A report of the Director of Legal and Governance Services/Monitoring Officer was presented to provide an overview of the current, and recent position, in respect of Code of Conduct complaints received.
It was noted that the report stated that it was a Joint Report with the Executive Member for Legal and Governance Services but this was incorrect.
Currently, there was 1 complaint from 2020, and 11 complaints from 2021 that were at various stages of the process, and had not yet been concluded. Details of those complaints could not be provided at this time, so as not to prejudice any outcomes, and/or create a conflict should any of those complaints need to be considered by the Standards Committee at a future date.
An ongoing theme around the complaints was in respect of comments made on social media by Members. This accounted for 12 complaints in 2019, 14 complaints in 2020, and 14 in 2021, to date. It was highlighted that there was an impact on resources when processing complaints, some of which could take up a significant amount of time. In order to improve response times in this area, the Member’s Code of Conduct had been updated to incorporate a greater focus on appropriate social media activity.
Training by an external provider had recently been provided and included information about social media activity and examples of when a Member might be considered to be acting in an official capacity rather than in a private capacity. The training was well attended, with 25 members in attendance.
A suggestion at the training had been that Councillors should consider how their behaviour and service to the people of the town should be in line with the Corporate Values. The Council’s Five Values had recently been refreshed and mirrored Nolan Principles.
There had also been an increase in Member on Member complaints, with the number of complaints in the current year to date, being almost as high as the last two years’ complaints combined.
It was suggested that it may be timely to consider whether a culture had developed where there was low tolerance to the usual cut and thrust of political debate, and whether some of the complaints have been of a retaliatory nature, since some complaints were from and against the same Members in relation to the same issue.
When a Member complained about the conduct of another Member, in most circumstances, every effort would be made to resolve the matter informally, by liaising with the individuals concerned or the Group Leader, if applicable.
A Member raised the issue of those independent members who did not belong to a national political group, or any group, and it was therefore unclear what principles or standards they signed up to. The Monitoring Officer stated that in her experience, Group Leaders of all political groupings were generally very helpful in terms of trying to resolve issues.
For future reports the Monitoring Officer indicated that she would include some information in relation to the costs for complaint resolution. Whilst some complaints were investigated in-house, others were conduct by external, independent, investigators. It was confirmed that there were currently two independent persons who were consulted on cases as part of the complaints process.
Members suggested that further details on the reasons why some complaints were not progressed to investigation would be helpful, as well as the timescales for the complaints procedure. It was confirmed that a detailed procedure was in place that was used to assess any complaints or allegations and this included timescales. The Head of Democratic Services confirmed that this document was not currently available on the Council’s website as it was being reviewed.
AGREED as follows that:
1. the report was received and noted.
2. information on costs, complaints that were not progressed to investigation stage, and timescales for progressing complaints, would be provided at the next meeting.