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Agenda Item No 7

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Standards Committee : 22nd September, 2016

 

Report of the Monitoring Officer

 

Local Dispute Resolution Procedure

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To provide additional information in order to assist with a review of the Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedure.

Recommendation

THAT the Standards Committee considers the contents of this report as part of the review of the Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedure.

Reason for the Recommendation

In order to progress the Committee's review of the Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedure.

Background

  1. On 11 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' wishes. The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales ('the 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 25 June 2014, a Local Dispute Resolution Procedure ('the Procedure') was duly approved and has been incorporated into the Council's Constitution. For ease of reference a copy of the Council's current Procedure is attached at Appendix A.
  2. The Procedure 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 permits the member submitting the complaint to request the matter to proceed directly to a Stage 3 hearing without a conciliation meeting being held.
  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 is censured.
  2. Following consideration by the Standards Committee on 7 July 2016 of a number of suggested amendments to the Council's Procedure it was resolved:

"(1) THAT Stage 2 of the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure should not become mandatory.

(2) THAT internal procedures relating to the Members' Code of Conduct be revised 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), the contents of the Guidance be noted.

(3) THAT a future report be submitted to a future Standards Committee meeting following a review of the Welsh Local Authorities Local Dispute Resolution Procedures."

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. As with the Constitution generally, the Procedure is subject to review and changes may be proposed if considered appropriate (either by the Monitoring Officer or the Standards Committee itself).
  2. Members will recall that at the Committee meeting on 7 July 2016 comments relating to the Procedure which had been received from Members were considered. These included:
  • Delay in dealing with complaints under the Procedure and bringing the same to the attention of the Member complained about;

- this has been addressed by of the Resolutions of the Standards Committee on 7 July 2016.

  • Witnesses at Stage 3 hearings not having an awareness of the nature of the complaint;

- this has been addressed by the Resolutions of the Standards Committee on 7 July 2016.

  • Delay in progressing with Stage 2 of the Procedure.
  • A call for Stage 2 of the Procedure to be rescinded.
  • Overall timescales within the Procedure to be tightened up.
  • An increased role for the Monitoring Officer in the Procedure when "personal attacks" occur with regard to officers.
  • Process to be streamlined.
  • Some support for a mandatory conciliation stage within the Procedure to settle disagreement and conflict between elected members, but not in cases of potential breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct.
  • Introduction of an independent investigation role to assess whether there is a case to answer in instances of alleged breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct.
  • Standards Committee to consider matters at Stage 3.
  • Consideration to be given to the Procedure being extended to allow employees and members of the public to use the Procedure.
  1. The views of the Standards Committee on 7 July 2016 are detailed in the minutes appearing earlier on the agenda for this meeting. In summary:
  • There was merit in considering whether any revisions to the Procedure should be made.
  • Reference was made to the need to distinguish between actual Members' Code of Conduct complaints and disputes/disagreements between individual Councillors; and that there was merit and potential for agreement being reached through mediation in the case of the latter.
  • That Stage 2 of the Procedure should not become mandatory.
  • There was some hesitation with regards to the suggestion that an independent member should observe at Stage 2 of the Procedure, and that this would be reconsidered in line with the further information to be presented to the Standards Committee.
  • Consideration be given to increasing the existing sanctions under the Procedure.
  • An acknowledgement that the Procedure, on occasions have proved to be somewhat slow.
  • Whether the existence of internal procedures within political groups was likely to result in a more disciplined approach amongst members and, consequently, less likelihood of a Code of Conduct or the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure having to come into effect.
  • The need to ensure Members' "rights" were not prejudiced as a result of any changes to the Procedure.
  • The need for Members to remain aware of the potential seriousness of breaches of the Members' Code of Conduct and of the important role of the Standards Committee.
  • Whether any scope might exist for strengthening the existing provisions available within the Local Dispute Resolution Procedure in the event of a basis to the complaint being determined (a censure currently being the ultimate sanction).
  1. In line with the Committee's request, I have liaised with all Welsh Monitoring Officers and requested sight of their individual Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedures. Out of the 21 Welsh Local Authorities, I received responses from 13 Councils which included:

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council,

Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council,

Flintshire County Council,

Powys County Council,

Gwynedd Council,

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council,

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council,

Monmouthshire County Council,

Torfaen County Borough Council,

Isle of Anglesey County Council,

Ceredigion County Council,

Conwy County Borough Council; and

Pembrokeshire County Council.

For ease of reference copies of 12 of those Council's Local Dispute Resolution Procedures are attached at Appendix B (save for Pembrokeshire's which is currently under review) together with a summary of the key points relating to the same and how they differ from this Council's Procedure.

  1. As requested, a summary of the cases/findings to date pursuant to the Procedure is set out under Part II of this agenda, given that not all cases have resulted in a censure, and therefore the details relating to the same are not in the public domain.
  2. It is also noteworthy that in respect of the attached Local Dispute Resolution Procedures the maximum sanction permitted is a censure, however in Ceredigion County Council their procedure permits members to be removed from Committees or outside bodies.

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 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 consideration by the Standards Committee in the first instance, and if any changes to the Procedure are proposed for Full Council to consider thereafter.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

  1. The report does not require consultation with other parties or Members of the Council at this stage, however observations on the Procedure have been received from a number of Members and are reflected in the report.

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:

Debbie Marles, Monitoring Officer