To consider changes to the local Assessment of Complaints procedure.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer reported that, in the light of Officers’ experiences in undertaking recent assessment and investigation of complaints, a number of changes were being proposed to the process in order that apparent anomalies might be overcome.
The first and most substantial change was in the timing of the notification to the subject Member that a complaint had been received about them. At present the Monitoring Officer could only provide the subject Member with notification that a complaint had been received and the general nature of the complaint but that a written summary of the allegation would only be provided once the Standards Assessment Sub-Committee had met to carry out its initial assessment of that complaint. It was considered that this might cause Members unnecessary concern in respect of a matter which the Assessment Sub-Committee might determine does not constitute a valid complaint and which would therefore go no further.
Some Members took the contrary view, suggesting that Members should be made aware that complaints had been received about them at the outset. To an extent, the present rules appeared to go against the rules of natural justice and the proposed change did not appear to remedy this. It was clarified for the benefit of the Committee that it was due to the legislation (Local Government Act 2000 (as amended)) that only the Standards Committee had the power to give a written summary of an allegation to the subject member. This time lapse between the fact of the complaint and the details of it, was the source of the problem which the change in procedure was hoped to remove. The most recent complaint received by the Monitoring Officer had been a case in point, causing a considerable amount of stress for the subject Member and resulting in strained Member / Officer relations. It was also noted that there was a definite period of time within which the Assessment Sub-Committee would be expected to make an initial assessment, hence the period between the receipt of the complaint and this stage was not unduly long.
The second proposal was a largely administrative change, seeking amendment to those parts of the local procedure which related to the request for information from the subject Member and complainant as there was presently duplication in the roles played by the Monitoring Officer and Investigating Officer. It was suggested that questions to the complainant and subject Member regarding suggested evidence and lines of enquiry might more properly come from the Investigating Officer.
It was noted that there were, in addition, a number of small changes required to the terminology within the procedure to fulfil certain statutory requirements.
1) the proposed amendments to the Procedure for the Local Assessment and Investigation of Complaints that Councillors have breached the Code of Conduct as set out at Appendix 1 to the report be adopted; and
2) delegated authority be given to the Monitoring Officer to make amendments to the Procedure for the Local Assessment and Investigation of Complaints in line with statutory provisions and guidance.