East Devon District Council proposes revamped bullying complaints process

Monday, 20 November 2023 12:16

By Bradley Gerrard, Local Democracy Reporter

Complaints about bullying or harassment against councillors in East Devon could be dealt with more quickly in future

Plans have been drawn up to slash the time that complaints about inappropriate behaviour are dealt with from 10 weeks to four.
A key part of the proposal to change the process includes asking people to provide all supporting information at the time of their complaint rather than doing so later.
Another significant amendment would involve the council’s monitoring officer, Melanie Welllman, liaising with an independent person earlier in the process.
Right now, once a complaint is deemed to have merit – known as stage 1 – it is assessed by the standards assessment sub-committee, which means the investigative stage 2 process takes longer than it would under the new plans.
Furthermore, the monitoring officer would be able to decide whether the complaint is dealt with internally by a standards committee, or whether external investigators are required.
At present the process can see complaints go through both internal and external investigations, which again extends the time before a resolution.
Ms Wellman noted that complaints must relate to matters where people act in their capacity as a councillor rather in their personal lives.
A report shows that of the 43 complaints made against councillors between July last year and 1 November this year, eight led to the resignation of the councillor at the centre of the complaint.
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.
East Devon’s standards committee heard that the monitoring officer or a representative on her behalf would have five working days to establish whether a complaint met the required criteria.
The subject of the complaint would then have 10 working days to respond, with officers then having a further five working days to decide whether no further action is required, whether an informal resolution, such as an apology, training or mediation, can be achieved, or whether a formal investigation is required.
Some councillors raised concerns that the expedited timeframe could put council officers under pressure, and that extensions might routinely be sought.
However, Ms Wellman said that the Local Government Association recommended the process took 15 working days, which she noted councillors had previously considered would be too short, and therefore felt 20 days should be sufficient.
The proposed new process will go to full council next month, which will vote on whether to implement it.

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