One of the more provocative items on the agenda for this week’s Cabinet meeting is a report (pdf) and strategy (pdf) to deal with what’s described as “vexatious complaints and unreasonable behaviour”.
Unreasonable behaviour is pretty much self-explanatory. A “vexatious complaint”, however, is a more polite way of calling an individual or group of individuals a pain in the arse.
Believe it or not, but until now BCBC didn’t have a policy to deal with this.
What types of behaviour would be covered by this?
The strategy lists types of behaviour towards council staff and councillors by Bridgend residents which might be considered unreasonable or vexatious including but not limited to:
- Threats of or actual violence.
- Abuse, unsubstantiated allegations, derogatory remarks (including racism, homophobia etc.) and inflammatory statements.
- Preventing councillors or council staff from carrying out their jobs and/or placing unrealistic expectations upon them.
- Excessive volumes of correspondence; continuing to pursue complaints after all avenues have been exhausted, including persistent complaints to the Public Services Ombudsman or trying to raise the same issue with different members of staff or councillors.
- Focusing on “trivial” matters in an out-of-proportion manner (though the strategy does say this will need to be carefully judged).
What will the council do?
Some instances would obviously require police involvement (i.e. violence or threats). The strategy also says abusive and offensive posts will be removed from BCBC’s social media pages, while the council reserves a right to consider further action if derogatory remarks are made about officers.
.… though councils are not allowed to undertake or indemnify officers to start libel claims (except the Democratic People’s Republic of Carmarthenshire).
However, in most cases, the first steps will be informal and confined to discussions with managers etc.
If it’s serious enough to warrant further action then a decision on whether to count someone’s behaviour as unreasonable or vexatious would be taken by the Monitoring Officer (BCBC’s senior legal adviser/officer), who could decide to:
- Limit a person’s contact with the council, councillor or individual officer.
- Tell a person that they have nothing more to add to a complaint, no further response would be given and direct them to the Public Services Ombudsman.
- Limit how a person may contact the council – though the council can’t deny someone or their family a service they’re legally entitled to use.
- Start formal legal action.
Decisions would be recorded and reviewed every 6 months.