To consider a report on a 12 month review of the working of the adopted Arrangements for Handling Complaints against Members under the new Standards regime.
The Committee considered a report on a 12-month review of the working of the adopted Arrangements for Handling Complaints against Members under the new standards regime introduced by the Localism Act 2012.
The report suggested some amendments to the current Arrangements which had arisen as a result of their application over the last year. The amendments focussed on:
· the referral of complaints to the Police and any separate course of action to be taken by the Monitoring Officer in such cases, including the information which could be provided by the MO on such complaints before the outcome of any resulting Police actions was known; and
· the role of the Assessment Sub-Committee.
The roles of the Independent Observer and Parish Council Representative on the Committee, together with the make-up of the Hearings Sub-Committee panels, were also detailed in the report.
Officers responded to Member questions on the current Arrangements and the proposed changes.
Under section 8 of the Arrangements (Action that can be taken where a Member has failed to comply with the Code of Conduct) Officers advised that Members could only be recommended for removal from any or all Committees or Sub-Committees of the Council, and not from the (full) Council, as Council was not a committee of itself.
In relation to the Hearings Sub-Committee panels, it was noted that the recent changes in membership of the Standards Committee necessitated a change to the previously established Sub-Committees. Members agreed the proposed make-up of the new Sub-Committees. In doing so, it was noted that any Sub-Committees would take place in strict rotation and that, if necessary, other suitably trained Members could substitute on the Sub-Committees.
It was noted that there was no proposal to alter the Council’s previous decision to include a non-voting co-opted Feckenham Parish Council Representative on the Standards Committee.
The Committee supported the recommended amendments to the Arrangements as detailed in the revised (version 2) Arrangements attached at Appendix 1 to the report. Members also supported the recommended continuation of the non-voting Independent Observer on the Standards Committee for the coming year.
In response to a Member’s question the MO advised that in cases where the Police investigated a complaint and concluded that no action was required in relation to the complaint, this related to criminal proceedings only. There could therefore still be standards of behaviour linked with the complaint which the Council, via the MO, might wish to look at separately. This was akin to the position with taxi drivers who might not be prosecuted by the courts on a matter but who could still be required to go before the Council’s Taxi Licensing Committee to ascertain whether or not they were a fit and proper person to hold a driver’s licence.
In cases where the MO had been unsuccessful in resolving a complaint locally and felt that the only remaining option was to proceed with an investigation, Members supported the proposal to remove the Assessment Sub-Committee stage and to replace this with MO consultation with the Independent Person and Chair of the Standards Committee to proceed to investigation. It was noted was Redditch was the only authority in the county to have an Assessment Sub-Committee which Officers felt, on experience, did not gel with the new arrangements. The limitations placed on the Assessment Sub-Committee which had met to consider the one complaint referred to it since the establishment of the new regime were noted, the membership of which had themselves felt that the decision to investigate could instead have been best dealt with by the MO, Independent Person and Chair of the Standards Committee.
In order to assist members of the public in understanding the complaints process, a Member requested whether a flowchart or equivalent could be produced explaining the process. Officers advised that a detailed flowchart had been drawn up as part of the initial changes under the new regime, which unfortunately was equally as detailed. Officers agreed therefore to produce a brief user-friendly explanatory note detailing the complaint Arrangements once the Council had considered the recommended changes. This would then be published on the Council’s website.
1) the Arrangements for Managing Standards Complaints under the Localism Act 2011 (version 2), as attached at Appendix 1 to the report, be adopted; and
2) the role of the former Independent Member, who has served as a non-voting Independent Observer on the Standards Committee for the past year, continue for the coming year, and
3) the following Hearings Sub-Committees be agreed:
Councillor P. Witherspoon (Chair), Councillor M. Chalk and Councillor J. Baker
Councillor A. Fry (Chair), Councillor M. Braley and Councillor B. Quinney
Councillor Derek Taylor (Chair), Councillor P. Mould and Councillor L. Stephens