Tuesday 31 March 2015

Chief Officers and disciplinary procedures

An interesting snippet of legislation was laid down just before parliament dissolved the other day which removed the requirement to appoint a 'Designated Independent Person' (DIP) in disciplinary proceedings related to errant chief officers. However, it appears to relate only to England.

The current procedure involves the setting up of a disciplinary panel which could issue a report recommending either disciplinary measures or dismissal. The recommendations could only proceed if the DIP, usually a QC or similar, decided the chief officer had a case to answer.

Under the new rules the necessity for a DIP has been removed and the decision would be made by a vote of full council and overseen by a panel made up of local electors.

One of the reasons behind the move is to cut the cost and time involved in the process, one case is cited as having taken 16 months and £420,000. It could also lessen the number of chief officers being offered (or demanding) inflated golden goodbyes by councils eager to avoid a costly legal process, which is basically what happened in Pembrokeshire with Bryn Parry Jones.

In Wales, the local government reform White Paper recognises that the extra employment protection is to protect senior officers from political interference but that this "must not prevent the council from dismissing them without compensation where they are not performing their duties responsibly". 

Indeed, if Chief Executives are, for example, acting unlawfully or interfering in the political process themselves, that extra protection becomes an enormous obstacle to democracy and accountability.

The White Paper also suggests that there should be term limits for Chief Executives;
"There is reason to believe that, in some circumstances, Chief Executives retaining their posts for long periods can lead to an entrenchment of power and influence within the Authority which can serve as an obstacle to effective relations between Elected Members and officers and threaten the independence of the Executive"

Something which is very evident (and alive and well) in Carmarthenshire where, as the White Paper quotes, "the balance of governance has become disjointed".
It's difficult to remember a time when the 'Executive' was independent, around thirteen years ago I believe.

The consultation on the Wales Local Government White Paper is open until the end of April.

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