The Local Government Commissioner for Standards, Marie Anderson, has today issued her Annual Report for 2017-18.
The Commissioner is responsible for the investigation and adjudication of complaints about alleged breaches of the Northern Ireland Local Government Code of Conduct for Councillors (the Code). The Code aims to ensure the proper use of council’s resources and maintain public trust and confidence in local government.
The Annual Report reveals that in 2017-18 a total of 44 complaints were made against councillors, compared to 34 in 2016-17.
This year the majority of complaints related to allegations that a councillor failed to show respect and consideration for others (25 instances). The second most common basis of complaint related to allegations that councillors had failed to meet their obligations as councillor (24 instances). A number of complaints alleged more than one breach.
Of the 32 cases closed during the year, 24 were closed at the Assessment stage with no action being taken against the councillor.
Four complaints which were investigated were closed with the decision that there was no evidence of a breach of the Code. In one of the cases which reached the Adjudication stage, the Commissioner concluded that there had been a breach and applied a Censure. In the other the councillor accepted that he had breached the Code and the adjudication was closed at an early stage with a referral for further training on planning matters.
Commenting on the report, Mrs Anderson stated:
“To make sure there is a proper separation between the investigation and adjudication functions, I have delegated the investigation of complaints to the Deputy Commissioner. My role is to decide, on the cases which come before me, whether there has been a breach of the Code. I also seek to help councillors improve their understanding of the ethical standards framework, with the aim of improving standards in local government and of preventing further breaches. My Office has therefore undertaken a number of communication and training initiatives during the year.
“I updated an extensive overall guide to the Code of Conduct, which gives details of how the Code applies in practice and sets out the obligations it places upon councillors. Also, in response to a number of complaints to my Office which feature the use of social media platforms, I published my ‘Guidance on the Use of Social Media’.
The report also includes examples of some complaints assessed or investigated over the course of the year. These case summaries help to show the Deputy Commissioner’s approach, for example, to examining allegations that councillors have broken the rules on lobbying, made offensive comments in meetings or on social media, or breached the ‘Respect’ principle of the Code.
“I believe that the Code, and the complaints system which helps to enforce it, are working well to uphold standards in local government, said Mrs Anderson. “The arrangements, which are unique to Northern Ireland, not only help to achieve good governance and encourage good practice, they also result in significant savings to the public purse.
My Office will be doing more over the course of the coming year to improve awareness and understanding of the Code and of the wider ethical standards framework.”