Councillor behaviour poses ‘significant risk of governance failure’, finds report

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

adrianw@baylismedia.co.uk

The Royal Borough’s monitoring officer has outlined an increase in the number of complaints against councillors in a report that was due to be presented to a panel tonight (Wednesday).

The monitoring officer reports on matters they believe to be illegal, maladministration, the conduct of councillors and officers, and the council’s constitution.

In the 2021/22 Monitoring Officer’s Annual Report, officer Emma Duncan warned that the culture and behaviour of councillors presents a ‘significant risk of governance failure’.

The report acknowledged that in the past ‘many of the systems and behaviours that underpin good governance at the Royal Borough were either underused or absent.’

In the past year, there are ‘no significant systems of governance control absent’, Ms Duncan wrote – but one issue of concern is councillor behaviour.

“This does need to be addressed as it presents a significant risk of governance failure for the authority,” Ms Duncan wrote.

“There is a reluctance from some group leaders to address the poor behaviour of a small number of members [councillors].

“The expectation around member behaviour – particularly around public discourse and the use of social media – needs to be reset and there needs to be an understanding around the code not being used to settle political scores.”

She added that tackling this should reduce the number of complaints received.

Ms Duncan also said ‘mediation routes are being utilised’ in an attempt to deal with issues surrounding ‘tit-for-tat’ complaints.

A second issue is that the code of conduct process is being used for minor issues resulting in large numbers of complaints.

The total number of complaints received in the past year was 79. However, the majority of complaints ‘do not meet the threshold for investigation’, wrote Ms Duncan. Four investigations have taken place.

The volume of complaints being received means that officer capacity is ‘often stretched’.

In one instance, one complaint was made against 22 members of the council – accounting for 22 of the 79 complaints. This was a complaint against the controversial Borough Local Plan (BLP).

There were also 18 complainants making the same complaint against one councillor.

Outside of these two figures, there were 16 complaints made against Conservatives, seven against the Lib Dems, 12 against local independents and four against parish councillors.

Though 58 of the total number of complaints were lodged by members of the public, 10 complaints were made by the Conservatives, two from the Lib Dems and eight from the independents.

In the 2020/21 report presented last year, the council heard there were 36 code of conduct complaints, which itself was ‘significantly up’ on the previous year.

Social media was picked up as a ‘specific danger’ for members and it ‘was an area that was easy to get wrong.’

The 2021/22 report was set to be discussed at the Member Standards Panel meeting this evening (Wednesday). Visit youtube.com/user/WindsorMaidenhead to view.

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