I want to complain about the actions of a Member but I do not want to do this formally. Is there an informal way, in which I can raise issues or concerns, or do I have to provide a written complaint?
If you do not want to follow the route of a formal complaint, then you can raise issues you have about an individual Member without having to do so. You can raise your concerns by contacting the Corporate Services Manager at Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority (the contact details are set out in the main guidance note). If you do wish to raise the matter informally, you should make this clear in any correspondence, including email and any telephone calls. If you do not make this clear, then the matter may be considered as a formal complaint and go through the formal process.
If your complaint is informal, it may not always be possible for any action to be taken against the Member concerned and the Member may not even be contacted to inform them of the issue. If your informal complaint relates to any serious misconduct, which amounts to a criminal offence, the matter may be referred to the appropriate enforcement body, such as the police.
What if my complaint involves the Authority itself but there were some Members involved in the decision making?
The Standards Committee deals solely with complaints about Members. If you have a complaint with regard to any actions undertaken by the Authority itself, then you should pursue the matter via the corporate complaints system, which you can access by via website or by telephoning (01743) 260200.
Can I make an anonymous complaint?
There is nothing to prevent you from making a complaint without providing your own personal details. However, it is more likely that your complaint will not be proceeded with, if you do not provide your name and address. How anonymous complaints may be dealt with is set out in the criteria adopted by the Standards Committee, set out in Appendix 4.
If you do wish your name to be withheld during the complaint investigation process, you can make a request to do this, when you send in your complaint (please see the section on the complaint form at Appendix 3). However, it will ultimately be up to the Committee as to whether or not your name will be revealed to the Member, against whom you have made the complaint. Your name may also be used when a summary of the complaint is made available to the public.
I do not want my complaint to go through a full investigation process. I think that a simple apology would resolve the matter. Can I set this out in my complaint?
Yes. The complaint form allows you the opportunity to set out how you would like the matter to be resolved. There is no guarantee that it will be undertaken in this way but it may be that if you express a preference, the Corporate Services Manager can speak to the Member concerned and see whether or not there is an amicable way of resolving any issues. However, if the matter is more serious the Referral Sub-Committee may still decide that an investigation is appropriate.
I wish to make a complaint about something that happened some time ago and the Member concerned has since resigned. Can I make a complaint to the Standards Committee about that ex Member?
There is nothing to prevent you from making a complaint but the Standards Committee will not have the jurisdiction to order an investigation into a former Member. If the behaviour concerned amounts to a criminal offence or involves serious corporate governance issues, then the Standards Committee may ask the appropriate enforcement body or the Authorityâ€™s Auditors to look at the complaint but the matter will not be considered by the Standards Committee.
I have made a complaint but now wish to withdraw it. Can I do this?
You can withdraw your complaint at any point during the process. However, if your complaint relates to a serious allegation and the Standards Committee considers that it would be in the public interest to continue to look into it, the investigation may continue. If you do wish to withdraw a complaint, you should write to the Corporate Services Manager, confirming that you wish to do so and setting out the reason why, as soon as you have decided that you want to do this.
The incident I want to complain about relates to a criminal investigation against the Member concerned. Can I still make the complaint?
Yes. However, it is likely that the Standards Committee would delay an investigation until any criminal investigation and proceedings have been concluded. This is to ensure that the Standards Committee would not be prejudging any criminal proceedings but also to make sure that any Standards Committee investigation did not prejudice any criminal investigational proceedings which were ongoing.
What is a Standards Committee?
Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority is required by law to have a Standards Committee. The Committee is responsible for promoting high standards of behaviour and conduct, particularly for Members of the Authority. Its responsibilities include ensuring that there is appropriate Code of Conduct training for Members and making recommendations to the Authority about the Code of Conduct and appointments within the Standards Committee. The Standards Committee is currently made up of 8 Members as follows:
- Four independent Members, who are not elected but are appointed by the Authority. They are not representatives of any political group of the Authority and it is their responsibility to act as the Chair of the Standards Committee and any Sub-Committees. Their impartiality is to ensure the integrity of the processes undertaken by the Standards Committee and ensure fairness.
- Four elected Members from the Fire Authority, appointed from Shropshire Council and Telford & Wrekin Council
What are the Referral and Review Sub-Committees?
The law states that any complaint has to be considered initially by Sub-Committees of the Standards Committee. This means that some of the Members of the Standards Committee will meet together as a Sub-Committee to make decisions regarding the complaints that are received. Currently the Sub-Committees are made up of any 4 of the Members of the Standards Committee but must be chaired by one of the independent Members. There must also be at least 1 elected Member present during the Sub-Committee meetings. The Review Sub-Committee is made up in the same way but must contain a different group of Members from those, who made the initial assessment. If the matter goes to an investigation and a full hearing, the Standards Committee will set up a Hearing Panel, which will contain a number of Members but again will be chaired by an Independent Member.
What sanctions can Members receive, if they are found to have breached the Code of Conduct?
Members can receive one of any number of sanctions, which can be anything from a reprimand up to disqualification. The Shropshire and Wrekin Fire and Rescue Authority Standards Committee can impose a maximum sanction of six months suspension from office. If the matter is more serious, it will be referred for consideration by the Adjudication Panel for England, which has the power to disqualify Members. There are a number of sanctions in between a reprimand and a disqualification, such as ordering a Member to undertake training, ordering that the Member should make a written apology, or partial suspensions from office for shorter periods.