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Cost of complaints trebles
Wednesday 26th March, 2014

The number of complaints about the behaviour of councillors has almost doubled this year, sending costs soaring.

The latest annual report, prepared by Wigan Council and heard at last night’s (Tuesday 25th March) Standards Committee, reveals that the number of complaints has almost doubled since the previous year, despite the introduction of tougher sanctions last summer.

In 2013/14, 27 complaints were submitted against councillors, compared with 17 the year before. This increase has had a direct impact on the costs, with the £20k spend in 2012/13 trebling to somewhere in the region of £78k in the current financial year – the equivalent of three social workers.

Chairman of the Standards Committee, Councillor Charles Rigby, said:

“This year has been another difficult one for the Standards Committee with the council again having the highest number of complaints across Greater Manchester authorities in regard to member behaviour.”

The report shows that a total of 83 complaints have been submitted over the last five years, with a third of those received this year alone.

Leader of Wigan Council, Lord Peter Smith, expressed his disappointment, commenting:

“I’m sure our residents will agree when I say I’m fed up of opening the local paper only to see a familiar face staring back at me for yet another complaint they’ve had lodged against them.

“While the majority of councillors understand that it is their duty to behave responsibility and in the interest of our taxpayers, there are a handful of councillors whose childish and irresponsible antics continue to bring our office into disrepute.

“Behaving like this at the best of times isn’t acceptable, so behaving like this at a time when budgets are tight and services are under threat is nothing short of stupid and selfish.

“As an employer, we also have a duty of care towards our staff, and we are responsible for protecting them from bullying by councillors.

“I will make no apology of making an example of those who continue to treat our staff in this way and who drain our economic resources. Our electorate deserve to know who’s wasting their money with their childish behaviour.”

Councillor Gary Wilkes, Leader of the opposition group, supported Lord Smith’s comments, adding: “It’s very disappointing to see the same councillors being reported to the Standards Committee. Wigan independent network (Win) will work with officers and the ruling group to tackle bad behaviour. Win endorses Wigan Council’s strong stance to rid the borough of unmanageable councillors.”

As elected members, Wigan Council does not have the power to dismiss councillors for poor behaviour, as Donna Hall, chief executive of Wigan Council, explains:

“The public have contacted us on a number of occasions, surprised to learn that we can’t suspend or dismiss councillors for their bad behaviour, as we can with staff. The only way a councillor can be removed is if the electorate vote them out.”

The report will now go to cabinet on Thursday 10th April.

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