Summary of Complaints made under the Members' Code of Conduct
- Meeting of Scrutiny Programme Board, Thursday, 8th September 2011 6.00 p.m. (Item 13.)
- View the background to item 13.
The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management presented a summary of all the complaints made against Wirral Members that had alleged that the Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct had been breached. He outlined key changes that had been made to the ethical framework, under which local authorities were required to operate in relation to Standards Committees, which resulted in changes to the Council’s Constitution, namely amendments to the Standards Committee’s Terms of Reference being approved by the Council (minute 43 (14 July 2008) refers).
The Director provided a chronological summary of each complaint received since the new ethical framework came into force. He commented that an issue with the current regime was that if a complaint was overplayed, it was more likely to be referred for investigation and that would have associated cost and timescale implications. Nevertheless, there were excessive delays in relation to some cases and he apologised with regard to one in particular, where he had made a personal error, which led to an unacceptable delay. In response to questions from Members, the Director agreed to provide more detailed information on outcomes and costs by way of email. He commented also upon the progress of the Localism Bill, presently going through the House of Lords, which was likely to result in a local regime being put in place. However, the existing regime would be retained until it was abolished and he proposed to present a further report with regard to transitional arrangements once more information was made available.
The Chair circulated a proposed motion for Members consideration in relation to the time taken for Standards complaints to be determined and, which also suggested a new approach to handling Standards complaints. The Director of Law, HR and Asset Management commented briefly on the suggested motion and advised the Committee that, in the circumstances, it would be appropriate for him to leave the room for the ensuing debate.
On a motion by Councillor A Hodson and seconded by Councillor S Mountney, it was –
(1) That the Scrutiny Programme Board is alarmed and disappointed to note the amount of time it is taking to determine Standards complaints, with some complaints taking almost two years to complete, and believes that this is unfair to both complainants and to those complained against.
(2) That the Scrutiny Programme Board is also concerned about the amount of time being taken from the registration of a complaint to allocating to an Initial Assessment Panel and notes that, in one reported case this was in excess of16 weeks.
(3) That the Scrutiny Programme Board is aware that individual Members of the Council as well as the Standards Committee have made repeated representations to the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management and his Department about their concerns because of delays and have asked for the process to be speeded up.
(4) That the Scrutiny Programme Board notes that despite repeated requests to the Director of Law, HR and Asset Management, no apparent improvements have been made to the way in which Standards complaints are being handled and unacceptable delays are still being allowed to occur.
(5) That the summary of complaints received by the Council, set out in the appendix to the report now submitted, in relation to alleged breaches of the Council’s Members’ Code of Conduct, be noted.
(6) That the Standards Committee be recommended to put in place proper timescales and a monitoring regime for dealing with complaints.