Posted: Thu 15th Oct 2020

Updated: Thu 15th Oct

Flintshire council officers criticised over ‘abysmal’ response rate to county councillors’ issues

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

Flintshire Council officers have been criticised for their “abysmal” response rate to issues raised by councillors.

It comes after a member of the ruling Labour administration took issue with a policy document which advises politicians they should not do anything to undermine relations with staff.

The protocol titled “Criticism of Members and Officers” states that the local authority has a duty to protect employees from unacceptable treatment and behaviour.

However, cabinet member for planning and public protection Chris Bithell said there was a danger councillors could feel unable to raise valid criticisms.

During a virtual meeting held yesterday (Wednesday 14 October) to discuss changes to the rules, he said: “There are occasions when we have to be critical of officers.

“That doesn’t affect personal relationships and as individuals we probably still like each other, but we may have to raise some sensitive issues which don’t go down well.

“I don’t think there’s sufficient note taken here of our responsibilities to our individual constituents which is vitally important for us.

“We are responsible to the electorate in terms of representing them and their particular cases, which I don’t think is always accepted or understood by officers with due respect.

“That’s vital for us because at the end of the day we’re answerable to them and we’ll be going knocking on their door next year or the year after asking for their vote.”

In 2018, councillors voted to take action over concerns about delayed responses to important issues in Flintshire.

The motion asked chief executive Colin Everett to ensure officers respond to members’ requests with “courtesy and good manners”, and without leaving them waiting unduly.

But Cllr Bithell said response times were still an issue, despite new escalation processes being put in place.

He said: “I have to admit very sadly that sometimes we can’t get a response to issues so there’s something very serious occurring here.

“There are some very good officers and departments who are good at responding, but there are others which are abysmal to put it bluntly.

“I think that needs to be made known and needs to be dealt with because our reputations are impacted by that as well as the council’s.”

In response to his comments, the authority’s chief governance officer told members of the constitution and democratic services committee the rules were largely focused on criticisms of staff made in public.

Gareth Owens said it followed a case several years ago where a councillor had made remarks about the chief executive in an open meeting.

He said: “It is fundamentally wrong for members to criticise an individual officer in public, particularly for electoral gain.

“I can’t be any clearer about that. Members are officers’ employers, and all employees have the right to expect employment relations to be dealt with in private.

“If members criticise officers in public for electoral gain, they run the risk of the council being sued by those officers and officers resigning because of their positions being untenable and then bringing claims against the council.

“That position is well established in law and we have taken to task a number of councillors over the years.”

He also urged politicians to make use of the process in place to raised delayed responses.

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).

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