Changes to code of conduct complaints procedure

Friday, 8 December 2023 06:00

By Will Goddard, Local Democracy Reporter

The time it takes to deal with complaints about councillors’ behaviour in East Devon has been slashed from 10 weeks to four.  

Attempts will also now be made to try to resolve grievances at the outset with training or mediation, with investigations the exception, unless the case is serious. 
In another change, once a complaint is deemed to have merit, it will be considered at the next stage by monitoring officer Melanie Wellman, in liaison with an independent person, instead a committee of councillors.
Previously complaints could go through both internal and external investigations, but this has been streamlined to allow just one investigation stage. 
Explaining why the changes are being made, Cllr Eleanor Rylance (Lib Dem, Broadclyst) said: “We are hoping to head towards a place where… there are fewer transgressions of the code of conduct overall, because people’s behaviour would be improving because they would understand the code of conduct better.”
Cllr Steve Gazzard (Lib Dem, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) questioned whether four weeks is enough time to resolve complaints. 
Monitoring officer Melanie Wellman responded: “I think we have to try and achieve the four weeks because it’s more in line with the LGA [Local Government Association] guidance.  
“It is a very tight timescale… but there is provision in there to be able to extend that timescale where there are obviously good reasons to do so.” 
Cllr Peter Faithfull (Independent, Ottery St Mary) asked what would happen if councillors do not accept sanctions, such as being ordered to apologise. 
Ms Wellman replied: “Effectively, if somebody doesn’t comply with a sanction then obviously there is the potential for it to be a further code of conduct complaint but it depends on the circumstances.” 
Breaches of the code of conduct include bullying, harassment, discrimination, disclosing confidential information and failing to disclose financial interests. 
A report shows that of the 43 complaints made against district and town and parish councillors between July last year and 1 November this year, eight led to the subject resigning.
Because the complaints are anonymised in the report, it is not possible to know how many councillors the eight complaints relate to. 
A further two complaints led to one councillor not standing for re-election and another standing down for other reasons.

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