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Agenda Item No. 7

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Standards Committee: 7th July, 2016

 

Report of the Monitoring Officer

 

Local Dispute Resolution Procedure: Proposed Amendments

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To advise the Standards Committee of suggested changes to the Local Dispute Resolution, some of which are as recommended by an Independent Member following a recent Stage 3 Hearing held under the procedure and others proposed by the Monitoring Officer in light of experience of the Procedure since its introduction in June 2014. For ease of reference, the proposed changes are shown in bold in the Procedure attached as Appendix A to the report.

Recommendations

  1. That the Committee consider whether the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should be amended to read that the Stage 2 part of the process be mandatory and that no matter will proceed to a Stage 3 hearing unless Stage 2 has taken place.
  2. That the Committee consider, subject to recommendation (1) above being approved, whether the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should be amended to provide that an Independent Member of the Standards Committee may sit as an observer at the mandatory Stage 2 part of the process.
  3. That the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure be amended to provide that any complaint lodged under the Procedure be brought to the attention of the Member against whom the complaint has been lodged within seven working days of it being received by the Monitoring Officer. Furthermore, if a Member, in lodging a complaint, has identified a specific witness(es) whom they wish to call to give evidence, details of the complaint (redacted if considered necessary) should also be forwarded to the witness(es).
  4. That the above recommendations be forwarded to Full Council for consideration and, if approved, the amended Procedure be incorporated in the Council's Constitution.

Reasons for the Recommendations

  1. To allow for an opportunity for issues to be resolved prior to Stage 3 of the Procedure.
  2. To provide the opportunity to verify that the conciliation meetings are fair, equitable and dealt with in a timely manner.
  3. To avoid any undue delay occurring.
  4. To facilitate consideration by Full Council.

Background

  1. On 11th April, 2014 the Standards Committee considered and agreed an informal Local Dispute Resolution Procedure to address low level complaints and breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct (the Code) and Protocol - Standards of Conduct Expected by Members, in response to Welsh Government and the former Public Services Ombudsman for Wales' concerns. The Public Services Ombudsman, in guidance on the Code of Conduct for Members of Local Authorities, had stated there was an expectation that Local Authorities throughout Wales would implement a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure to deal with low level complaints which were made by a Member against a fellow Member. At the Full Council meeting on 25th  June, 2014, a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure was duly approved and has been incorporated into the Council's Constitution.
  2. Appendix A to the report is a copy of the Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedure which in summary incorporates a three Stage process as follows:
  • Stage 1 - determination by Monitoring Officer or Deputy Monitoring Officer of whether the procedure is applicable.
  • Stage 2 - conciliation meeting to be held to attempt to resolve the matter.
  • Stage 3 - hearing before an Independent Member of the Standards Committee, as nominated by the Chair of the Standards Committee, advised by the Monitoring Officer or Deputy Monitoring Officer.
  • The procedure further states that it is possible for the Member submitting the complaint to request the matter to proceed directly to a Stage 3 hearing without it going to a conciliation meeting.
  1. The procedure also allows for the Independent Member at a hearing to make recommendations to the Council regarding changing any procedures or taking any further action. Hearings at Stage 3 are dealt with in private and publicity is not to be given to the names of the Members involved in the complaint unless it is decided that there is a basis to the complaint and the Member be censured.

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. As with the Constitution generally, the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure is subject to review and changes can be proposed if considered appropriate (either by the Monitoring Officer or the Standards Committee itself). As such, a number of changes are set out below (together with the rationale for such) for consideration by the Committee.
  2. Following a hearing held on 29th March, 2016, under the above procedure, the Independent Member presiding has recommended to the Standards Committee that the procedure in relation to Stage 2 of the process be amended. As indicated above, the current process allows for a conciliation meeting at Stage 2 but that the Member making the complaint can request that the matter proceeds directly to a Stage 3 hearing.
  3. The Independent Member considers that some issues may be able to be resolved at Stage 2, and, as such, in their view this part of the process should be deemed mandatory, prior to the Stage 3 part of the procedure being undertaken.
  4. The Independent Member also recommends that an Independent Member of the Standards Committee should be permitted to be present as an observer at Stage 2 of the procedure.
  5. In light of the above, the Committee is asked to consider whether the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should be amended to reflect that the Stage 2 part of the procedure is mandatory and that no matter will proceed directly to a Stage 3 hearing unless Stage 2 has taken place.
  6. Subject to its views regarding the above recommendation, the Committee is also asked to consider whether the Procedure should be amended to include that an Independent Member of the Standards Committee (to be appointed by the Chairman of the Standards Committee on a rotational basis) be permitted to sit as an observer at the mandatory Stage 2 part of the process.
  7. In light of experience of the procedure since its introduction in June 2014, the Monitoring Officer considers that it would be beneficial if a specific timescale was inserted into the procedure, clarifying the deadline by which a complaint should be brought to the attention of the Member against whom the complaint has been lodged. It is recommended that this be within seven working days of the complaint being received by the Monitoring Officer. Furthermore, if a Member, in lodging a complaint, has identified a specific witness(es) whom they wish to call to give evidence, details of the complaint and response (redacted if considered necessary) should also be forwarded to the witness(es); if approved, this would be akin to pleadings being made available in civil proceedings.
  8. In addition to the above, the opportunity has also been taken to amend a typographical error in paragraph 3.1 of the Procedure. Reference to "paragraph 4(b)" should, in fact, "paragraph 18.2.4(b)".

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. None as a direct result of this report.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. None as a direct result of this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. The Local Dispute Resolution Procedure forms part of the Council's Constitution.

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. None as a direct result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. None as a direct result of this report.

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. None as a direct result of this report.

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. This is a matter for decision by the Standards Committee and Full Council.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. The report does not require consultation with other parties.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Not applicable.

Background Papers

Local Dispute Resolution Procedure for Dealing with Low Level Allegations of Breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct

Contact Officer

Debbie Marles, Tel: 01446 709402

Officers Consulted

Head of Democratic Services.

Responsible Officer:

Ms. D. Marles, Monitoring Officer