[To receive a report from the Monitoring Officer of any matters of relevance to the Committee.]
Following previous requests from Members, the Monitoring Officer explained that general background information in relation to the complaints received since January had been included in her report. This would allow the Committee to identify any complaint trends which might be emerging.
A Member queried whether it would be possible for the MO to advise who a complaint had been made by; either another councillor or a member of the public, and whether this had been made by a persistent complainant. Conversely, another Member felt that such information should not be disclosed.
The MO stated that, at the training session which had taken place immediately preceding the meeting that evening, she had been asked by some Members to look at whether she could confirm which category complainants fell into. This information was not disclosed at present and the MO agreed to consider this as part of the wider constitution review work which she was currently undertaking.
One of the Parish Representatives highlighted that the majority of the complaints received during January to August 2014 were against parish councillors, which presented a somewhat different picture than had previously been the case. As this was the first time the Parish Representatives had been made aware of the complaints, and as there were a number of issues linked with these, it was queried whether the MO could share relevant complaint info periodically with the Parish Representatives when meetings of the Committee were not proceeding. The Parish Representative added that he felt there should be some reinforcement at the Bromsgrove Area Committee of the County Association of Local Councils (CALC) meetings of the work the MO was carrying out on parish councillor complaints, with the Parish Representatives being keen to do whatever they could to assist the MO in promoting this. The issue of possible training needs linked with complaints against parish councillors and the Code of Conduct also arose, which it was felt CALC might wish to consider.
The MO agreed that the need to have regular MO’s reports detailing complaints received and action taken on these was a valid point. She stated that when the regime changed in 2012 here had been very little detail from central government as to had been expected of local authorities moving forward, and she was unsure as to whether the current committee system was appropriate as the role of the Standards Committee was not proving to be as effective as had previously been the case, with a number of meetings having been cancelled owing to lack of business. As such, the Constitution Review Group was keen to look at this issue.
The MO added that initially under the new regime more complaints had been made against district councillors. A number of parish council issues had recently arisen which she had liaised with Richard Levett, Executive Officer of the Worcestershire County Association of Local Councils, on, and for which Mr Levett had been very supportive. The government had changed the role of parish representatives on standards committees under the new regime, meaning it was difficult for the MO to provide the parish representatives with any additional complaint information over and above that which was presented to the Committee.
The MO agreed to forward all Members’ views to the Constitutional Review Group, the membership of which included all of the political Group Leaders. She requested that district councillors feed through any views that they regarding the reporting of complaints to their Group Leader, in order that they could have their collective Group views on this. Equally, any parish council views should be routed via the MO, which she would then take back to the Constitutional Review Group.
All present agreed that there should be regular reporting of complaints by the MO to Members and that there should be the opportunity for Members of the Committee to discuss this information. It was therefore agreed that the meetings of the Standards Committee scheduled for January and March 2015 would proceed. As the new regime had now been in place for just over 2 years Officers agreed to provide to the January meeting information on the general numbers of complaints received under the new regime, together with any emerging trends with these and details as to how the complaints were resolved.
The MO reported that it had unfortunately not been possible to proceed with the Chairing Skills training as the trainer has been taken ill a few hours before the training was due to start. Officers were in the process of re-arranging the session, which Members requested take place as soon as practicable.
(a) that the contents of the report be noted;
(b) that the meetings of the Standards Committee scheduled to take place in January and March 2015 proceed in order that the Monitoring Officer report on any Member complaints received during those periods; and
(c) the Monitoring Officer take to the January 2015 meeting details of the Members complaints received under the new regime, such details to include the number of complaints, any emerging trends and how the complaints were resolved.