Complaints against parish councillors are costing Milton Keynes taxpayers a small fortune

Standards investigations against parish councillors are costing Milton Keynes taxpayers a small fortune, a committee heard.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 3:30 pm

The borough council has a legal duty to investigate complaints made about councillors at all levels and just five such probes in 2018 and 2019 have so far cost more than £33,500.

Two investigations against Bradwell parish councillors racked up the vast majority of that – nearly £26,000 – with one costing just over £17,000.

And in both those cases, the investigations concluded that there was no case to answer.

Standards probes are costing taxpayers a pile of cash

Paul Cummins, MK Council’s departing head of legal, told the standards committee that the borough tries to hold the costs down by paying neighbouring councils to investigate.

But when that help isn’t available they have to employ specialist solicitors and try to get them to reduce their costs.

The two Bradwell cases involved complaints from other councillors and a member of the public which were both investigated by solicitors.

The details of the complaints weren’t revealed at Thursday’s committee meeting.

But two current investigations, with costs running at £2,500 each, are the subject of detailed reports.

One, against Bletchley and Fenny Stratford Town councillors is due to come to a ruling very soon.

Another, involving Kents Hill and Monkston Parish Council ,has concluded there has been a breach of standards which will be the subject of a meeting of the standards sub-committee in the new year.

Borough councillors were aghast at the costs, with Cllr Peter Geary (Cons, Olney) calling for the public to be made aware that money spent on investigating complaints was taking money away from other services.

“We should make sure we support the parishes because prevention is far better than cure,” he said. “Spending £5,000 on training is better than £25,000 on investigations.

“We should also be highliighting to the parishes that how much it costs. It costs thousands of pounds.”

And Cllr Vanessa McPake (Lib Dem, Monkston) said: “We should make it clear that it is easy to come to us for advice before we get to a formal complaint stage.”

The council offers informal meetings, which has worked in one case involving Newport Pagnell Town Council, where an apology was made and accepted.

But Sharon Bridglalsingh, the council’s director of law and governance, said there were “no magic bullets” when it comes to questions of behaviour.

“In some cases the committee chairs do not know how to deal with behaviour issues,” she said. “There is a lot of merit in a preventative approach.”

She added that the costs of council officers working on cases is not included in the final bills but it does need a lot of their time.

Cllr Norman Miles (Lab, Wolverton), who chairs the committee, said he did not want to put people off making complaints.

He added that with 47 parish and town councils in Milton Keynes he is “very satisfied” with the approach the council is taking to control costs.