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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Executive held on 01/03/2005
Monitoring Officer Review



Summary & Purpose
To provide a review and update on the role of the Monitoring Officer and the Standards Committee on matters of ethical standards as legislated for under the Local Government Act 2000 and subsequent various Regulations made thereunder. This report was considered initially by the Standards Committee at its meeting on 24th January 2005.

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Social Inclusion
Safe Communities
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Prevention and Control
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APPENDIX C
WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

EXECUTIVE – 1ST MARCH 2005

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Title:

MONITORING OFFICER REVIEW

[Wards Affected: N/A]
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Summary and purpose:

To provide a review and update on the role of the Monitoring Officer and the Standards Committee on matters of ethical standards as legislated for under the Local Government Act 2000 and subsequent various Regulations made thereunder. This report was considered initially by the Standards Committee at its meeting on 24th January 2005.

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Quality of life implications – social, environmental & economic (sustainable development):

E-Government implications:

There are no e-government implications.

Resource and legal implications:

The legislative demands on local councillors to ensure confidence in local democracy are increasing. There is a move towards a more local resolution which has the potential to provide a significant increase in workload and with the Standards Committee meeting in a quasi-judicial capacity, it will also be important to ensure compliance with all legal requirements.

An Investigating Officer has been nominated which will currently be funded from existing budgets.

The Monitoring Officer has identified a need for a budget of 10,000 for 2005/06.

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Introduction

1. Over the last 12 months the role of the Monitoring Officer has been gradually clarified, and indeed expanded under the various Regulations made under the Local Government Act 2000.

2. The Executive is reminded that as part of the Modernising Agenda, the Local Government Act 2000 introduced a new ethical framework and a requirement that the Local Authority appoints a Monitoring Officer. This role cannot be undertaken by the Chief Executive of the authority.

3. In the light of recent guidance from the Standards Board for England it is clear that the Monitoring Officer has 3 key roles in relation to Ethical Standards, namely:

Recent Legislation

4. Since the Monitoring Officer was first appointed in 2001 she has dealt with 200 enquiries. The Standards Committee has undertaken 2 determinations and managed to provide annual training for Borough, Town and Parish Councillors. Regulations have widened the role to include Standards Board referrals for investigation and determination locally. It is also now proposed that the Monitoring Officer, where appropriate, will seek to achieve local resolution.

5. Recent case tribunal findings have reinforced the message that the Monitoring Officer must continue to provide training, guidance and advice to Town and Parish Councillors as well as Borough Councillors. Further, the Monitoring Officer is now empowered to receive Referrals from the Standards Board for both Determination by the Committee and Local Investigation and then Determination by the Committee.

6. The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (the 1989 Act) imposes a statutory obligation on Councils to provide their Monitoring Officer with resources which, in the opinion of the Monitoring Officer, are necessary to enable the Monitoring Officer to discharge his/her duties and responsibilities. In fact, the law also imposes a duty on the Monitoring Officer to identify the “sufficient” resources.

7. Members are reminded that the Council did allocate resources to the Monitoring Officer for 2003/04 but did not allocate any new resources for 2004/05. However, a slippage was agreed to allow unspent 2003/04 monies to be used in 2004/05. These resources have, so far, covered independent legal advice, training and the special responsibility allowance paid to the Deputy Monitoring Officer discussed in more detail below.

8. Pursuant to Section 5 of the 1989 Act the Monitoring Officer has submitted a budget bid of 10,000 for 2005/06. It is difficult to assess at this stage whether or not these resources will be sufficient to enable the Council to comply with its increasing statutory responsibilities, and this position will need to be monitored. The budget will, therefore, be kept under review and the Standards Committee will receive reports at each meeting on budget expenditure.

Deputy Monitoring Officer

9. The Monitoring Officer is empowered, by law, to delegate duties to other officers if appropriate and to ensure that in her absence members have access to advice and guidance, although a Monitoring Officer cannot at any time delegate the Statutory Officer role. Nominated officers do not have any independent powers.

10. The legislation appears to provide flexibility in that it provides for the Monitoring Officer to nominate a member of the Monitoring Officer’s staff to act on their behalf when they are unable to act owing to absence or illness, or where, for whatever reason, the Monitoring Officer should not perform particular functions. It does not require there to be necessarily one designated officer, but allows the Monitoring Officer to appoint an appropriate Officer suitable to the task in hand.

11. Whilst the legislation prescribes that any nomination by the Monitoring Officer should be from a member of the Monitoring Officer’s staff, it has, until now, been the practise to nominate the Audit Manager. During a 6 month period, October 2003 – April 2004, whilst the Monitoring Officer was engaged in preparing the Council for its Comprehensive Performance Assessment, the Audit Manager assumed the role of Acting Monitoring Officer for which he received a “special responsibility allowance” drawing on the funds allocated to the Monitoring Officer for 2004/05 as there was no available staffing budget.

12. This funding has continued to ensure further support to the Monitoring Officer and will cease on 31st January 2005. However, it is not appropriate that the Monitoring Officer’s budget should be used to fund what is effectively a staffing issue.

13. It is proposed that the Monitoring Officer may delegate work, as appropriate, to an officer or officers using the budget allocated either by way of special payments, as and when demand necessitates, or through the staffing budget which would require additional resources to that of the Monitoring Officer’s budget.

Investigating Officer

14. The Investigating Officer is a new role and it is proposed that this investigatory role should initially be delegated by the Monitoring Officer to one of her staff, the Executive Assistant, who currently deals with Ombudsman related complaints.

Conclusion

15. The workload for the Monitoring Officer and the Standards Committee has been significantly increased with new Regulations. The recent guidance from the Standards Board for England is now aimed at encouraging Monitoring Officers to take a more proactive role in managing complaints at an early stage (Local Resolution), the objective being for members to learn, rather than adopting a punitive approach.

16. There are real resource implications for the Council if the Monitoring Officer’s role continues to increase at the same rate as over the past two years. The Council has a statutory duty to provide the Monitoring Officer with resources to meet the Council’s
17. The legislation empowers the Monitoring Officer to delegate duties to other officers. This delegation to date has been to the Audit Manager and any future such delegation will also include the Investigating Officer. If this requires additional resources, there is no provision for this in the Council’s staffing budget. There is therefore a need to address the future deployment of resources in respect of ethical standards.

18. Whilst the Monitoring Officer budget could not sustain a full year’s staffing allocation it could possibly sustain adhoc payments in the form of special payments. The extent however to which the budget will be sufficient for this purpose depends on the demand on the officers’ time, and indeed other demands on the budget. This will be easier to evaluate over the next six months when a further report will then be made.

Recommendation

It is recommended that:-

1. the increase in the powers and duties of the Monitoring Officer and Standards Committee be noted; and

2. the Executive notes that the Monitoring Officer may require additional resources, including staffing and accommodation, which in the opinion of the Monitoring Officer are sufficient to enable the Monitoring Officer to perform the duties as set out in the report.

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Background Papers (CEx)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

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CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: Mrs Anne Bott Telephone: 01483 523415

E-mail: abott@waverley.gov.uk

comms/exec/04-05/427