Public interest test will filter out 'malicious, spurious or minor' complaints against Telford councillors

“Vexatious, malicious, spurious or minor” complaints about councillors will be filtered out by a written “public interest test”, to be developed by Telford & Wrekin Council.

The authority's current disciplinary procedure already includes an unwritten assessment of whether an allegation is worth pursuing, but policy and governance chief Anthea Lowe told the standards committee that this would be formalised, defined and published.

Two years ago, the Committee for Standards in Public Life published 15 “best practice recommendations”, including one that councils “should publish a clear and straightforward public interest test against which allegations are filtered”.

Ms Lowe was updating the standards committee on the borough’s progress against these.

Others, which Telford & Wrekin Council has already fulfilled, include holding regular meetings between senior officers and political group leaders to discuss standards issues and providing “straightforward and easily accessible guidance” online to help the public register code of conduct complaints.

Ethical

A report by Ms Lowe noted that “whilst there is no legal requirement to adopt the best practice recommendations, they are considered to deliver good ethical standards within local government”.

Disciplinary matters at councils are handled by the “monitoring officer” – a role Ms Lowe holds at Telford and Wrekin – and in consultation with a designated “independent person”.

She reminded the committee that it had, at a previous meeting, decided to wait until a new code of conduct was in place before looking at adopting a new public interest test.

“In practice, we do a public interest test in any event, but there’s nothing in writing to set out what that is, what it looks like, how it’s done,” Ms Lowe said.

“I’ll work with the independent person moving forward to come up with a form of words to explain what we mean when we refer to the public interest test when considering allegations.

“It essentially means we wouldn’t look at anything that looks as though it’s vexatious, malicious, spurious or minor in detail.

“But that would be in conjunction with the independent person who would help make that assessment.”

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