Arrangements for dealing with complaints against Members
- Meeting of Special meeting, Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee, Thursday, 31st January 2019 6.00 p.m. (Item 21.)
- View the background to item 21.
A joint report of the Monitoring Officer and the Deputy Monitoring Officer reminded the Committee that in 2014 the Council had adopted a Members’ Code of Conduct and a process for dealing with complaints made under that code following the changes to the ethical standards regime introduced by the Localism Act 2011. Since 2014 the experience gained from dealing with complaints had highlighted areas for improvement and clarification in the arrangements for handling complaints made under the Members’ Code of Conduct. In particular, Members noted that issues had been raised in relation to the timeliness with which complaints had been dealt with under the current Protocol. The report sought approval to adopt a revised procedure for investigating and making decisions in relation to allegations made under the Members’ Code of Conduct.
Appended to the report were:
· A Draft Revised Protocol – Arrangements for Investigating and Making decisions in relation to allegations made under the Members’ Code of Conduct. (Appendix A)
· The online Complaint Form (Appendix 1).
· The Standards Complaint Process Flowchart (Appendix 2).
· The Standards Panel Procedure for Investigations (Appendix 3).
It was reported that robust standards arrangements were needed to safeguard local democracy, maintain high standards of conduct, and to protect ethical practice in local government. The proposed amendments would improve the clarity of the process and would provide the Standards and Constitutional Oversight Committee and the Monitoring Officer with the opportunity of dealing with complaints in a timely manner in accordance with what was currently considered to be professional best practice.They would also provide clarity and transparency for the general public.
Other options for the Committee to consider were that the present Protocol for dealing with complaints about Members could remain unchanged or it was revised in some other way.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer in introducing the report referred to the Committee’s meeting on 7 November 2018 when Members had requested that the Protocol be revised and informed that she had considered the comments Members had made and in particular, that complaints should be dealt with within a maximum of six months from being received and that Members had wanted more involvement when there were complicated and difficult complaints being considered. Therefore, the Deputy Monitoring Officer had revised the Protocol to include an Assessment Panel. She had also tried to include a clear set of criteria against which to assess allegations.
At the previous meeting Members had indicated that they wished to retain the right of appeal although many local authorities no longer did this. The right of appeal was included in the revised Protocol. Flow charts were appended to the report to make it easier for members of the public to understand the process. The Deputy Monitoring Officer also informed that a number of amendments had been made throughout the Protocol and she was interested in receiving Members’ comments on them. She had tried to maintain the overall timescales but there were some elements within the Protocol which were conflicting.
A Member informed that it would have been useful if the proposed changes to the present Protocol had been highlighted.
A Member had regard to paragraph 3.6 in the report where reference was made to the Monitoring Officer’s discretion to refer complaints to the Committee’s Assessment Panel in order to assess more serious or complex allegations and queried this arrangement and the Panel’s make up. The Deputy Monitoring Officer informed that it was for the Committee to determine appropriate arrangements and the Panel’s make up.
A Member thanked the Deputy Monitoring Officer for the work she had done but informed that he remained disappointed that officers still gave themselves ‘escape clauses’ as the timescales for considering complaints about Members had not been tightened up. The Member also informed that he had a whole host of changes (13) that he sought clarity on. He was prepared to go through them at the meeting but instead the Monitoring Officer proposed that a Standards Workshop be held to go through all Members’ queries, issues etc. He also proposed that they be submitted to him in advance so he could carry out any necessary research before the Working Group’s meeting.
The Monitoring Officer reported that the Committee on Standards in Public Life had published its review of Local Government Ethical Standards earlier in the month and Members would need to compare Wirral Council’s best practices with that Committee’s findings as they may have an impact on how things were done in future.
(1) a Workshop consisting of Councillors C Blakeley, A Davies, P Gilchrist, J McManus, B Mooney and Independent Member Mr J McCosh be convened as soon as possible to consider any proposed changes or issues in respect of the Protocol currently under review;
(2) Members be requested to submit their queries, issues etc.on the Draft Revised Protocol, as soon as possible, to the Monitoring Officer; and
(3) if need be, the next meeting of the Committee scheduled for 26 February 2019 be postponed until the middle of March 2019 so that the Workshop can complete its work at (1) above and present its report to the Committee for consideration within statutory timescales.
- Standards Procedure Committee Report Jan 2019, item 21. PDF 105 KB
- Revised Protocol Members' Code of Conduct 2019 Final, item 21. PDF 158 KB
- Complaint Form Apendix 1, item 21. PDF 43 KB
- Standards Process Flowchart Appendix 2, item 21. PDF 52 KB
- Investigation Procedure Appendix 3, item 21. PDF 30 KB
- Standards Panel Procedure Appendix 4, item 21. PDF 44 KB
- Standards Appeal Panel Procedure Appendix 5, item 21. PDF 45 KB