Review of a Recent Standards Complaint
Councillor D Roberts left the room whilst this item of business was under discussion.
A report by the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management summarised the handling of a recent standards complaint (reference SfE 2010/04). The full chronology of what had happened was set out in the report. An administrative error had been made, when the original complaint form concerning three elected Members, had been appended to a covering report (which had accurately summarised the complaint) to the Initial Assessment Panel instead of a second, more detailed, complaint form which had been received and which concerned four Members. The second form had superseded the original complaint form. The Panel had considered this report at its meeting on 8 April 2010 and had adjourned the meeting so that further information could be provided. After considerable delay, the same Initial Assessment Panel of Members had reconvened on 3 March 2011 but, unfortunately, the same mistake had been repeated and the Panel, again, had received the original complaint form. The Panel had decided to refer the complaint to the Standards Board for England who on receipt of it had sought clarity as to the discrepancy between the covering report and the appended complaint form. Only the original complaint form had been on the file and the Standards Board for England was advised accordingly. It then confirmed its decision, in writing to all concerned, on 6 May 2011.
On 9 May 2011 the complainant enquired why the Standards Board for England had made no reference to his complaint about the fourth Councillor. On consideration of this, the error had become apparent. The Director informed of the steps he had taken to rectify the mistake and retrieve the situation and the involvement of and advice received from the Standards Board for England. The Initial Assessment Panel had been convened again on 8 June 2011 and considered the revised complaint. It was referred to the Standards Board for England and although a decision had been promised within five working days, it was still awaited.
The Director apologised to the Committee for the Initial Assessment Panel receiving the wrong documentation and agreed that the administration of the Panel had not been at an acceptable standard. He informed that he had also apologised to the four Members who were the subjects of the complaint and to the complainant.
Councillor L Rowlands raised concerns as the mistake had been made twice and asked what process had been put in place to ensure it did not happen again and what improvements would be made. The Director informed that future reports would be cleared by himself or the Head of Legal and Member Services, before they were published in an agenda.
Councillor D Mitchell told the Committee that there had been a similar situation in another Council department in recent times. As a consequence there had been an independent review which had led to matters being dealt with in stringent chronological order. This meant staff carried out regular checks when completing tasks and he hoped a similar process could now be put in place to avoid mistakes.
That the content of the report and the action the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management would be taking in future to prevent similar mistakes from occurring, be noted.