Standards Committee – 25th January – Part 5

Cllr Blakeley said he had read it two to three times. It was so open he was disappointed. He wanted it put on record his concern at the amount of time complaints too. Non-complex complaints should have a 6 month deadline. Complaints could be dealt with by an external Monitoring Officer. It was an open merry-go-round of non-solutions and he thought it was going backwards. It was not tight enough and far too open. Anything that took longer than 26 weeks if not complex was unacceptable.

He had lodged a complaint in 2009, three times he had received a statement from a solicitor with no page numbers. He had asked Bill Norman. He said that all these people making monkeys out of us was unacceptable.

A Labour councillor said that they absolutely agree. Twelve to fourteen months was wrong. Indeed waiting so long worried the public and doesn’t reflect us. Six months to a year was not a proper reply. Wirral should ask another authority to tighten up their procedures.

Cllr Williams said she was puzzled why it was on the agenda and intrigued as to why. She shared the concerns and asked for the main reason or an explanation. A council officer responded to her concerns. Brian Ellis said that there is a current protocol, however it’s only two pages. This is more comprehensive and detailed.

Cllr Williams asked if it doesn’t help or speed up the process then there was not much point. A council officer said it was a deferred item and he was happy to revise the time limits. The Localism Bill had implications for it. Cllr Williams said it should be parked for now and changes made at a future meeting.

Cllr Blakeley asked about one point he was confused at section 7.3. If the Monitoring Officer and Chair of the Standards Committee decide on whether a complaint goes to the Initial Assessment Panel, is the Chair debarred as this would be classed as pre-determination?

Cllr Jones said he didn’t always agree with Cllr Blakeley, however a parallel was disciplinary procedures. These had safeguards whereas currently a councillor was left dangling for 12-18 months.

Cllr Blakeley said it was not good for complainants and the subject of complaints but accepted some were complex. 90% were standard complaints that should last no longer than 6 months. If we can’t how can we refer to the Standards Framework. Why did it have to be our Monitoring Officer? Nowhere did it mention working with another local authority.

Cllr Jones said it was sometimes done with police authorities and was healthier because there was no link of friendship or political link. The it was dealt with on its merits. As complaints lasted at least 6 months, councillors could be gone before they were heard.

Cllr Blakleley said it had happened regarding a complaint about someone who is no longer a councillor. Wirral Council was struggling for money. Could the benefit be explained of 5 different standards committees and three joint boards? Couldn’t Wirral team up with two or three others?

Cllr McLaughlin said that it worked against natural justice. For six months it was hanging over and used for political advantage. It was almost impossible to get a non-prejudicial decision.

Cllr Blakeley said differences were thrown to one side and it was the same for people of all parties.

Cllr Bridson asked for a costs breakdown and of consultants used. She said the council should send a bill to people who complained about councillors if the complaint was not upheld. A council officer said he would report back.

Cllr Blakeley suggested a Regional Standards Committee for the Liverpool City Region. Labour asked if they run out of people for a standards hearing what do we do?

Stella Elliott pointed out there were independent members with no bias that brought something to the process. Labour pointed out that in some authorities independent members sit on cases. Cllr Williams said that when she sat on panels, she sought to be objective and that there were as many differences between members of her own political party htan members of different political parties. She hoped she achieved objectivity.

Cllr McLaughlin said that was ideal. Cllr Williams continued that that was what she strove to do. In order not to be biased she put her views to one side.

The Chair said the new protocol was not adopted/accepted. Cllr Blakeley asked for a flowchart. Cllr Williams wouldn’t want to offend officers but believed it could be improved upon.

There were no items of any other business. The Chair thanked people for their attendance.

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