Plan for councils to deal with complaints about their own councillors ‘a huge mistake’
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Plans for complaints about the conduct of councillors to be dealt with by councils instead of by an independent ombudsman in Wales would be “a huge mistake”, it has been claimed.
Currently residents and councillors can make complaints about the conduct of local authority members directly to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, but an independent review commissioned by the Welsh Government, has recommended this is changed.
The proposed change, recommended as part of a wider review of the ethical standards framework in Wales, would mean complaints about conduct would be dealt with in a similar way to general service complaints such as potholes.
Any complaint would need to be considered for resolution by the local authority in the first instance before potentially going to an ombudsman.
The change is aimed at speeding up the complaints process and ensuring the Ombudsman’s resources are devoted to investigating serious matters.
However Monmouthshire council’s standards committee, which met to agree a response to the plans on Monday, said it would be “an unjustified and damaging move”, reducing independence in the complaints process.
Richard Stow, chairman of the council’s standards committee, said taking away the independence of the Ombudsman in the process would be “a huge mistake”.
“The report makes a major change which I think disadvantages the public and reduces independence in the process considerably without any public consultation,” he said.
Mr Stow said the move could reduce public confidence in the complaints process.
A council monitoring officer could be asked to investigate a complaint about a cabinet member they work closely with, Mr Stow said, asking: “How does that look to the public?”
Irene Cameron, another member of Monmouthshire council’s standards committee, said that currently people can get advice from the council before making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
She said this is “a good system” and that the route to investigate independently should be kept.
The change is one of several which has been recommended in a report by independent consultant Richard Penn.
Mandatory training on the code of conduct for all councillors has also been backed in a bid to improve behaviour and subsequently reduce complaints.
The report highlighted “serious concern about the extent of bullying, lack of respect or otherwise generally disruptive behaviour” by some members at town and community councils.
However Monmouthshire council’s standards committee said the report does not explain why the current system is not dealing with behaviour which breaches the code of conduct.
Any agreed changes from the report will not made made until after local government elections in May.
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