Monitoring Officer Annual Report
To consider the above report
Members considered that annual report from the Monitoring Officer, which supported the Annual Governance Statement process, which in turn supported the submission of the accounts. The Monitoring Officer explained that under the constitution she was obliged to report on a number of issues including Member standards, maladministration, unlawful decisions, and breaches of contract rules. The report also gave a broad understanding of the work of the Monitoring Officer and the Deputy Monitoring Officers over the past year.
Members noted that the three statutory officers (the Monitoring Officer, Head of Paid Service and Section151 Officer) plus their deputies met on a regular basis to review the governance framework of the council. This was a very useful meeting that had been instigated by the Managing Director. The meeting provided a check on the governance framework including how it was operating and how it could be developed. The recently published Risk and Resilience Framework published by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) had been utilised to provide a sense check on where the council was in terms of governance. Further information on the sections in the framework would be discussed with Members during the year. The Code of Corporate Governance would be strengthened using the Risk and Resilience framework.
The Monitoring Officer confirmed that there had been no need to report any illegality over the past year. Cases where maladministration had been found by the Ombudsman were contained in the Part II Appendix.
Members noted that the constitution was regularly reviewed and updated as necessary. The importance of properly documenting decisions made under delegated authority had been highlighted by the Head of Governance through updated guidance to officers and reporting templates.
The Monitoring Officer commented that all acknowledged there were currently some issues with Member behaviour. This was a key risk under the governance framework. There had been 36 Code of Conduct complaints in the last year, which was significantly up on the previous year. The volume had tailed off in the last few months because of the new approach to dealing with complaints and work by Group Leaders and all Members to understand their responsibilities and the importance of self-policing. There was a potential issue with the recent reduction in the Members’ training budget as it was important that Members were appropriately trained to ensure good decision making occurred.
The Chairman thanked the Monitoring Officer and the Deputy Monitoring Officers for their work over the past year. She commented that it had been heartening to see progress over the last 18 months. It was important to raise issues such as Member behaviour and recognise the need for more improvements.
Councillor Del Campo noted that statutory officers reviewed reports in advance of publication, but she had at times seen decisions made ‘on the hoof’ in meetings. She therefore asked if decisions were then made subject to input from the officers in a retrospective manner. The Monitoring Officer explained that, for example, if Cabinet tried to make an unlawful decision or one that was outside the budget or policy framework, officers would stop that either at the meeting or prevent it being implemented before the end of the call-in period. If an illegal decision was made statutory officers would need to consult each other to decide the next steps. Usually this could be resolved without a formal report to full Council but that was an option.
Councillor Del Campo commented that it was good to see the recent reduction in complaints. She requested details of the number of complaints that were by a Member about another Member as opposed to by a resident about a Member. The Monitoring Officer agreed to circulate the information to Members of the Panel.
RESOLVED UNANIMOUSLY: That the Member Standards Panel notes the report.