Scarborough Council spends more than £8,500 on consultants investigating complaints made against authority

Scarborough Council has paid more than £8,500 to private consultancies tasked with investigating complaints made against councillors.

By Anttoni James Numminen, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 2:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd August 2022, 3:13 pm

Since December last year, Scarborough Council has spent more than £8,000 on fees paid to consultancy firms hired to support and lead investigations into complaints lodged against councillors.

The information was revealed through a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

Hoey Ainscough Associates, a Stockport-based private consultancy “on local government conduct issues”, was paid £720 to advise the council in 14 cases, dated December 2021.

Scarborough Town Hall

Meanwhile, £7,800 was paid to BHC Consultancy to lead investigations for 15 cases, dated July 2022.

Between 2019 and May 2022, at least 133 complaints were lodged against Scarborough borough and town councillors.

Speaking at a standards committee meeting in June, Scarborough Council officer Carol Rehill noted that “as a rule, Scarborough Council does receive a lot of standards complaints”.

She added that “in 2021-22 Harrogate Council received 13 complaints” while in the previous year they received “nine standards complaints” and that same year “Scarborough received 20”, and North Yorkshire County Council “reported receiving only one”.

Responding to the FoI request, the authority said that of the 15 investigations completed by BHC Consultancy, “it was determined that all of the councillors had not breached the code of conduct therefore the complaints were not referred to either the standards committee or a hearings panel for determination”.

“The complaints have, however, been reported to the standards committee as part of a quarterly update report on the council’s standards complaints.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a spokesperson for Scarborough Council said: “When compared to other local authorities, we have recently dealt with a higher than average number of standards issues.

“We are required by law to deal with complaints that borough or parish councillors have acted in breach of their relevant codes of conduct.

“Seeking independent and specialist legal advice during the investigation stage is sometimes necessary.

“This is because of the complexity of complaints and also due to increased pressure on our own internal resources.”

Asked whether they considered the services to have provided value for money, the spokesperson said: “We always spend council taxpayers’ money wisely, and with every purchase, we have checks in place to secure best value.”

At a meeting of the standards committee in June, Cllr Theresa Norton suggested that all elected councillors should undertake “compulsory” training sessions to reduce the number of complaints as “the perpetrators of some of the worst examples of breaking standards are the ones that don’t show up [to training sessions]”.

However, the council’s spokesperson said the council already has a training and development programme in place for councillors, “which starts when they are first elected and continues while they are in office”.

“Training alone will not necessarily stop complaints being submitted”, they added.