Dealing with misbehaving South Tyneside councillors 'cost taxpayers £30,000', figures reveal
Formal hearings dealing with complaints against councillors could have cost South Tyneside Council around £30,000 this year, according to a new report.
The rules, which are included in the council’s constitution, set out expectations for elected members around behaviour in public office.
While many complaints have been either rejected due to lack of evidence or informally resolved, the final stage includes a formal hearing held by the council’s Standards Committee.
At the hearings, councillors on the committee examine an investigation report and other evidence before deciding if the code of conduct has been breached and if appropriate sanctions are needed.
Between February and the end of March 2021, three Standards Committee hearings were held with two linked to independent councillor at the time John Robertson, and one for Labour councillor Margaret Peacock.
According to a report prepared for the council’s Standards Committee on July 5, the average cost of preparing and holding a single hearing was likely to be a five-figure sum.
The report said the borough council had received enquiries as to the “resource implications of progressing a complaint to a Standards Committee hearing,” including council officer time and printing and paper costs.
It added: “With on-costs and overheads the costs for each hearing is likely to be in the region of £10,000.”
The estimate was revealed as part of a general update on complaints against councillors since the last Standards Committee meeting in March 2021.
But Professor Grahame Wright, independent chair of the panel, suggested that the “real cost” included the impact on the time of senior council officers.
“The reality of course, as we all very well know, is the average is produced by taking a total cost and dividing it through by a number of activities,” he said.
“The real cost is that our acting head of legal services and acting head of corporate services and monitoring officer and their teams are spending hours and hours dealing with these complaints.
“But frankly if a complaint comes in, it’s not for them to say we haven’t got the time to deal with it and we will put it to one side until the summer holidays come and we might have a look then.
“That’s not possible and it’s not desirable, what is desirable is that we get fewer complaints.
“Fewer complaints in the context of code of conduct means essentially behaviour being adapted so that we prompt fewer allegations and complaints.
“For that reason, I would urge all members of this committee to encourage other members to be alert to the important factors of the code of conduct and the procedures that are required in order to investigate where an allegation is made.”
At the meeting, summary data was presented to councillors about all ongoing matters related to complaints.
Legal chiefs said the number of complaints remain at “historically high” levels and as of June 24 2021, formal investigations on 27 complaints were under way.
As part of a report, a recommendation was also made to “considerfurther training for elected members using the learning gained fromelected member complaints.”
However, Prof Wright said the council was “already doing that,” noting a recent decision to roll out a new training and induction programme for councillors.