Members of the public concerned about the conduct of Councillors in the Epping Forest District can now make complaints directly to the Epping Forest District Council standards committee. On 8 May 2008, the responsibility for the initial assessment for considering complaints against Councillors was changed from the Standards Board for England to the local authority. This change applies to the whole of the Epping Forest District, including its Town and Parish Councils.
The Code of Conduct sets out the standards of conduct that Councillors are required to meet. Following an election, all Councillors sign a formal Declaration of Acceptance of Office in which they undertake to adhere to the requirements of the Code. The code sets out the expectations of the conduct of Councillors in these very public positions including their treatment of others, acting with integrity and not improperly using their position. There are also rules governing the disclosure of interests and withdrawal from meetings where Councillors may have relevant interests.
A sub committee of the standards committee will assess all complaints. If a breach of the code is suspected, the complaint may then be referred for investigation or other less formal action taken. Once investigated, a different sub committee will decide what action, if any, should be taken against the Councillor. If there is a conflict of interest or other unusual circumstances that prevent an investigation being managed locally, the complaint can be referred to the Standards Board for England.
Mary Marshall, the independent chairman of the Epping Forest standards committee said: Standards of behaviour among local Councillors are very high and we will continue to make every effort to ensure that such standards are maintained. The change in responsibility for the initial assessment of complaints to a local level should benefit both the complainant and the Councillor under investigation by streamlining the process. Most Councillors will never find themselves the subject of an investigation but for the few cases where there is concern, we aim to deal with the allegations quickly and efficiently.