Tuesday, 21 January 2014

"The incidence of complaints in East Devon was 'way higher' than in other councils..."

Following on from concerns about 'secret meetings' with developers and how much should be divulged to the public:
Futures Forum: Transparency and process in East Devon... a summary
Futures Forum: Publishing 'pre-application' advice... making planning application information public... or not

... the issues are still largely unresolved:
COLYTON TODAY | NEWS | OTTERY: EDDC steps in to resolve confidentiality dispute | 2014

... and complaints are still outstanding:
Complaint lodged against EDDC Conservative Whip | Save Our Sidmouth

Meanwhile, today's Standards Committee learnt that:

Since the new Standards arrangements were introduced in July 2012 there have been 27 complaints made to the Monitoring Officer which have been assessed, but have not been found to be Code of Conduct complaints. 
Common factors for deciding that a complaint is not a Code of Conduct complaint include: 
 the subject member not acting in their official capacity as councillor at the time; 
 the subject member acting in their official capacity as a councillor, however the complaint concerns processes or the skills set of that councillor. 


This seems to be a record:

Complaints against councillors soar in East Devon

Senior officers at EDDC are grappling with a significant increase in complaints against councillors across the district, the standards committee heard today.
Officers told the committee that the incidence of complaints in East Devon was “way higher” than in other councils, from conversations with colleagues elsewhere.
Since October 2013, 23 complaints have been submitted to EDDC - largely against town and parish councillors. Five complaints are against district councillors.
Two complaints have been referred for investigation and 12 are still being assessed. The remainder have either been closed with an informal resolution, or there has been no case to answer.
Cllr Susie Bond asked whether circulating the guidance to town and parish councils on Probity in Planning might help with the understanding on the rules on private meetings with developers.
Independent/external member, David Mason suggested that senior officers meet with those town councils where complaint levels were highest. A senior officer replied these meetings had taken place.
Officers were asked their views on town and parish councils meeting privately with developers. A senior officer replied that it was “appropriate” for town and parish councils to meet with developers privately at an early stage, before a planning application was submitted. She added that it could be “spun” that a meeting is “underhand and secret” but she didn’t accept that.  The code of conduct guides councillors, the officer added. The officer said that notes of such meetings could made available to the public.
To two questions from Cllr Roger Giles on fettering discretion and the appropriateness of councillors giving a view to developers in such a private meeting, a senior officer replied that councillors should “caveat” any comments along the lines that any view was an instinctive reaction and an acknowledgement given, that the detail of the application wasn’t yet known.
The officer added that she didn’t wish councils to be “hamstrung” and unable to operate with a “democratic hat.”
Cllr Frances Newth said that Sidmouth Town Council had had private meetings with developers, purely to “give a presentation.”  She said that the developers took on board any comments. She said that councillors were told not to “prejudice” themselves but could give opinions. Cllr Newth added that she wouldn’t advise any councillor to meet a developer alone, but in front of the town council it was acceptable.
The meeting was recorded and should be available in a few days time.

Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

Of course, politicians and councils will always be criticised - but an area that has been under scrutiny across the country is how politicians and councils spend their/our money.

On the one hand, funding for the homeless in East Devon is to be cut:
EDDC’s cut to homeless budget after ‘success story’ - News - Sidmouth Herald
and on the other, £400k is to be spent on relocating from Knowle:
‘Creative accouting’ accusation in relocation budget - News - Sidmouth Herald

Possible areas for further complaints?

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