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Posted by: John Brace | 20th November 2012

Standards Committee (Wirral Council) 19th November 2012 Part 1 Councillors debate the complaints system

Present
Standards Committee
Independent

Mr Brian Cummings MBE
Mr David Robert Burgess-Joyce
Mr Chris Jones
Prof Ronald Samuel Jones
Labour
Cllr Denise Roberts
Cllr Bill Davies
Cllr John Salter
Cllr Steve Foulkes deputy for Cllr Moira McLaughlin
Cllr Chris Meaden deputy for Cllr Ron Abbey
Conservative
Cllr Chris Blakeley
Cllr Les Rowlands
Cllr Leah Fraser

Wirral Council Officers
Surjit Tour
Shirley Hudspeth
Geoff Paterson

Apologies for the ~19 minutes missing from the start of the meeting. No declarations of interest were made and the minutes of the meeting held on the 3rd July 2012 were agreed. In item 3, it was agreed that one of the independent persons sit on the Standards Working Group.

Surjit Tour introduced his report on whether reports made in response to complaints about councillors between 2008 and 2012 could be made public and the legal framework.

Cllr Foulkes declared asked if as a person who had made a complaint or had had a complaint made against them, did this mean he had to declare a conflict of interest?

Surjit Tour answered that it wasn’t a prejudicial interest, but it didn’t prevent him declaring a personal interest.

Cllr Foulkes declared a personal interest, so did Cllr Blakeley, Cllr Roberts, Cllr Salter and Cllr Rowlands (who then asked for a blanket personal interest to be recorded for everyone that fell into this category).

Surjit Tour continued summarising his report, detailing the legislation and the consequences he felt would arise from publishing reports (as outlined in 2.f(i) of his report), ranging from “unwanted media attention”, discouraging legitimate complaints and other reasons.

Cllr Blakeley asked about the obligation to publish in the local press the findings unless the councillor stated they didn’t want this to happen, he asked if the person who was the subject of the complaint consented to disclosure could the report be published?

Surjit Tour stated this would require the consent of the other parties. This is the point at which the video of the meeting starts.

Cllr Blakeley said, “It is very easy for people to make complaints, and just get away with it because they’ve submitted a complaint and there’s no case to answer, the person complained against is subject to an investigation, been put through that stress and turmoil and the complainant just walks away with a smile on their face, so I think the complainant should have to take some flak if there is no case to answer.”

Surjit Tour responded to Cllr Blakeley’s comments.

Cllr Foulkes said, “… I think the Council’s reputation is bad enough at the moment, with more difficult things at hand, do we want to invent another mechanism for dredging up stuff that’s gone on many, many years previous to that? … Imagine the position where picking out where we have someone who is a persistent complainant or someone who may have a different view of the world, and continually complains, with the knowledge that whatever they say would find the light of day?

We all know that subsequently we have a press that report things, they don’t report things to make it you know uninteresting, they will use any lurid issues or any lurid accusations that the complainant makes during the complaint process and a little paragraph at the end reading “no case to answer” so, so we have all the public glare of something that might have been … not to say the complaint was vexatious, but there was no case to answer and you have the whole story of the whole complaint aired in public, and we all know how the press … and if we all know what the rules are from now on, that there is an extreme likelihood, a high percentage that the findings and the report itself may find in the public gaze, then that’s how we’re all entering the whole system of complainants and those who’ve been complained against but I think it’s a little bit unfair to retrospectively to publish past reports…”

Surjit Tour pointed out that s.63 of the Local Government Act 2000 c.22 still applies to information obtained during an investigation and that confidentiality still applies.


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