Tougher punishments for wayward councillors

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

MISBEHAVING Wigan councillors are set to face tough new punishments after it was revealed they are once again among the most complained-about in the region.

The local authority’s standards committee has tabled proposals that members found guilty of breaching the Code of Conduct could face extra penalties, including being stripped of the right to Brighter Borough funding.

Bosses are hoping the measures will act as a deterrent to wayward councillors whose misdemeanours have once more made Wigan the Greater Manchester local authority with the most complaints against elected members. Full Council will debate the matter on July 17, including the Brighter Borough sanction. The scheme entitles each councillor to spend £5,471 of taxpayers’ money on ventures which improve the quality of life in their wards.

A total of 17 complaints about the behaviour of councillors were received from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, eight of which were lodged by councillors, costing the authority almost £20,000.

It is hoped that the additional penalties will reduce the number of complaints received and therefore reduce the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on resolving complaints while speeding the process up.

At the standards meeting, councillors spoke of the need to address the rising number of complaints, (from 10 in 2011/12 to 17 last year).

The committee’s new chairman, Coun Charlie Rigby, said: “It is our job to make sure that members understand the consequences of their actions.

“The introduction of additional penalties will give the committee some teeth and will hopefully deter members from breaching the code of conduct in the first place.”

Coun Terry Halliwell, vacating chairman, added: “It is unfortunate that Wigan Borough Council is once again receiving more complaints about elected members than any others within the Greater Manchester conurbation.

“It is equally disappointing that we still receive a significant number of member against member complaints, that have been considered of little merit by the monitoring officer in consultation with the Independent Person.

“This places an unnecessary strain on our departments and their officers, and removes thousands of pounds from our annual budget that could be put to better use maintaining front line services for local residents.”

Applying time limits to the sanctions from one to four years.

In addition, members will propose strengthening the link between the member Code of Conduct and Member Officer Protocol so that the new sanctions apply across both codes, as is the case with the existing sanctions. They will also propose the introduction of a limit on the timeframe for a local resolution, speeding up the complaints process.

The council’s Standards Committee has been in existence for some 13 years. The committee’s role in relation to the promotion of high ethical standards of conduct and behaviour came to the fore particularly since the introduction in May 2008 of the Local Assessment of Complaints provisions and the abolition of Standards for England in March 2012. The role has changed with the implementation of the Localism Act 2012.

Although the Localism Act provides that local authorities need not retain a Standards Committee following the introduction on July 1 2012 of the new standards regime. Wigan Council decided that the Committee should continue and that its effectiveness should be reviewed after twelve months of operation.

Following the passing of the Localism Act 2011 and the abolition of the statutory Standards regime set up under the Local Government Act 2000, the Council adopted a new Code of Conduct and arrangements for dealing with complaints at its meeting on 18 July 2012.