshire representative should have reached the view that his connection would reasonably be regarded as being so significant to the agenda items in question as to be likely to affect his decision-making.

The complaints were made by two elected members.

Speaking in his defence, Rowley said he had discussions with former SBC chief executive Netta Meadows over the potential of a conflict of interests with regard to the two roles, but it was decided it was possible for him to continue in both.

It emerged at the hearing that Meadows – who stepped down as SBC chief executive in September 2022 – was unavailable to give her version of events at the hearing because of “various” but unspecified reasons.

Rowley said: “As a matter of fact I would meet with the chief executive online, because we were still in the recovery period from Covid, at least once a week. A standard agenda item was potential conflicts and never once did the chief executive suggest to me that I was breaching the code.

“Significant changes were made at the earliest opportunity, suggested by me and supported by senior officers, to take me away from that perceived risk, so I very swiftly resigned my membership of the Regional Economic Partnership, which was heartbreaking as it was one of the most productive pieces of work I’d been engaged with.

“It was clear from the start that it was a role I needed to step back from. I resigned the chairmanship of that.

“When I became leader, unexpectedly in November, I maintained the economic portfolio until I took up employment with SOSE and I immediately demitted that portfolio.

“I stepped away from that and it was perfectly clear both to my employer and officers at the council that leadership of the council was still compatible with my employment and meeting the ethical standards that were required.”