Agenda and draft minutes

Standards Committee
Thursday 5th January, 2023 7.00 pm

Venue: Council Chamber, Wallfields, Hertford. View directions

Contact: Katie Mogan  Tel: (07762) 892098 Email:  katie.mogan@eastherts.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

281.

Apologies

To receive apologies for absence.

Minutes:

Apologies of absence were received from Parish Councillor Jane Dodson and Parish Councillor Vicky Smith.

 

282.

Chairman's Announcements

Minutes:

The Chairman reminded Members to use the microphones so they could be heard on the webcast.

 

283.

Minutes - 6 July 2022 pdf icon PDF 55 KB

To confirm the Minutes of the meeting held on 6 July 2022.

Minutes:

Councillor Huggins proposed, and Councillor R Buckmaster seconded a motion that the Minutes of the meeting held on 6 July 2022 be approved as a correct record and be signed by the Chairman. On being put to the meeting and a vote taken, the motion was declared CARRIED.

 

RESOLVED – that the Minutes of the meeting held on 6 July 2022 be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.

 

 

284.

Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

 

285.

Review of Councillor Complaints Handling Procedure pdf icon PDF 79 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services introduced the Review of Councillor Complaints Handling Procedure. He said that the last procedure had been adopted in September 2011 and the complaints procedure needed to be updated following the new Code of Conduct being adopted in April 2021.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services referred to paragraph 2.3 of the report which listed the notable changes to the procedure. He said that one important change was the inclusion of local resolution whereby complaints should try to be resolved at a local level before referring to the Monitoring Officer. He said that he hoped this would result in a quicker resolution for the complainant. A further amendment was the inclusion of clearer definitions of each stage of the complaints process to set out clearly what would happen when.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services said a clearer explanation of the role of the Independent Person had been included instead of the document referring to the Localism Act.

 

The Independent Person said that the procedure was a vast improvement on the current version. He said that the whole point was to make clear that the complaints procedure was not a mechanism for people to complain about decisions that had been made lawfully by councillors. He said that the sequencing that had been set out for each stage of the process was easy to follow.

 

Parish Councillor Hunt asked if all complaints fell under Code of Conduct complaints.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services said there was often some confusion as to what constituted a Code of Conduct complaint. He said he had received complaints about council decisions or that councillors were not responding to correspondence, but these did not fall under the Code of Conduct.

 

Parish Councillor Hunt said that parish councils were at the front line of complaints and said that Much Hadham had its own complaints procedure. He asked if parish councils would be informed of that addition of the local resolution stage as they may need to change their own individual policies.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services said that his role as the Monitoring Officer meant he was responsible for investigating complaints under the Localism Act. He said that the new local resolution stage was intended for a conversation to take place to try and resolve simple misunderstandings. He said he would send the new procedure across to all parish clerks to make them aware that the procedure would encourage complainants to resolve at a local level before  being considered by the Monitoring Officer, where required.

 

The Independent Person said that one area that caused misunderstanding was councillors behaving in ways they don’t expect them to behave. He said that the legislation was very careful and specific and said that a councillor needed to be acting ‘in capacity’. He said it was an important distinction to make as to whether a councillor was acting as a councillor or doing something connected to the council.

 

Councillor Pope  ...  view the full minutes text for item 285.

286.

Standards Update pdf icon PDF 70 KB

Minutes:

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services presented the Standards Update report. He said that it was a requirement to present the committee with a summary of standards complaints that had been raised. The report listed complaints that had been submitted from the end of 2021. He referred to paragraph 2.7 where a complainant referred their complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) as they were unhappy with its conclusion. The LGO decided that the complaint had bene properly dealt with and did not take it any further.

 

Councillor Huggins asked why complaint 08/21 was not listed.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services referred to paragraph 2.6 and said that complaints that were withdrawn were not included in the table.

 

Councillor Buckmaster referred to complaints 05/22 and 07/22 and asked if they had been resolved yet.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services said complaint 05/22 was being dealt with by the Deputy Monitoring Officer and was very close to being resolved. Complaint 07/22 was submitted at the end of 2022 and required further information which had now been received so the initial assessment could continue.

 

Councillor Stowe said the report provided good information as to why some complaints were not accepted especially the relationships between councillors which did not constitute a breach.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services said that councillors who put themselves up for election put themselves forward for healthy debate and disagreement which was factored into any complaints made between councillors, as a certain level of robust disagreement was to be expected. He said interactions with members of the public had a lower bar as they do not put themselves forward for the same level of robustness.

 

Councillor Stowe asked if the investigation into a complaint would continue if the councillor concerned resigned.

 

The Head of Legal and Democratic Services said that the complaints procedure only applied to councillors so if they resigned, the investigation stopped. However, he said that if Members returned to the Council within 14 months, the complainant could be resurrected.

 

          RESOLVED – That the report be received.

 

287.

Urgent Business

To consider such other business as, in the opinion of the Chairman of the meeting, is of sufficient urgency to warrant consideration and is not likely to involve the disclosure of exempt information.

 

Minutes:

There was no urgent business.