The latest figures have shown what one South Tyneside Councillor called a ‘disturbing’ surge in the number of issues formally raised over the actions or behaviour of the borough’s elected officials.
And it has prompted South Shields’s MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, to urge local authorities to follow the national lead in reforming the organisations responsible for overseeing standards.
She said: “What we’ve seen over recent years is that the only kind of complaints process that works are ones which are thoroughly independent.
“That is what we implemented in parliament and for good reason – there’s nowhere in parliament where MPs investigate fellow MPs.
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“In any workplace you would not have people investigating their own colleagues.”
Lewell-Buck has trained her sights on South Tyneside Council’s Standards Committee, which is supposed to be responsible for enforcing the council’s code of conduct among elected councillors.
According to the borough council’s constitution, it must be made up of seven councillors reflecting the council’s overall political make-up, with an independent lay person who is not an elected member of the local authority as chairman.
But according to a letter the MP wrote to the panel, she believes its current set up leaves it open to conflicts of interests arising from its members’ ‘personal and political relationships’.
But Grahame Wright, the committee’s current independent chairman, is confident it remains detached enough to deal with issues presented to it ‘fairly and objectively’.
Speaking at a meeting of the panel, he added: “This process is intended to be confidential.
“It is not secret, in that we must discuss details of these cases and eventually where an allegation is upheld it will come to this committee in the public domain.
“But we must keep the process of consideration confidential.
“The last thing we need is for one half of an argument to be made public when the other half is resolutely sticking to the rules and keeping quiet.”
According to a report for the panel 59 complaints have been processed since the start of the year, but of these just 13 have progressed to a formal investigation and none have yet gone the distance of being presented to the Standards Committee itself for consideration.