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Standards and ethics

We have a duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members within both Herefordshire Council and the county’s town and parish councils.

Our code of conduct

To do this the Localism Act 2011 requires each of these authorities to adopt a code of conduct which sets out what is expected of members of the council acting in their capacity as councillors.

Monitoring the code

The Localism Act 2011 also requires councils to have arrangements in place for investigating and making decisions on allegations that a member has failed to comply with the code. These arrangements must include the appointment of independent persons (see below).

The council’s monitoring officer is responsible for ensuring that the standards system operates effectively and for dealing with complaints and is your first point of contact if you have a complaint.

Reporting on investigations

The Standards Panel replaced the Standards Committee in 2012, as the body which deals with the complaints process and reports on outcomes.

These reports are available to the public.

How can I complain about a councillor's conduct?

If you wish to complain about the conduct of a member of Herefordshire Council or a member of one of our parish or town councils, you must submit your complaint, in writing, to the monitoring officer:

You can download a complaint form, and guidance on completing a complaint form from the documents on this page or you can request hard copies from the monitoring officer using the contact details above.

The complaints process can deal only with allegations that a member has failed to comply with the members' Code of Conduct. It cannot deal with complaints about council officers or services. To make a comment or feedback about these areas please visit our complaints page.

Our complaints procedure

Complaints about a member’s conduct are referred in the first place to the council’s monitoring officer. The monitoring officer undertakes an initial appraisal to decide how the complaint should be handled during which they will:

  • Decide whether the complaint is about the conduct of a member. If the complaint is about service delivery, council policy or practice or the conduct of an officer, it will be sent to the appropriate alternative complaints procedure
  • Assess whether the complaint appears to be covered by the council’s code of conduct for members
  • Consider whether the allegations are vexatious, frivolous, malicious or political tit for tat. The monitoring officer may seek the views of an appointed independent person to aid this consideration. Such complaints will be dealt with informally
  • Where the complaint is considered to have merit, consider whether it can be dealt with informally. This will include complaints that concern minor breaches of the code of conduct, and complaints which, for various reasons, it would not be in the public interest to investigate formally. The monitoring officer may seek the views of an appointed independent person to aid this consideration
  • Decide whether the complaint is sufficiently serious to require further investigation. The monitoring officer may seek the views of an appointed independent person to aid this consideration
  • Notify the member who is the subject of the complaint, and seek an initial response

Wherever possible, the monitoring officer will resolve complaints informally.

Informal resolution

Informal resolution may include: 

  • Advising the member about matters of conduct
  • Arranging training for the member on the code of conduct or specific sections of the code
  • Advising the member that an apology may be appropriate to resolve the complaint
  • Arranging for a mediation meeting between the member and the complainant

If the monitoring officer, taking account of the views of an appointed independent person where appropriate, decides that the complaint cannot be resolved informally, the monitoring officer will make arrangements for the complaint to be investigated. The monitoring officer may appoint an investigating officer to gather further evidence or investigate the complaint, and prepare a report. The report will be considered by a panel of three people chaired by an appointed independent person. The other members will normally be an elected member of Herefordshire Council and a representative of town or parish councils.

The panel will consider the investigating officer's report, together with any further submissions from the complainant, the member who is the subject of the allegation, and the monitoring officer. The further submissions may be made in person or in writing. Following the meeting of the panel, the chairman of the panel will make a recommendation about whether any action should be taken against the subject member and, if so, what that action should be.

The process should be concluded within 12 weeks of the date the complaint was received.

The complaints panel recommendation will be presented, either:

  • To the council’s Audit and Governance Committee, in the case of a complaint against a member of Herefordshire Council, or
  • To the relevant town or parish council, in the case of a complaint against a town or parish council member

The Audit and Governance Committee or the town or parish council will decide what action to take on the recommendations in the report.

Cases involving a member of Herefordshire Council

In a case involving a member of Herefordshire Council, the Audit and Governance Committee has discretion about the action it may take. However, it cannot fine, suspend or disqualify a member from membership of the authority itself.  Options include:

  • Censuring the member
  • Reporting the committee’s findings to council for information
  • Recommending to the member’s group leader or, for ungrouped members, to council or committees, that the member be removed from any or all committees or sub-committees of the council
  • Recommending to council that the member be replaced as Executive Leader of the Council;
  • Recommending to the Leader of the Council that the member be removed from the cabinet, or removed from particular portfolio responsibilities;
  • Recommending that the monitoring officer arranges training for the member;
  • Recommending to council that the member be removed from all outside appointments to which the member been appointed or nominated by the authority

Cases involving a member of a town or parish council

In a case involving a member of a town or parish council, that council has similar discretion about the action it can take. It cannot fine, suspend or disqualify a member from membership of the council itself. Options include:

  • Censuring the member
  • Recommending that the monitoring officer arranges training for the member
  • Recommending to the council that the member be removed from all outside appointments to which the member has been appointed or nominated by the authority

Role of the monitoring officer

Our monitoring officer receives and appraises all complaints. The officer ensures that complaints are about the conduct of a member, that the complaints are not vexatious or malicious, and examines whether the complaint can be dealt with informally. The officer will notify the member who is the subject of the complaint and request an initial response. The officer will decide whether the complaint is sufficiently serious to require further investigation.

Role of the panel

We prefer to resolve complaints informally through apologies, mediation, or advice and training for councillors. If the complaint cannot be resolved informally, the monitoring officer will refer the complaint to a panel of three other people chaired by an appointed independent person. The two other members will normally be an elected member of Herefordshire Council and a representative of the town or parish council.

The panel will consider further submissions from the complainant, the subject of the complaint, and the monitoring officer, completing the process within 12 weeks of the complaint’s receipt. The panel chairman’s report will be presented:

  • To the council’s Audit and Governance Committee, in the case of a complaint against a member of Herefordshire Council
  • To the relevant town or parish council, in the case of a complaint against a town or parish council member

The Audit and Governance Committee or the town or parish council will decide what action to take on the recommendations in the report. Options include:

  • Censuring the member
  • Reporting the committee’s findings to the council
  • Recommending that the member be removed from any or all committees or sub-committees of the council
  • Recommending that the member be replaced or removed from particular responsibilities
  • Recommending that the member be removed from the cabinet, from outside appointments made or nominated by the council, or from particular portfolio responsibilities
  • Recommending that the member receives training
  • Recommending that the member be removed from all outside appointments to which the member been appointed or nominated by the authority

In a case involving a member of a town or parish council, that council has similar discretion about the action it can take. It cannot fine, suspect or disqualify a member from membership of the council itself. Options are:

  • Censure
  • Recommendation for training for the member
  • Recommendation that the member is removed from outside appointments made or nominated by the council

Can councillors with a prejudicial interest participate in council discussion of that interest?

When council members have a prejudicial interest in a matter, but wish to participate in council business relating to the subject of that interest, a dispensation can be granted in some circumstances, to enable them to participate.

The legal basis for seeking a dispensation is complex and dispensations will only be granted where certain criteria under the Localism Act are met. We have produced a plain-language guide for parish and town councils, which explains the background and leads them through the questions we need to have answered in order to consider a dispensation. 

Dispensation requests must be made in advance of meetings and, if granted, must specify for how long they are valid, up to a maximum of four years.

The monitoring officer deals with request for dispensations.

What is Herefordshire Council's standards process?

Herefordshire Council's standards process

Herefordshire Council has agreed that the following process should be implemented in relation to allegations that a member of the council, or a member of a Herefordshire parish council, has failed to comply with the code of conduct.

  1. Wherever possible, the monitoring officer will resolve complaints informally. The monitoring officer will normally seek the views of an independent person, and take those views into account, in deciding how to resolve the complaint
  2. Where a complaint cannot be resolved informally, an independent person will be appointed to chair a panel to consider the complaint. The panel will comprise the independent person, one Herefordshire councillor and one representative of parish or town councillors.
  3. The members of the panel will be provided with a file of written evidence and any correspondence and records of contact with the complainant and the member who is the subject of the complaint (the ‘subject member’).
  4. A meeting of the panel and the monitoring officer will be arranged, and both the subject member and the complainant will be invited to attend. The meetings will not be held in public. The panel will consider both the documentary evidence and submissions made in person or in writing by the subject member and the complainant.
  5. The independent person chairing the panel will produce a report of the panel’s discussion. The report will recommend what action the panel consider should be taken in respect of the complaint.
  6. The report will be presented to:
  • the council’s Audit and Governance Committee and, where required, to the full council meeting, in the case of a member of Herefordshire Council; or
  • the town or parish council in the case of town or parish councillors

The Audit and Governance Committee will decide whether to accept the panel’s recommendation in whole or in part, and will refer certain proposals to Council.

The recommendation of the standards panel will normally be published on the council’s website.

What is the role of the standards panel?

The arrangements relating to the standards panel were agreed by Council on 20 July 2012.  They were devised chiefly by the Standards Working Group, which was set up by the former standards committee to create a complaints process in accordance with the Localism Act.

The standards panel comprises the monitoring officer, and one each of the following, drawn from a pool of available and appointed members:

  • An Independent Person (who always chairs the panel)
  • A parish/town council advisor and
  • A local authority advisor

The standards panel’s role is to consider complaints that have been investigated or cannot be resolved informally. The panel will look at all of the evidence and information provided with the complaint, seek any further information it requires, and listen to all parties involved. The advisors and the monitoring officer will assist the Independent Person in arriving at a recommendation, which will then be published as a report. 

Some of the main functions of the standards panel are to:

  • Help maintain a level of independence within standards, keeping standards matters away from the political arena as far as possible
  • Undertake the work on complaints so that the Audit and Governance Committee and Council are given a dedicated and effective level of support to help them exercise their statutory functions

 

 

What is the role of independent persons?

With the introduction of the Localism Act 2011, Central Government decided that it was important to retain a proper degree of independence within the system for dealing with complaints relating to ethical standards. This is intended to ensure transparency, and provide assurance that complaints are being dealt with effectively and at a distance from the political arena. For this reason the council must appoint, through a proper recruitment process, at least one Independent Person. Independent Persons provide their services to Herefordshire Council on a voluntary basis.

The Localism Act sets out very specific criteria for who can undertake the role.

Independent Persons:

  • Are trusted, experienced and objective advisors from diverse backgrounds
  • Provide their services to the council on a voluntary basis 

They:

  • Do not have voting powers
  • Are not councillors or committee members
  • Are not co-opted onto the council

Their views must be taken into account by Council, the Audit and Governance Committee, and the monitoring officer in all complaints that are investigated, and in Herefordshire, all those that cannot be resolved informally by the monitoring officer. They will consider all the information relating to a complaint, the views of the parties involved, the code of conduct and the law as it affects standards matters, before issuing a recommendation in the form of a full written report.

The views of the Independent Persons may also be taken into account by the monitoring officer at various stages during the informal process.

Independent Persons can also give their opinions on a complaint to any Herefordshire county, parish or town councillor who has had a complaint made about them and who seeks advice. It is important to note that this role does not extend to advocacy. An Independent Person will remain objective, therefore, in the advice that he/she gives to the monitoring officer, the Audit and Governance Committee, and the council.

Herefordshire Council currently has three Independent Persons, with the aim of building greater flexibility into the system, and lowering the risk of conflicts of interest at various stages of the complaints process.

What is the role of the monitoring officer?

The monitoring officer is responsible for the effectiveness of the council’s codes in respect of legal obligations and ethical standards, and reports annually on this to the Audit and Governance Committee and to Council. He has authority over arrangements relating to the investigation of allegations about councillors’ conduct. Investigations will usually be carried out by the monitoring officer, or by an investigating officer appointed by the monitoring officer. 

The functions in the Localism Act have been delegated to the monitoring officer for complaints that can be resolved informally. This will involve undertaking an initial appraisal of all complaints. This appraisal will include assessing whether the complaint appears to be covered by the council’s code of conduct, and deciding whether the complaint is appropriate for investigation (whether it is sufficiently serious, not in the public interest, vexatious, malicious or obsessive, political tit for tat or broadly similar to another complaint about the same issue). The monitoring officer will attempt to resolve complaints informally wherever possible.

The monitoring officer must seek the views of an appointed Independent Person in relation to all standards complaints which result in an investigation. It has also been agreed that the monitoring officer will seek the views of an Independent Person in all cases where a complaint cannot be resolved informally.

In complaints where no investigation has taken place, the monitoring officer is not obliged to seek the views of an Independent Person, and can handle the complaint alone. In practice, however, the Independent Persons are given the details of all complaints, and the monitoring officer may use them as a sounding board. In this way, transparency, integrity and good practice are maintained.

How can I contact the Governance Support team?

Contact the Governance Support Team: