Code of conduct complaints against St Helens councillors revealed

The majority of the complaints received in the past six months related to the use of social media
The majority of the complaints received in the past six months related to the use of social media
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Nine code of conduct complaints have been made about the conduct of St Helens councillors over the past six months, it can be revealed.

St Helens Council’s standards committee were told this week that five complaints alleging a breach in its code of conduct have been upheld since July 2018.

Two complaints were not upheld, one was not investigated, and one is currently waiting to be investigated.

Jan Bakewell, the council’s monitoring officer, said: “In 2012 the council delegated responsibility for investigating complaints to the monitoring officer about breaches of the code.

“Council at that time also delegated powers to the monitoring officer to filter complaints, which are investigated in certain circumstances.

“And this may involve the monitoring officer deciding not to investigate at the initial consideration stage.

“For example, where complaints are submitted anonymously, they appear to the monitoring officer not to relate to conduct acting in the capacity of a member, trivial allegations or politically motivated allegations.”

The majority of the complaints received in the past six months related to the use of social media.

One complaint was received relating to Twitter comments – which have now been deleted – linked to a complaint considered by the former monitoring officer, Peter Hughes, who retired in July.

That complaint was resolved using an informal resolution.

Informal advice was given to the member in question about the appropriate use of social media when acting in the capacity of a councillor.

Ms Bakewell said she received four separate complaints since taking over as monitoring officer relating to the same Twitter comments.

Those complaints were also resolved using an informal resolution.

Ms Bakewell, who is also the council’s head of legal services, said the complainant was “content” with the resolution.

A separate complaint relating to Twitter was not upheld, with Ms Bakewell saying she believed it was “politically motivated”.

She said the comments did not relate to the members in their capacity as a councillor and as such there was no breach of the code of conduct.

The complaint is still open, however, as the complainant has appealed the decision.

One resident complained after being blocked by a councillor on Facebook, following an exchange of comments.

The member argued that the members was “uncontactable” as a result.

The committee was told the complaint was not investigated because there was no apparent breach of the code, as members are entitled to block people on social media.

The complainant was informed they could contact the member via their council email or surgery.

Another complaint regarding the conduct of a member while observing the council’s planning committee was not upheld.

Ms Bakewell also revealed she received a complaint last week alleging a breach of the code relating to the contents of some email correspondence.

This complaint has not yet been investigated, the committee heard.