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Agenda Item No 7

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Standards Committee : 11 April 2014

 

Report of the Monitoring Officer

 

Local Dispute Resolution Procedure

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To consider and agree an informal local dispute resolution procedure to address low level complaints of breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct ('the Code') and Protocol - Standard of Conduct Expected by Members, in response to Welsh Government and the former Public Services Ombudsman for Wales' concerns.

Recommendations

1.         THAT Committee considers and agrees the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure for the Vale of Glamorgan Council as attached at Appendix A to this report.

2.         THAT the Vale of Glamorgan Council's Group Leaders be consulted regarding the contents of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure.

3.         THAT the Monitoring Officer in consultation with the Chair of the Standards Committee be given delegated authority to consider the comments from the Group Leaders and amend the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure if deemed appropriate.

4.         THAT subject to any amendments in light of recommendation (3) above the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure be referred to Council with a recommendation that it be incorporated into the Council's Constitution.

5.         THAT a progress report be submitted to the next meeting of the Standards Committee.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1-4.     To address the recommendation of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales to adopt a Local Dispute Resolution for dealing with low level member-against-member complaints.

5.         To ensure that Standards Committee is kept informed.

Background

2.         In the most recent revision of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales' Guidance on the Code of Conduct for Members of Local Authorities, there is an expectation that local authorities throughout Wales will implement a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure to deal with low level complaints which are made by a Member against a fellow Member.

3.         The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales ('the Ombudsman') indicates that the following would fall within this category:

            (i)         Failure to show respect and consideration for others contrary to paragraph 4(b) of the Code

            (ii)        Duty not to make vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints against other Members under paragraph 6(1)(d) of the Code.

Complaints of this type are expressly mentioned by the Ombudsman although other breaches of the Code may also be regarded as low level complaints.

4.         The Ombudsman sets out the advantages of dealing with such low level complaints as follows:

            (i)         Speeds up the complaints process permitting a local and quick resolution of lower order issues.

            (ii)        Avoids unnecessary escalation of the situation which might impact on personal relationships within the Authority and damage the Authority's reputation.

            (iii)       Avoids unnecessary formal complaints and the involvement of the Ombudsman whose resources could be devoted to the investigation of more serious or repeated complaints.

5.         In a report submitted to Standards Committee on 5 December 2013, the Committee was informed that approximately 13 Councils had introduced some form of Local Dispute Resolution Procedure and a number of other Councils were developing models. The model adopted by some comprised a relatively formal procedure and involved the Standards Committee. Conversely the model adopted by others involved the adoption of a self regulatory protocol which incorporated a procedure for dealing with complaints via Group Leaders and only involved participation by an independent Member of the Standards Committee if the matter could not be resolved at the first stage. Standards Committee considered that a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure, which operated with the full support and commitment of all political groups was key to securing a swift resolution of what are deemed low level complaints.

Relevant Issues and Options

6.         Standards Committee on 5 December 2013 considered 2 different approaches and resolved - "THAT the Monitoring Officer draft a proposed Local Dispute Resolution Procedure incorporating elements of both Appendices, but not be confined to these documents for consideration at the next meeting of the Committee".

7.         Attached at Appendix A is a revised Local Dispute Resolution Procedure which in summary incorporates a 3 stage process, summarised as follows:

  • Stage 1 - determination by Monitoring Officer or Deputy Monitoring Officer of whether the Procedure is applicable.
  • Stage 2 - conciliation meeting held to attempt to resolve the matter.
  • Stage 3 - hearing before an independent member of the Standards Committee, advised by the Monitoring Officer or Deputy Monitoring Officer.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

8.         None directly arising from this report.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

9.         None.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

10.      By virtue of the Local Government Act 2000, Members are required to comply with the Council's Code. The Code is supplemented by guidance issued from time to time by the Ombudsman who is encouraging adoption of an informal Local Dispute Resolution Procedure to deal with low level complaints.

11.      Members' compliance with the proposed procedure will be voluntary. Members will still be at liberty to complain directly to the Ombudsman where complaints cannot be resolved locally or the behaviours complained of continue.

Crime and Disorder Implications

12.      None.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

13.      In the event that a complaint involves either equality issues or potential breaches of Human Rights they may not be suitable for consideration under the Procedure proposed and this would be considered by the Monitoring Officer (or Deputy Monitoring Officer) when the complaint is raised.

Corporate/Service Objectives

14.      The adoption of a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure will support Community Leadership.

Policy Framework and Budget

15.      This is a matter for Standards Committee and Council.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

16.      Formal Group Leader consultation will be carried out following the Standards Committee's consideration and agreement of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

17.      None.

Background Papers

Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Guidance

Standards Committee report dated 5 December 2013 entitled 'Local Dispute Resolution Procedure'.

 

Contact Officer

Debbie Marles - Head of Legal Services

01446 709402 email: DMarles@valeofglamorgan.gov.uk

 

Officers Consulted

Managing Director

 

Responsible Officer:

Debbie Marles - Head of Legal Services (and Monitoring Officer)