Agenda and minutes
Venue: Conference Room, Herefordshire Council Offices, Plough Lane, Hereford, HR4 0LE
Contact: Steve Tucker, Democratic Services Officer
Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Cllr Clare Davies.
Cllr Christy Bolderson substituted for Cllr Clare Davies.
Declarations of Interest
To receive declarations of interests in respect of Table 1, Table 2 or Other Interests from members of the committee in respect of items on the agenda.
The Herefordshire Association of Local Councils representative, Richard Gething, declared a non-pecuniary interest in respect of Appendix 14, insofar as he was a serving Councillor on the Parish Council connected to the complaint at the time that the complaint was made, but had since resigned.
Exclusion of press and public
In the opinion of the Proper Officer, the following item will not be, or is likely not to be, open to the public and press at the time it is considered.
RECOMMENDATION: that under section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Schedule 12(A) of the Act, as indicated below and it is considered that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
2 Information which is likely to reveal the identity of an individual.
The Panel gave consideration to whether the press and public should be excluded for the subsequent business on the agenda, on the grounds that the report contained exempt information likely to reveal the identity of an individual.
During the discussion of whether the review should be held in public or private session, the following points were raised:
· Previous Panel meetings had been held in public session, and personal information was not discussed.
· The Panel were reviewing the process, rather than the content of the complaints, therefore the naming of individuals could be avoided.
· If there was a need for a detailed conversation where personal information would need to be disclosed, the Panel could move into private session accordingly.
It was unanimously resolved that:
The meeting remain open to the press and public.
To review a sample of monitoring officer resolution decisions between 1 May 2021 – 30 April 2022
The Panel gave consideration to the report as set out on pages 9-354 of the agenda, which asked the Panel to comment on the level of assurance obtained from sampling, to be reported in the annual code of conduct complaints report by the Monitoring Officer.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer introduced the report and invited comment from the Panel on the timeliness of decision making, the consistency of decisions and the sanctions which had been recommended.
Prior to consideration of the individual appendices, the Chair, speaking collectively on behalf of the appointed Independents Persons, raised a number of concerns which included:
· A general lack of timeliness in reaching decisions, with around 60% of the cases included in the sampling report having exceeded target resolution date;
· Failure to convene an informal Panel to review a number of issues which arose at the last Standards Panel meeting held on 11 March 2022, in particular the unavailability of key documents;
· A lack of clarity around who is dealing with matters following changes in Council personnel;
· A lack of quality evident in some work, with an example given where it took multiple efforts to produce a coherent decision notice;
· Uncertainty over whether the Standards function as a whole is adequately resourced, with the suggestion that the Audit & Governance Committee should seek to monitor this carefully; and
· The workload of the Independent Persons becoming stretched, in particular as a result of providing support to subject members.
The Chair also acknowledged, however, that despite 9 cases remaining open, the evidence indicated that the service was beginning to catch up and turnaround resolution times were gradually reducing. The Panel requested confirmation of what date the earliest of the 9 remaining open cases was received; the information was not available at the meeting but the Deputy Monitoring Officer undertook to inform the Panel outside of the meeting.
The Panel noted that some cases are outsourced to another local authority for resolution, and asked how decisions to outsource particular complaints are arrived at. The Deputy Monitoring Officer confirmed that outsourcing generally occurs where there is resource pressure leading to risk that the target resolution period will be exceeded, or where the complaint involves a Herefordshire Council Cabinet Member and it is felt that independent consideration would be appropriate.
The Panel conducted a review of appendices 2-26 and the following observations were raised:
· Appendix 7 – It was noted that on previous Standards Panel there had been complaints of a similar nature against the subject member, and although the complaints had been rejected as the Councillor was found to be acting in a personal capacity, they continue to attract further complaints due to not changing their behaviour. The Panel suggested that member training in the appropriate use of social media may be useful, and asked whether the complaint form could be amended to invite the complainant to consider whether the subject member was acting in their capacity as a Councillor at the time of the alleged behaviour.
· Appendix 11 – Although ... view the full minutes text for item 5.