Councillors and officers in row over response times

THE relationship between officers and councillors at a council is strained, with the former not doing enough to respond to enquiries, a report claims.

The comments are made by North Herts District Council (NHDC) elected members, in a communication consultation report which went to scrutiny on Tuesday.

They say that officers often try to put them off when they make queries, and that sometimes they had to wait up to three weeks for a reply. The report also says that many officers have never even met a councillor.

Councillors who sit on the task group discussed the comments at the meeting, and all agreed with the recommendations. This means that the report will be considered at Cabinet, with alternative options being disucssed.

Cllr David Billing, who sits on the group, said that members thought it would be appropriate to amend council legislation to deal with the concerns.

“We felt that there should be a review on the officer member protocol,” he told The Comet.

“There have been cases where members don’t find out about events that have taken place in their ward and will want to be able to respond to residents. They have not been told in some cases what has happened, or in case of a planned event, that it’s going to happen.

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“That’s not to say it’s all like that. There are some very good experiences that councillors have had with very rapid and helpful responses.”

The report reveals that Cllr Terry Hone, deputy leader and portfolio holder for finance, also said that officers’ treatment of councillors could be patchy.

But the Senior Member Team (SMT), which consists of chief executive John Campbell and other senior officers, disputed some of the claims.

In the report, it says: “The member/officer protocol is based on a model protocol. SMT considers that it has a clear statement about what members and officers should expect from each other.”

It then adds: “SMT agrees with the principles associated with keeping local members informed about local events beforehand and is keen to ensure that communication is as streamlined as possible.

“It should however be recognised that there may be circumstances relating to policy development, contractual or legal matters where certain factors cannot be disclosed.”

NHDC said it would be inappropriate for officers to comment further until after the report had been considered at Cabinet.

A spokesman added: “At Tuesday’s meeting, overview and scrutiny committee agreed with the Task and Finish Group’s recommendations and the report will go forward to Cabinet on March 20 2012 for consideration.”

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