Secretive South Ribble Council complaints panel scrapped
South Ribble Borough Council has scrapped a committee that allowed complaints about senior officers to be screened before they were considered by the body that would ultimately decide whether to investigate them.
The authority established an “initial filter panel” over three years ago, comprising just the council leader and either the chief executive or monitoring officer, depending on the subject of the complaint.
They examined the details of any allegation about statutory officers – of which the chief executive and monitoring officer are two – before deciding whether it should pass to the cross-party investigations and disciplinary committee (IDC). That committee would then determine whether a full investigation should be carried out by an independent person.
Council leader Paul Foster told a meeting of the full council that the filter panel was “dangerous and undemocratic”, because it had “ultimate power to filter out anything they wished to filter out”.
He added that the process had previously been “misused”, by filtering out a Local Government Association report before it went to the IDC for review.
“Exactly what we didn’t want to happen did happen,” said Cllr Foster, before proposing an amendment to the council’s constitution that would see the panel removed.
The meeting heard that the IDC itself quite properly acts as a filter by deciding whether to launch an investigation into a complaint.
However, the procedure at South Ribble had introduced a “pre-filtering meeting” at which one of the participants – either the chief executive or monitoring officer – would have a say that they would not have done had the matter gone directly to the IDC, of which they were not members.
Deputy council leader Mick Titherington welcomed the change of heart and criticised the secrecy of the now axed panel process.
“How many members knew that the filer panel existed and knew what it would do?” he asked.
“Cllr Foster referred to a [previous] decision made by the filter panel and I suspect that the majority of councillors didn’t know that that decision had been made.”
Conservative opposition leader Margaret Smith said that she “knew nothing about what went on at that filter panel”.
“I wasn’t the [council] leader at that time – and it was new to me when I was told about it only a few weeks ago,” Cllr Smith added.