Two years ago the three members of Worthing’s Independent Remuneration Committee (IRC) resigned in protest after Councillors ignored their advice.
The Committee had recommended no increase to Councillors’ allowances but the Councillors awarded themselves a raise in the basic allowance from £3,897 to £4,500 per annum.
In a resignation letter sent to the Worthing Borough Council (WBC) Monitoring Officer the IRC members said: “This is the second year running that our recommendations have been rejected. We undertake the role on a voluntary, unpaid basis, but now feel that we are wasting our time.”
There are also Independent Persons on the Council’s Standards Committee and time was an independent person was always appointed to chair any hearing of a breach of conduct by a councillor.
Times have changed and the committee is now chaired by a councillor and the independent person can only give advice – he or she does not have a vote.
In the words of West Sussex County Council: “The role of the independent person has been confirmed as to assist the County Council in ensuring and maintaining a high level of integrity in the conduct of the elected members of the council and in how they discharge the council’s business, through the implementation of the Member Code of Conduct and the constitutional arrangements supporting it. A major part of the role is to advise the Standards Committee’s sub-committees in casework.”
Those sub-committees are the hearings for breach of the Code of Conduct for both councillors and officers.
On Thursday (August 14th) at the Adur & Worthing Joint Standards sub-Committee to consider the allegation of a breach of the Code of Conduct by Cllr Bryan Turner, the advice from the independent person was that he thought Cllr Turner was in breach. The vote by the sub-committee members was split two-two, the advice from the independent person not taken and the case dismissed.
It does seem pointless to have independent persons who hold an unbiased opinion and possess the required expertise to not have more say in the decision.
Otherwise in the words of the former Independent Remuneration Committee they “are wasting their time.”