Complaints about Chichester councillors include cheating at a pub quiz

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Complaints against district and parish councillors in Chichester are ‘creeping up’ – with many made by other councillors.

The information was shared by Monitoring Officer Nick Bennett at a meeting of the district council’s standards committee on Tuesday (June 4).

Mr Bennett said 22 formal complaints had been received in 2023, just over half against district councillors.

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Six of the issues raised were out of the scope of the complaints procedure, such as one which said a councillor had cheated during a pub quiz.

Mr Bennett said virtually all complaints boiled down to feeling there had been ‘a lack of respect’.

Around one-third of the formal complaints centred around social media interactions – a situation described as ‘uniquely challenging’ and ‘a really easy way to criticise a councillor’.

Others involved declarations of interest – which Mr Bennett said could range from allegations that a cup of tea was given to someone to somebody not declaring that they have a senior role in an organisation that received funding.

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When it came to informal complaints – ones which did not see an official form filled out – more than two-thirds were made against parish councillors.

While acknowledging that these complaints were taken seriously, Mr Bennett said it was sometimes hard to work out what the problem was.

One complaint, for example, raised 30 different points.

Social media was top of the list for informal complaints, with the main issue being a ‘lack of respect’ – ‘virtually always’ between councillors.

Mr Bennett encouraged councillors to ‘think twice’ before writing anything on social media, especially during an election period.

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He warned: “As ephemeral as it feels, actually that’s a permanent record that can be used as – bluntly – a stick to beat you with.”

Only two complaints about an abuse of position – ‘the do you know who I am brigade’ – were made, neither of which came to anything.

There were also a ‘small but significant’ number of complaints about confidentiality. This centred around councillors sharing things which were given to them in confidence, or data protection breaches.

The committee agreed that a Task & Finish Group should be set up to look at the way complaints can be made.

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It was agreed that the current web page was ‘not good’and hadn’t been changed in more than a decade.

Mr Bennett said: “Whilst it meets the technical requirements of accessibility, it’s not actually accessible to a human being who wants to make a complaint.”

Members had similar views about the web page detailing the Code of Conduct.

It was described as ‘not as helpful as it could be’.

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