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Council probes bring £17k bill
10:00am Thursday 3rd October 2013 in News
A CONSULTANT has been paid more than £17,000 of taxpayers’ cash over the past three years for investigating complaints against councillors.
Felix Hetherington has probed cases where Swindon Council members are accused of improper conduct such as inappropriate behaviour.
The Adver revealed in August how South Swindon MP Robert Buckland had taken up constituents’ complaints about the Standards Committee process, which included allegations of a lack of transparency, poor record keeping and long delays.
Mr Buckland, who wrote to monitoring officer Stephen Taylor, further questioned the investigator’s stipulated role in gathering evidence but also preparing an initial report for the panel. The MP later accepted the process is different from a criminal court but the concerns will form part of a local review of the committee process due to take place next year.
Mr Hetherington was paid £5,000 to investigate Coun Nick Martin’s behaviour after he was accused of behaving inappropriately towards a senior officer at a civic dinner.
Coun Martin wrote a letter of apology to Helen Miah following a hearing in October 2012.
He also picked up £3,549 in December 2011, which included £3,500 fees and £49 in travel and printing expenses, for investigating alleged comments made by a councillor over problems with local youths. He was told to write a letter of apology.
Last June Mr Hetherington was paid £3,500 to probe an allegation that locals were misled over the building of the Croft Primary School in Old Town. No breach was found.
He had another payment of £3,203 in March 2011 for investigating alleged improper behaviour at a meeting the previous July. He claimed £3,000 in fees, £77 in travel expenses and £126 for printing. No action was taken.
Mr Hetherington was paid for seven investigations, according to information released by Swindon Council under the Freedom of Information Act.
He is an experienced solicitor and was chief executive of the former Isle of Wight Council and president of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors.
Of 41 complaints in the past three years, the panel has taken no further action in 27 and investigated 11. Of the number which did receive hearings, action was taken on four occasions.
Coun Dave Wood, chairman of the Standards Committee, said Mr Hetherington represented better value for money than services used before. He said: “The option is either an investigation conducted externally or internally by council officers. The view has always been it is better to have this done by external people as they are not as close to the parties concerned.”
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