[To receive a report from the Monitoring Officer on any matters of relevance to the Committee.]
The Monitoring Officer (MO) introduced her report and in doing so highlighted the successful local resolution of the 12 Member to Member complaints which had been received during the first six months of the new standards regime.
The MO stated that the event which she and Mr. Nock had attended at County Hall in January had proven to be very useful, particularly in the sharing of experiences with other Monitoring Officers and Independent Persons. It was hoped that the event would be repeated annually. Ms. Jinks, the authority’s second Independent Person, had been unable to attend the event however arrangements had now been made for her induction.
Mr. Nock advised that he broadly shared the same view as the MO. He commented that whilst he was still finding his feet in his new role, what had struck him were the widely differing views of the county’s Monitoring Officers as to how they saw their roles. He saw the role of Independent Person as that of an ‘advisory’ role.
It was queried whether all of the Member complaints received related to district councillors, which the MO advised she recalled was the case. A Parish Representative queried whether it was possible for more detail to be provided in relation to complaints received. Concern was also expressed as to how onerous the new system of complaint handling was on the MO’s time in view of her enhanced role under the new regime.
The MO responded that the Committee had previously determined that it only wished to receive information on the number of complaints received, and that over a period of time any trends emerging from complaints might also be reported to Members. She added that, at present, there were no trends arising to report on and that the new regime had so far proved to be quite onerous, particularly in the early stages as the local resolution of complaints was a new process which had taken up quite a lot of her time. However, local resolution had also provided a good opportunity for early dialogue on all sides, which had proven to be very helpful in resolving complaints.
Relationships between Officers and Group Leaders as part of the process were good, which the MO stated was critical to the success of the new regime. It was hoped that relations between Group Leaders would also remain positive in the future. The MO advised that she had expressed a view to the Group Leaders that it would hopefully be possible to resolve complaints locally in future without the need for their involvement. She added that Mr. Nock’s involvement had been very helpful and that in time he might wish to speak with Group Leaders himself on issues arising from complaints.
Members agreed that there were clearly some positive outcomes under the new regime and it was hoped that the number of Member to Member complaints would reduce over time. The MO suggested, and it was agreed, that Group Leader involvement in complaints should remain for the time being and that the position be looked at after the first 12 months of operation of the new regime, at which point any possible trends could also hopefully be reported on.
Regarding Member training, the MO stated that Member input was needed in order to know what training was required and/or desired and the three Group Leaders had met with the MO to discuss this. Officers were currently working on the programme of Member training for 2013/14 and it was hoped that a calendar of events would be ready for issue before the end of the current municipal year. There was support from all Group Leaders on training for the authority’s regulatory committees in particular, with a Mock Licensing Committee and more formal Planning training also being proposed.
A Member queried the position in relation to a Data Protection/Freedom of Information issue, which the MO clarified the position on.
Under Parish Council matters it was queried whether the Democratic Services Officer (DSO) would report back to the Committee on issues arising from the Bromsgrove Area Meetings of the Worcestershire County Association of Local Councils (CALC). The DSO advised that her role on this was to act as a liaison between the Area Committee and District Council Officers, and that it was the role of the Parish Councils’ Representatives on the Standards Committee to feed back on any relevant parish council issues.
(a) that the contents of the report be noted; and
(b) that any required actions arising from the points detailed in the report and the preamble above be acted upon, as appropriate.