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Standards Committee: AGENDA ITEM [No] 4th September 2008 MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT - COMPLAINTS 1.0 Matter for consideration 1.1 To advise Members of the Standards Committee of the decision making arrangements necessary for the exercise of its new roles under the provisions of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, and to advise Members of the contents of relevant Standards Board for England Guidance; 1.2 To recommend to the Standards Committee the Members local assessment criteria to be applied in carrying out initial assessments of complaints of alleged Member breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct. 2.0 Recommendations Standards Committee Members are recommended:- 2.1 To establish an Initial Assessment Sub-Committee and a Review Sub-Committee each consisting of 3 Members of the Standards Committee, and to be chaired in each case by a separate Independent Member of the Committee and that Members be allocated to Sub-Committee meetings as indicated in the body of this report; 2.2 To consider and adopt initial assessment criteria as required by Standards Board for England Guidance; 2.3 That in relation to final hearings, in each case, a panel of five Members of the Committee, chaired by an Independent Member, be convened to conduct such hearings, and that the hearings be conducted in accordance with the Standards Board for England Guidance referred to in the body of this report; 2.4 That unless exceptional circumstances exist and the Initial Assessment Sub- Committee so directs, Members be given full details of allegations made against them prior to the Initial Assessment process; 2.5 That the Council’s Monitoring Officer keep the above arrangements under review and report back as to their efficacy after a period of 12 months from their implementation. 3.0 Information 3.1 Members will be aware that under the provisions of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, allegations of breaches of the Members’ Code of Conduct now fall to be considered and dealt with for the most part by local Standards Committees rather than by the Standards Board for England. 3.2 A report was submitted to the Council on 26 March 2008 setting out, in broad terms, the new functions, and recommending changes to the size and composition of the Committee to enable these functions to be carried out. 3.3 Since the date of that report, several pieces of Guidance have been published by the Standards Board for England to assist Monitoring Officers and Standards Committees in carrying out their new functions. These Guidance documents cover matters such as initial assessment of complaints and review of those decisions; local investigations and other action (including guidance on conflicts of interest); how to carry out an investigation in practical terms, and guidance on determination of cases by Standards Committees. 3.4 Copies of the guidance relating to Initial Assessment and Standards Committee determinations are attached as Annexes A and B respectively to this report. To summarise, however, the procedure for all complaints against Members under the Code of Conduct must proceed as follows:- a written complaint is received either by or through the Monitoring Officer alleging either expressly or implicitly a breach of the Code of Conduct by a Member or Members; within 20 working days the matter must be referred to a Sub-Committee of the Standards Committee for initial assessment. This Sub-Committee should consist of 3 Members of the Standards Committee and must be chaired by an Independent Member. The meeting is held in private session and under the Standards Board Guidance, neither the Complainant nor the subject Member should attend. 3.5 The Sub-Committee is required to make one of the following three decisions:- that no action should be taken in respect of the complaint; that the complaint should be referred to the Council’s Monitoring Officer for investigation or other appropriate action; that the complaint should be referred to the Standards Board for England for a full investigation by an Ethical Standards Officer. 3.5 Where the Sub-Committee decides to take no action with regard to the complaint it must send out written notice of its decision within 5 working days. The decision notice must set out reasons for the decision and advise the Complainant of his or her right of review of the decision to take no action. The review must be undertaken independently by a separate Review Sub-Committee of the Standards Committee. Again this must consist of 3 Members of the Committee and be chaired by an Independent Member. Any Member who took part in the original decision to take no further action must not take part in the review process. 3.6 The Review Sub-Committee must carry out a review of the original decision within a maximum of 3 months of receiving the request to do so, although Standards Board Guidance suggests that it should seek to do so within 20 working days of such notification. The Review Sub-Committee has the same 3 decisions available to it that the Initial Assessment Sub-Committee had. It must also send out its decision notice within 5 days of making the decision. 3.7 Where one of the Sub-Committees decides that the complaint should be referred to the Monitoring Officer or to the Standards Board for England it must send a summary of the complaint to the relevant Member and Complainant. This summary should state what the allegation was and why a particular referral decision has been made. 3.8 A decision to refer the matter to the Monitoring Officer for investigation will result in a full investigation. Standards Committee guidance on conflicts of interest state that the Monitoring Officer should not conduct an investigation and also advise the Standards Committee at a hearing about the same case although it is open to a Monitoring Officer to carry out an investigation and advise either the Initial Assessment or the Review Sub-Committees. The Monitoring Officer is empowered to delegate the investigative role either internally within the Council or externally. 3.9 Following investigation a report will be prepared for hearing before the Standards Committee or a Sub-Committee of it. A range of sanctions are available to the Standards Committee:- Censure of the Member; Restrict the Member’s access to premises and/or resources of the Council; Require the Member to submit a written apology in a form satisfactory to the Committee; Require the Member to undertake training specified by the Committee; Require the Member to participate in a conciliation process; Suspend or partially suspend the Member for up to 6 months in total. 4.0 Establishment of Sub-Committees 4.1 It is necessary for the Standards Committee to establish 2 Sub-Committees which (it is suggested) should be known as the Initial Assessment Sub-Committee and the Review Sub-Committee. As indicated above these Sub-Committees must consist of 3 Members and be chaired by an Independent Member. Committee Members are therefore requested to resolve on the establishment of these 2 Sub-Committees. It is suggested that Members be allocated to Sub-Committees on a pool/rota basis. Members will be called upon to participate in Sub-Committee hearings in alphabetical order and on the basis that in a Sub-Committee of three, no more than one Member of any particular political group should participate. 4.2 It is also necessary for the Committee to adopt a Procedure to be used at Final Hearings. A Model Procedure is set out in Appendix 2 to the Standards Board Guidance entitled “Standards Committee Determinations” which is attached to this Report as Annex B, and members are recommended to adopt it. 5.0 Assessment Criteria Standards Board guidance on Local Assessment of Complaints (attached) refers to the need for Standards Committees to adopt local assessment criteria to use in determining what course of action to adopt when carrying out initial assessment of complaints. The Guidance sets out a series of questions which Committees should ask themselves in setting out their criteria and it contains a number of suggestions as to matters which Members should take into account in exercising this function. Attached as Annex C to this report is a suggested set of criteria for Members’ consideration. These criteria are drawn from the Standards Board Guidance, slightly amended in places to assist with clarity. The adoption of the assessment criteria and their application will enable the Committee to apply consistent criteria to assessment and review decisions. 6.0 Member Notification 6.1 The question arises as to what notification should be given to individual Members of complaints made against them, both prior to the initial assessment stage of the process, and subsequently. Standards Board Guidance is somewhat inconsistent on this issue, stating in one place that the Monitoring Officer merely has a discretion to notify the Member that a complaint has been made, in summary, and advising the Members to the paragraph of the Code alleged to have been breached, and in another section indicating that full details of the allegation should be made available. It is my view that Elected Members should be (unless there are exceptional circumstances in which case the instructions of the Sub-Committee will be sought), advised of the full details of the complaint when it is received and prior to an initial assessment. The Member will be advised at the same time in a covering letter that no response is sought from him or her at that stage, and what the role of the Initial Assessment Sub- Committee will be. The Standards Board for England did not notify the Member concerned when carrying out initial assessments, but I do question whether such a practice is practicable at local level, particularly where an individual Member may have been made aware that a complaint has been lodged. Committee Members instructions are sought in that regard. 7.0 Financial considerations 7.1 None. 8.0 Legal considerations 8.1 As set out in the report. Relevant officer: Mark Lewis, Head of Legal and Democratic Services Tel (01253) 477435 Email: email@example.com Appendices attached: Annex A: Standards Board Guidance entitled “Local Assessment of Complaints” Annex B: Standards Board Guidance entitled “Standards Committee Determinations” Annex C: Standards Committee – Assessment Criteria. Background papers: None. Websites and e-mail links for further information: www.standardsboard.co.uk. Glossary: None.
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