If I was asked for my New Year’s resolutions I could probably reel off a whole host of must-dos for the next 12 months.
My personal ones would definitely include going to the gym more than I manage and getting the kids to eat more fruit.
But in my role as an elected member, one area which is high on my list of objectives for the year ahead is overseeing an overhaul of Derby City Council’s Standards Committee and councillor complaints process.
I appreciate there will be a few readers who think that particular New Year pledge sounds even drier than Dry January, but I can’t understate its importance.
Derby’s current Standards Committee arrangements have been in place since 2011 when changes in the law abolished the old centralised regime and handed over control to local authorities.
Councils were given the ability to make their own arrangements – but alongside that freedom came some serious caveats, including strict limitations on the extent of sanctions that could be issued against offending councillors.
Our arrangements largely reflect those of other councils, but despite that the system in Derby has failed.
Political balance rules resulted in some parties here refusing to recognise the system or participate for several years, and even since they have participated there have been walk-outs when some councillors don’t agree with collective decisions.
Add to that there have been too many councillor-versus-councillor complaints, and it does little to inspire public confidence.
In actual fact, I am firmly of the opinion that the majority of Derby’s councillors are high-performing and well-intending public representatives – across all political parties.
But if we can’t get our own arrangements for managing behaviour right, so we end up firing shots across the political benches to score cheap points, then we are on a hiding to nothing. Something has to change.
The key role of Standards Committee has been eroded over recent years. The increasing numbers of complaints, some of which are warranted but many which clearly are not, take time and money to investigate and resolve.
The Government removed independent jurisdiction over the conduct of local authority councillors so it is down to us to get it right locally.
As the responsible Cabinet Member, I tasked officers with looking at all options, including considering models adopted by other councils, and I have been kept briefed as that work has progressed over the last few weeks.
We need a system which enables genuine complaints to get a fair and impartial hearing, but saves unnecessarily exhausting resources on spurious, frivolous or malicious submissions that muddy both the water and reputations.
Our arrangements need to be able to inspire confidence not just in the elected members who will be judged by them and the council officers who administer them, but also in the public. They have a right to know their elected representatives’ behaviour is being managed appropriately.
I am hopeful that I will be in a position to bring proposals forward – potentially as early as March but certainly no later than May – to adopt a new system for Derby that meets all those criteria and can achieve cross-party support.