Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service

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MERSEYSIDE FIRE AND RESCUE AUTHORITY


MEMBERS’ CODE OF CONDUCT
GUIDE TO MAKING A COMPLAINT



1. Summary


This guide provides information on making a complaint against certain types of inappropriate behaviour by Members (elected Councillors appointed by constituent authorities) and Independent Members of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority. The guide explains:
  • who you can complain about; 
  • what you can complain about; and 
  • what will happen to your complaint.

If you have any questions or difficulties arising from this guide – for example, if English is not your first language – then please contact the Democratic Services section on 0151 296 4113.

2. Background

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority is a stand-alone local authority. As such, it is required by legislation to adopt a Members’ Code of Conduct. A copy of the Members’ Code of Conduct as approved by the Authority can be found below and is available on request from:-

Democratic Services
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service
Service Headquarters
Bridle Road
Bootle
Merseyside L30 4YD

Tel: 0151 296 4113
e-mail: democratic@merseyfire.gov.uk

The Authority is made up of a total of 18 elected councillors (Members) appointed to it by five constituent authorities (Liverpool City Council and the Metropolitan Borough Councils of Knowsley, Sefton, St. Helens and Wirral). All Members are required to follow the Authority’s approved Members’ Code of Conduct. This Guide explains how you can make a complaint to the Authority if you feel that a Member has failed to follow the Code.

3. Who and What You CAN Complain About?

You can only use this complaints procedure to complain that a Member may have failed to follow the Authority’s approved Members’ Code of Conduct. Please remember that a “Member” is an elected councillor appointed to the Authority by one of its constituent authorities (Liverpool City Council and the Metropolitan Borough Councils of Knowsley, Sefton, St. Helens and Wirral).

The Code of Conduct is below and any complaint must be related to an aspect of this Code.

CODE OF CONDUCT

Introduction

This code applies to you as a member of this authority when you act in your role as a member and it is your responsibility to comply with the provisions of this Code

You are a representative of this authority and the public will view you as such therefore your actions impact on how the authority as a whole is viewed and your actions can have both positive and negative impacts on the authority.

This Code is based upon the “Nolan Principals-the seven principles of public life” which are set out at Appendix 1.

Interpretation
In this Code:-
“Meeting” means any meeting of:
    (a) the authority;
    (b) the Executive Leadership Board of the authority;
    (c) any of the authority’s or its executives committees, sub-committees, joint committees or other committees;

whether or not the press and public are excluded from the meeting in question by virtue of a resolution of members

“Member” includes a co-opted member and an appointed member.

General Obligations

1.  When acting in your role as a member of the authority:

1.1 DO treat others with respect

1.2 DO NOT conduct yourself in a manner which is contrary to the Authority’s duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct of members

1.3 DO NOT disclose information given to you in confidence by anyone, or information acquired by you which you believe, or ought reasonably to be aware, is of a confidential nature, except where-

(i) you have the consent of a person authorised to give it;

(ii) you are required by law to do so;

(iii) the disclosure is made to a third party for the purpose of obtaining professional legal advice provided that the third party agrees not to disclose the information to any other person; or

(iv) the disclosure is-

(a) reasonable and in the public interest; and

(b) made in good faith and in compliance with the reasonable requirements of the authority; and

(c) you have consulted the Monitoring Officer prior to its release

1.4 DO NOT prevent another person from gaining access to information to which that person is entitled by law.

2. When using or authorising the use by others of the resources of the authority-

2.1. DO act in accordance with the authority’s reasonable requirements including the requirements of the authority’s ICT policy and the policies (attached to the Authority’s Constitution), copies of which have been provided to you and which you are deemed to have read;

2.2. DO make sure that such resources are not used improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes); and

2.3. DO have regard to any applicable Local Authority Code of Publicity made under the Local Government Act 1986.

Interests

3. As a public figure, your public role may, at times, overlap with your personal and/or professional life and interests however when performing your public role as a member, DO act solely in terms of the public interest and DO NOT act in a manner to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, your friends, your employer or in relation to your business interests.

4. You are required to register “pecuniary and other interests” (subject to these not being sensitive). The Relevant Authorities (Disclosable Pecuniary Interests) Regulations 2012 provide for the interests that must be disclosed and these are laid out in Appendix 3 of this Code) Failure to declare or register a pecuniary interest will be a criminal offence if this is done without a reasonable excuse. If you knowingly or recklessly provide false or misleading information about a pecuniary interest this will also be a criminal offence.

5. There will be no requirement for you to declare or register any gifts and hospitality; (subject to any future Regulations) however DO NOT accept any gifts in excess of £50.00 (fifty pounds).

Disclosure and participation

6. At a meeting where such issues arise, DO declare any personal and/or professional interests relating to your public duties and DO take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7. Certain types of decisions, including those relating to a permission, licence, consent or registration for yourself, your friends, your family members, your employer or your business interests, are so closely tied to your personal and/or professional life that your ability to make a decision in an impartial manner in your role as a member may be called into question and in turn raise issues about the validity of the decision of the authority. DO NOT become involved in these decisions any more than a member of the public in the same personal and/or professional position as yourself is able to be and DO NOT vote in relation to such matters.

8. DO NOT improperly use knowledge gained solely as a result of your role as a member for the advancement of yourself, your friends, your family members, your employer or your business interests.

Pre-determination or bias

9. Where you have been involved in campaigning in your political role on an issue which does not impact on your personal and/or professional life you should not be prohibited from participating in a decision in your political role as member, however DO NOT place yourself under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence you in the performance of your official duties.

10. When making a decision, DO consider the matter with an open mind and on the facts before the meeting at which the decision is to be taken.

Appendix 1 - THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC LIFE

SELFLESSNESS Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

INTEGRITY Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

OBJECTIVITY In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

ACCOUNTABILITY Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

OPENNESS Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

HONESTY Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

LEADERSHIP Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Where the decision referred to in Clause 7 above relates to one of the functions of the authority set out below, and the condition which follows that function does not apply to you when making that decision, you may participate in the decision:

(i) housing, where you are a tenant of your authority unless those functions relate particularly to your tenancy or lease;   

(ii) school meals or school transport and travelling expenses, where you are a parent or guardian of a child in full time education, or a parent governor of a school unless it relates particularly to the school which the child attends,

(iii) statutory sick pay under Part XI of the School Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, where you are in receipt of, or are entitled to the receipt of such pay;

(iv) an allowance, payment or indemnity given to members;

(v) any ceremonial honour given to members; and

(vi) setting council tax or a precept under the Local Government Finance Act 1992

DISCLOSABLE PECUNIARY INTERESTS (Appendix 3)

You must declare

1. Employment, office, trade, profession or vocation
Any employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain

2. Sponsorship
Any payment or provision of any other financial benefit (other than from the Authority) made or provided within the previous 12 months in respect of any expenses incurred by a Member in carrying out duties as a member, or towards the Member’s election expenses. This includes any payment or financial benefit from a Trade Union

3. Contracts
Any contact made between the Authority and

  •  the Member

  •  their spouse or civil partner

  •  a person living with the Members as husband or wife, or

  •  someone with whom the Members is living as if they were civil partners and the Members is aware that the other person has an interest

or

  •  a body in which the Member or any other person listed above has a beneficial interest

under which goods or services are to be provided or works executed and which has not been fully discharged

4. Land
Any beneficial interest in land which is within the Authority’s area

5. Licences
Any licence (alone or jointly with others) to occupy land in the Authority’s area for a month or longer

6. Corporate Tenancies
Any tenancy where, to the Member’s knowledge, the landlord is the Authority and the tenant is a body in which the Members or one of persons mentioned above has a beneficial interest

7. Securities
Any beneficial interest in securities of a body where the Member knows that the body has a place of business or land in the Authority’s area and the total nominal value of the securities is more than £25,000 (or one hundredth of the issued share capital)

4. What CANNOT be dealt with under this procedure

This procedure cannot be used for:

  •  Complaints where a Member is not named;
  •  Complaints that are NOT in writing;
  •  Incidents or actions that are not covered by the Authority’s approved Members’ Code of Conduct (e.g. that the complaint concerns acts carried out in the Member’s private life UNLESS, in certain circumstances, the act constitutes a criminal offence for which the Member has been convicted);
  •  Incidents that are about a fault in the way the Authority has or has not done something. This is known as maladministration and may be a matter for the Local Government Ombudsman;
  •  Complaints about people employed by this Authority. There is a separate procedure for complaints against employees, which can be found on our website http://www.merseyfire.gov.uk/aspx/pages/complaints/complaints.aspx
  •  incidents that happened before OR after the person complained of was a Member of the Authority;
  •  complaints about the way in which the Authority conducts and records its meetings.

5. How Do I Make a Complaint?

Your complaint MUST be in writing – this includes fax and electronic submissions. If, however, this would be difficult for you (for example because of a disability or if English is not your first language) then please contact Democratic Services (whose contact details are above).

A complaints form is available on the Authority website (http://www.merseyfire.gov.uk/aspx/pages/complaints/complaints.aspx ) or on request from the Democratic Services section (democratic@merseyfire.gov.uk). If you wish to make a complaint you are encouraged to use this form although you may prefer to write a letter setting out your complaint. If you choose to write a letter, it is important that you include in it ALL of the following information:

  •  your name, address and other contact details (telephone number(s), e-mail address etc);
  •  your status (e.g. member of the public; local authority member; monitoring officer; Member of Parliament);
  •  for the purposes of the Authority’s ethnic monitoring, brief details of your ethnic origin (e.g. British; Irish; Other White Background; White and Black Caribbean etc);
  •  the name of the Member of the Fire and Rescue Authority who the complaint is about;
  •  details of the alleged misconduct with, where possible, dates, witness details and other supporting information.
Please note that your identity will normally be disclosed to the Member about whom you are complaining. This information may, however, be withheld from that Member in exceptional circumstances and at the discretion of the Audit Sub-Committee if it considers that following criteria are met:
  • you have reasonable grounds for believing that you will be at risk of physical harm if your identity is disclosed; and/or
  • you are an officer (i.e. employee of the Authority or a constituent authority) who works closely with the Member who is the subject of the complaint and you are afraid of the consequences to your employment or of losing your job if your identity is disclosed; and/or
  • you suffer from a serious medical condition and that there are medical risks associated with your identity being disclosed. In this event, the Audit Sub-Committee will require medical evidence of your condition.

6. Anonymous Complaints


 
Anonymous complaints will only be referred by the Audit Sub-Committee for investigation or some other form of action if the complaint includes photographic evidence indicating an exceptionally serious or significant matter.

7. What will happen to my complaint?

On receiving your complaint , the monitoring officer will acknowledge it and refer it to the Audit Sub-Committee to reach a decision, within an average of 20 working days, on what should happen with the complaint. The Audit Sub-Committee us required to reach one of the three following decisions on a complaint about a Member’s actions in relation to the Authority’s approved Members’ Code of Conduct:

  •  to refer the complaint to the Authority’s Monitoring Officer for investigation;
  • that no action should be taken in respect of the complaint;
  •  to uphold the complaint and refer it to the Executive Leadership Board for determination of an approval sanction.

Such meetings of the Audit Sub-Committee are CLOSED meetings and are not subject to the notice and publicity requirements under Part 5 of the Local Government Act 1972.

8. How will the Audit Sub-Committee make its decision?

(a) Initial Tests
Before any other assessment of the complaint begins, the Audit Sub-Committee will need to be satisfied that the complaint meets ALL of the following tests:

  •  it is a complaint against one or more named Members of the Authority;
  •  the named Member was in office at the time of the alleged conduct and the Code of Conduct was in force at the time;
  •  the complaint, if proven, would be a breach of the Code under which the Member was operating at the time of the alleged misconduct.

If the complaint fails one or more of these tests it cannot be investigated as a breach of the Code and you will be informed either that more information is needed (in which case someone will call contract you about theis) or that no further action will be taken in respect of your complaint.

(b) Other Criteria

If your complaint meets the above tests, it may be that the Audit Sub-Committee may still decide to take no further action in respect of your complaint if one or more of the following criteria apply:

  •  your complaint falls within any of the areas that CANNOT be dealt with under this procedure, as set out in Section 4 of this guide;
  •  your complaint is about someone who is no longer a Member of this Authority But is a Member of another Authority. In this case, the Audit Sub-Committee may decide to refer your complaint to the monitoring Officer of the other authority concerned;
  •  your complaint has been the subject of an investigation or other action relating to the Code of Conduct, or by other regulatory authorities, and there is nothing to be gained by further action being taken;
  •  your complaint is about something that happened so long ago that there would be little or no benefit in taking action now;
  •  your complaint is considered to be not sufficiently serious to warrant further action;
  •  your complaint appears to be simply malicious, politically motivated or “tit-for-tat”.

9. What can I do if the Audit Sub-Committee decides, at first not to uphold and take no further action on my complaint?

You are entitled to request an appeal of a decision of the Audit Sub-Committee to take no further action after giving initial consideration to your complaint. A decision by the Audit Sub-Committee to take no further action is the ONLY decision about which you can request an appeal.

If you wish to request an appeal you MUST do this IN WRITING not more than twenty working days after the date of the notice provided to you notifying you of the initial decision to take no further action.

Any appeal request complying with this will be carried out by the Executive Leadership Board of the Authority made up of different Members to those on the Audit Sub-Committee who made the initial decision. The appeal MUST be undertaken within a maximum of three months from the date of receiving the request, although the Authority will aim to complete the appeal within an average of twenty working days.

In considering a valid appeal request, the Executive Leadership Board will apply the same initial tests and assessment criteria as set out in Section 8 of this guide and will have available to it the same decisions as are available to the Audit Sub-Committee (see Section 7 of this guide) EXCEPT that there will be no further right of appeal in the event of the Executive Leadership Board deciding that no further action should be taken.

10. What if my complaint is to be investigated?

An investigation will be undertaken within the next 28 days. You will be informed of this process. The Executive Leadership Board will then hear the matter within a further 14 days and the decision of the Executive Leadership Board will be provided to you and the elected Member you have complained about, within the next 7 working days. The decision of the Executive Leadership Board will be final.

11. How will I be notified of the decision of the Audit Sub-Committee or the Executive Leadership Board?

We will provide you with a written notice of the decision. We will aim to do this within five working days of the date of the meeting of the Audit Sub-Committee or the Executive Leadership Board at which the decision was made. The notice will:

  •  in relation to a request for further information by the Audit Sub Committee, summarises the information required to ask for this to be provided by letter or telephone.
  • in relation to a decision to take no further action, summarise the nature of the complaint and the reason(s) for deciding to take no further action. An Audit Sub-Committee decision notice to take no further action will also give details of the right to request an appeal decision;
  •  in relation to a decision to refer a matter to the Monitoring Officer of the Authority, summarise the nature of the complaint and:
    •  in the case of a referral to the Monitoring Officer for investigation, will summarise the potential breaches of the Code to which the conduct as set out in the complaint refers and will indicate how the investigation process will be conducted;
    • to which the conduct as set out in the complaint refers, will indicate what the other course of action is and, if appropriate, indicate what allowance is made for your involvement in the other course of action;
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