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Last week Claer Lloyd-Jones levelled some uncomfortable criticisms at the Standards Board, but Sir Anthony Holland ...
Last week Claer Lloyd-Jones levelled some uncomfortable criticisms at the Standards Board, but Sir Anthony Holland is happy to take them on board

Claer Lloyd-Jones's criticisms of the Standards Board come as no surprise. She argues we need to speed up our investigations. We agree. She says we do not keep monitoring officers informed about cases. We agree we need to improve in this area. And she says we are arrogant. Now that hurts.

We pride ourselves on getting out and about, seeking the views of those we work with, being prepared to learn and change.

We take what we do seriously. We believe in local democracy and in our mission to build confidence in it. Over recent weeks, thanks to our work, a racist, a bully and an enthusiast for child pornography are no longer tarnishing the good name of their fellow councillors. We regard that as success.

But if we fail to work with monitoring officers, people we have identified as key partners in improving ethical standards, we will be failing everyone. So it is important to answer Ms Lloyd-Jones's helpful criticisms.

Her feature quotes an unnamed monitoring officer saying, 'justice delayed is justice denied' (LGC, 13 February). Rushed justice, however, can be rough justice. We would rather be slower and fair than quick and wrong. There is, however, a balance to be struck and we believe, overall, our investigations are taking too long. Our new chief executive, David Prince, starts in April and he has been asked to improve the throughput of cases as an absolute priority.

Local investigations will, when they are finally introduced, ease the burden. But we should reassure the monitoring officer who is quoted as being worried abut a deluge of trivia that we estimate councils will receive, on average, one or two cases each year. And if a case is too trivial to investigate, it is too trivial for anyone to investigate. We do not think of local investigations as a dumping ground.

The criticism that we are arrogant is worrying. We value our relatio nship with monitoring officers. That is why we send them monthly bulletins, why we are so pleased that so many come to our annual conference and why we hold regular meetings with the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors. Our investigators contact the monitoring officer at the very start of an investigation to discover local circumstances. In our most successful cases the monitoring officer has played a key role. If we have been failing to make use of this valuable resource, or in some way alienating a monitoring officer, we need to know more.

The question of what we tell monitoring officers, and when, is interesting. Our intention is to inform them as soon as a decision is made to investigate. If there are specific examples of where this has not happened we want to know so we can tighten up our procedures.

It is interesting to hear that at least one monitoring officer wants us to do more to lobby the government about changes to the code. Our conference on 13 and 14 September is the focus of a consultation exercise to do just that.

According to MORI, 57% of monitoring officers are satisfied with our work, 20% are not. We must focus on that 20% if we are to be true to our ambition of working in partnership with local government.

Sir Anthony Holland

Chair, The Standards Board for England

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