Agenda item


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The Chair invited Councillor Nash to present his report which had been circulated with the Agenda.


Councillor Nash drew the Panel’s attention to Page 43, the four recommendations set out below:


·         The UPCP be returned to the March 2013 wording with three amendments.  Subsequent amendments to that policy currently in force, whilst being negated will in fact be inherently satisfied by a proper appeal process.


·         Under bullet point 9, the ‘scattergun’ definition be narrowed in accordance with this report.


·         Under bullet point 12, new and relevant evidence/information can be presented at any time during the period in which an individual’s complaint is registered under the policy.


·         The Standards Committee be employed to administer appeals to the UPCP in a process commensurate with that of the Localism Act 2011 standards regime whereby both parties to the complaint are afforded the opportunity to present their evidence to the committee either personally or through a representative.  Additionally, it has already been established that the role description of the Council’s Localism Act 2011, section 28 Independent Person allows for that individual to be nominated to a role commensurate with the Localism Act 2011 standards regime and as such, the Independent Person can be approached by either or both of the parties to the complaint in order for the Independent Person to provide an independent opinion before the Standards Committee reaches its decision.


Councillor Nash commented that he was speaking about this policy as he had had probably exclusive experience of being on both sides of the policy.  Councillor Nash added that based on his experience to make it fair and useful policy for all concerned it was important to discuss those matters.  Most points were discussed and agreed on at the October 2019 Corporate Performance Panel meeting and it should hopefully not be too laborious to go through them again.


Councillor Nash thanked the Chair.


The Chair thanked Councillor Nash and invited the Monitoring Officer to address the Panel.


The Monitoring Officer commented that she understood that on the last occasion, advised legal advice had been requested on the proposals put forward by Councillor Nash.


The Monitoring Officer provided a brief summary on the legal opinion. 


The Monitoring Officer provided advice on whether the proposals could be accepted and changes made, except for a couple of areas which she would go through, the proposals could be accepted and that it was for Members to consider if whether they should be accepted and the reasons why. 


The Monitoring Officer outlined the points that she considered would definitely need to stay in the policy as set out below:


Local Government Ombudsmen recommendations in relation to a complaint that was previously made:


·         A requirement to set out a right for a review on a regular basis of the actual placement on the register.

·         Review of the policy.


The Monitoring Officer advised that the above two points were contained in the current policy and that as she read the proposals the adoption of the 2013 policy would remove that.  The Monitoring Officer therefore advised she was very insistent that those two points would need to stay in.


In terms of the proposals as they were broken down, to return to March 2013 Policy - yes,  subject to what she had said was possible.  The Monitoring Officer stated that her overall legal opinion was that the current policy was preferable in a number of areas and she was happy to go through those, but that she did think that it was the preferable policy. 


With regard to the proposal for adopting the 2013 policy, subject to those three amendments and that she would deal with those three amendments in turn because it maybe that alternative proposals could be put forward.


Scattergun Definition


The Monitoring Officer couldn’t see actual wording about what Councillor Nash would like to change that to, so her comment there was that the current wording based on the 2013 policy and the current one was pretty much in accordance with the Local Government Ombudsmen’s reference to the scattergun approach and it was just that the current one set out the various organisations and the point of that provision was to say that where a scattergun approach  a complaint coming into the council, MP and different organisations.  In the report there seemed to be a sort of understanding that it related to people in the council but if you actually read the wording of what was there it related to different organisations that was what the scattergun reference was to.  Just to highlight Members to consider that, there was no wording to what Councillor Nash wanted to change it to and asked if Councillor Nash wished to come in on this point and clarify to  Members what he was proposing it was changed to.


Councillor Nash commented that he did not have the new policy in front of him but stated the council was contemplating two policies I believe here, but if the council was to return to the 2013 policy there were serious problems with the scattergun approach because the scattergun approach actually contradicted the council’s own complaints policy where it advised you to go to your councillor and it does in fact pretty much contradicted section 6 of the Whistleblowing policy which advised you to go to the Leader of the Borough Councillor, your ward councillor, the external auditor, a solicitor, the police, in fact all those in the 2013 policy.  All of those people will score you bullet star prize for a place on the Unreasonable Persistent Complainants Policy, so there was a clear contradiction in two council policies and the council must not conflate the two policies at this point.  If the council was to look at adopting the 2013 policy then that should be looked at.


In terms of the proposal, the Monitoring Officer asked Councillor Nash what proposal he wished to make on the scattergun, one of the proposals was to change the definition, Members needed to be clear on what the changes you were proposing to be made.  Councillor Nash added that this was a discussion once it had been agreed to adopt the 2013 policy,  he was hoping there would be a further discussion as there was a lot to chew over at one meeting.


The Chair stated to Councillor Nash that he was not looking for this meeting to come forward with a proposal based on your report to the next Cabinet meeting but that he wanted an opportunity to explore the appropriate wording for scattergun.  The Chair sympathised with Councillor Nash on the wording in relation to scattergun approach and that if he was a complainant he would be guilty of scattergun approach as he would go for legal advice, contact the Citizens Advice Bureau and advise others to take, but if it was a question of coming up with wording to clarify that this would did to do this after the meeting and therefore it would not be going as a recommendation to the next Cabinet meeting and maybe Full Council the final arbiter.


The Chair asked when previously discussed at the Corporate Performance Panel was there any wording suggested as an alternative.  Councillor Nash responded that he did not think the Panel did, let me check.  The Chair asked to park that and move onto the Monitoring Officer’s next point.


Proposal to amend a bullet point within the 2013 policy in relation to when new and relevant evidence could be submitted


The Monitoring Officer explained that the next point was in relation to amending a bullet point within the 2013 policy in relation to when new and relevant evidence could be submitted, She did agree that if a complainant was on loosely termed the register then if there was new and relevant evidence then that should come forward and one would expect if there was new and relevant evidence that would be an appeal, therefore she did agree with that point. 


Proposal in relation to the Appeals Process


In relation to the proposal that the appeals process be replaced with a process whereby the Standards Committee would be convened to hear an appeal, subject to changes in the Constitution that would be permissible.  She added that she had not seen any other Council do that but there was no reason why this council could not do that.  Members were invited to consider the reasoning of why they would go to that extent of extending the terms of reference of a committee of the council to include this process which was not routine but Members may well feel that if their constituents rights were being interfered with to such an extent that they were being told not to contact them then they might want that sort of involvement, so there was a reasonable basis on which Members may wish to consider this proposal but just to note if it was to go forward then there would need to be clear recommendations on changing the Constitution to extend the terms of reference of the Standards Committee.


Councillor Ayres commented that he spoken on this item previously and the Panel was still facing the same  problem, the Panel was presented with a large amount of paperwork which had merits that needed to be looked at in a democratic fashion and that it required the input of more than one person. Councillor Ayres asked if there was a case of setting up an informal working group to look at the document and to bring the findings back to the Panel.


Councillor Nash referred to the appeals process and added that this was one of the important things to bring across from his report and commented that previously the council had experienced criticism for the way it had managed this policy.  The use of the Standards Committee which he had said in his report had met only three times in the last eight years, the Standards Committee could be nominated for that role by law.  If complaints got to the stage where it required that sort of scrutiny then the Standards Committee with its training was an ideal place to carry out an impartial review of the evidence from both sides and this had been lacking and this was a massive failure of the council and that this was picked by the Local Government Ombudsman when it carried out a review of a complaint.


The Chair commented that they had discussed it at a previous meeting and thought it through and did not agree that the Panel should re-justify its view, however he was attracted to the suggestion of an informal working group as it was very complicated and would explore it more after Councillor Middleton had addressed the Panel.


Councillor Middleton commented that there was a couple of things and that it might be his own opinion and everyone would form their own.  Councillor Middleton added that the council had a robust policy and followed the legal guidelines for this type of policy and stated that from the Cabinet’s point of view if the Corporate Performance Panel wished to put forward any recommendation it needed to be pretty robust and quite solid on the understanding what needed changing within that he asked Councillors to look at what was currently in front of them is one Councillors interpretation and opinion of what that currentpolicy was and he thought that this definitely needed looking at as a Panel as it may not form the same opinion.  One Councillor, Councillor Nash had done a look of research into it and formed his own opinion of that.  The setting up of an informal working group could be a way to form the Panel’s idea as what you wish if anything to Cabinet, but you may wish to form the decision that actually the policy was  robust as it had been and therefore having an informal working group would drain resource from the council for the Panel to reach the same opinion that the council had a robust policy, why would councillors spend time looking at it because informal working group would put a recommendation forward based on at the moment one Councillor’s opinion. 


The Chair interrupted Councillor Middleton and stated that he felt Councillor Middleton was trying to guide the Panel.


In response, Councillor Middleton commented that it was up to the Panel to decide how to do it, but from a Cabinet’s point of view whatever those recommendations looked like needed to be pretty robust and not woolly we think this needed to be changed.


The Chair added that the previous Chair of CPP when this item was discussed would have ensured that last set of proposals put forward were not woolly and he would ensure that future proposals were also not woolly.


At the invitation of the Chair, the Portfolio Holder for Corporate Services addressed the Committee and commented that he did not consider a review was required, but it was entirely within the gift of the Panel if it wanted to put forward recommendations to Cabinet, the route it got to that he was absolutely ok with.  The point made by Councillor Middleton was right in that you did not necessarily  change all the rules because one case did not fit the rules in place or someone felt he/she had not been dealt with properly in result of where the rules were and how they sat and if they were in the same part along the requirements as what you would see at most district level councils across the country, tweaking around the edges to make them to work better was all good if you get to that point and maybe an informal working group might be able to get to that point but the council did not want to stray too far away as to what was expected within the sector because ultimately anyone who was looking at in terms of an Ombudsman complaint would be judging against what they saw within the sector across the whole country rather than the fact that the words had been tweaked that would make it better for one person and not better for somebody else.


The Chair accepted the comments made by Councillor Long and added that no doubt he would had made that speech if the proposals from the Panel had gone forward as they should have done previously.  The Chair added that he was determined that they will go forward but maybe if there was a compromise it would be done via an informal working group and take it to Cabinet and Council will make their decision.  The Chair thanked Councillor Long for his contribution.


Councillor Nash commented that in view of the comments made if Councillor Ayres would like to propose that Motion then I will be more than happy to second the Motion


At the invitation of the Chair, the Chief Executive addressed the Panel and explained that this policy did not get used very often and it was only in very unique situations that the policy was used.  The current policy had not been used in that period.  The Chief Executive referred to Councillor Nash’s report, second bullet point and the Monitoring Officer had accepted that point if Councillor Nash could come up with some wording this could come back to a further Panel meeting or a working group whichever way this was going to be done.


With regard to the first item, Councillor Nash look back at what his definition of scattergun, the Monitoring Officer could look at that come up with some wording to the Panel or working group or  whatever route was determined.


As far as using the Standards Committee for dealing with appeals if that was the approach the Panel wished to do then again if it was fully transparent and a robust process there were no issues with that approach, what was required was a policy fit for purpose, robust and transparent and both herself and the Monitoring Officer would support that whether it was via an informal working group or bringing the proposals back to the Panel to take forward.


With regard to the proposal from Councillor Ayres on setting up an informal working group, the Chair asked if he had in mind the number of participants which did not need to be politically proportionate and meetings (no more than 2).  Councillor Ayres agreed that two meetings would be sufficient and between 5 or 6 participants.


Councillor Ayres proposed that an informal working group be set up to consider the proposals put forward by Councillor Nash.  The proposal was seconded by Councillor Moriarty and on being put to the vote was carried.  Members of the informal working group – Councillors B Ayres, C Manning, J Moriarty, S Nash.


The Chair thanked all those present for their input into the debate.


RESOLVED:  An informal working group be set up to consider the proposals put forward by Councillor Nash and to report back the findings at a future meeting of the Corporate Performance Panel.



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