Councils at ‘significant legal risk’ over issues facing monitoring officers

Councils at ‘significant legal risk’ over issues facing monitoring officers

Just how independent is the Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Motoring Officer?

A report has called for the creation of a professional body for monitoring officers and a review of council structures to ensure their position within the ‘top tier of governance’.

Although they are required to ensure councils act within the law, monitoring officers ‘lack influence at the top table’, putting local authorities at ‘significant legal risk’, according to a report by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and law firm Browne Jacobson.

Interviews with monitoring officers across England found they are left ‘undermined’ by ‘a lack of effective statutory protection, the absence of meaningful sanctions, tensions with commercial objectives and a lack of seat at the top table’.

Chief among the financial and legal risks reported by monitoring officers was the operation of council companies.

The report also found that without a ‘robust standards and sanctions regime’, monitoring officers often find themselves exposed to intimidation or other unprofessional behaviour ‘if they take a stand on enforcing legal norms’ within councils.

LGIU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West said: ‘Many councils in England are teetering on the edge of catastrophe, forced by their financial circumstances to take on greater and greater risks to make up for the shortfall in their funding.

‘Monitoring officers, together with section 151 officers and chief executives, are part of the golden triangle crucial for protecting councils and the essential public services they deliver, and their role has never been more important.’

LLG president Rachel McKoy said: ‘We need the Government to take note, and create the legislative provision required; but we also need the sector to take note, to embrace the cultural change required.

‘In a time of great instability in local government, we need to give the role of monitoring officer the respect it truly deserves.’

Image Pontypridd Town Hall 2006 before refurbishment

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