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  1. Published on: 13/01/2018 09:00 AMReported by: roving-eye
    Local Council​ ​'Standards'​ ​processes are being misused in​ ​petty​ ​political vendettas, it is being claimed this week. It appears that the government's intention to stop frivolous and petty complaints, which caused it to scrap the national Standards Board in 2010 and replace this with local committees is not working.

    A councillor in West Lancashire has been totally exonerated after being at the thick end of a ‘bizarre and frivolous’ complaint by a Labour councillor who has not been named.

    Aughton and Downholland Conservative Councillor Sam Currie was accused by Labour of criticising another councillor a a council meeting in October 2017 following which he repeated his comments in a press release. In an official complaint,​ ​Councillor Currie​ ​was accused of failing to treat the​ ​other​ ​councillor with respect and 'bringing his office or the council into disrepute'.

    After being cleared of any misconduct, Councillor Currie hit out at Labour for wasting the council’s time and money on the complaint which had involved an independent adjudicator overseeing the process.​ ​He​ ​said that he had only learnt of the complaint when he received a letter clearing him of any breach of the code:

    “How can this be conducive to local government when on the one hand they’re complaining about the government cutting back on local government resources and on the other they’re frivolously wasting money on spurious complaints?"

    He complained that he was being singled out for the sin of asking questions.

    “There should be complete transparency," he said​,​
    "and to not be able to ask questions is not transparent."

    The government's idea was to narrow down​ ​council
    complaints procedures to concentrate on making councillors conform to the highest standards of conduct in respect of personal interests, honesty and compliance with council rules. In this area, Formby councillor Peter Papworth received sanctions from the​ ​Council​ ​when exposed for continuing porn browsing on a council computer while former Thornton and Hightown councillor John Walker was exposed for wrongly claiming disability benefits which eventually led to him being imprisoned. These are the sort of things which are still meant to be dealt with in Standards Committees, however, councillors are still being subjected to petty malicious and unfounded complaints by people who disagree with them and want to cause them pain
    because Standards Committees are not identifying and throwing out the groundless complaints when they first receive them.

    When the Standards Boards were scrapped, ​Government ​Minister Andrew Stunnel said that the top-down regime set up by central government to monitor council conduct had become a vehicle for malicious and frivolous complaints. For example, one council had to fork out £160,000 after receiving over 170 complaints from the same person - of which only three were eventually considered worth investigating and those were finally all dismissed. Investigations of complaints generally cost councils several thousands of pounds each.

    "Frivolous allegations undermined local democracy and discouraged people from running for public office. If a councillor behaves ineffectively or irresponsibly then it’s a matter for the electorate not an unelected quango." said Mr Stunnel.

    "Councillors must expect to be judged at the ballot box by an electorate with real access to their accounts and personal interests in a new transparent era."

    Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said at the time :

    "Unsubstantiated and petty allegations, often a storm in a teacup, damaged the reputation and standing of local government, as well as wasting taxpayers’ money."

    It appears from Councillor Currie's case that this type of allegations, often put by political opponents. are still continuing and wasting valuable time and money in councils.
     

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