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The Local Authority (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 are due to come into force on 11 May 2015, and introduce significant changes regarding the dismissal of the statutory officers of local authorities.
Currently local authorities are required to appoint a designated independent person ("DIP") to investigate allegations of misconduct before disciplinary action can be taken against the head of paid service, the monitoring officer or the chief financial officer. The DIP must be agreed with the officer subject to disciplinary proceedings prior to their appointment.
The Regulations remove the requirement for a DIP to be appointed, and instead establish a new procedure for dismissal hearings. This new process requires authorities to appoint a minimum of two 'Independent Persons' to a committee appointed by the authority for the purposes of advising on matters relating to the dismissal of relevant officers, referred to in the legislation as the 'Panel'.
The Independent Persons appointed by the relevant council will ideally be local government electors, but where this is not possible any other independent person appointed by the authority or another local authority will be considered suitable.
Before dismissing an officer, the authority must take into account the views of the Panel and the outcome of any relevant investigation into the intended dismissal, along with the representations of the officer.
This new procedure aims to address concerns that the current DIP process puts employers at a significant disadvantage, given that the recommendation of the DIP must be followed. However, there are now concerns that the new Regulations swing too far the other way. Whilst the requirement that the dismissal of a statutory office must be approved at a full council meeting provides some protection to the employee, the Regulations do not provide any guidance as to where the Panel, whose advice the authority must consider, is to take its own advice from and do not provide the officer subject to proceedings the right to make representations to the Panel. Additionally, whilst the DIP procedure provided protection in relation to all disciplinary processes the new Independent Person process only applies where a dismissal is proposed, thereby removing any protection for statutory officers in relation to disciplinary action short of dismissal.
Less controversially, in response to concerns that the DIP procedure was too expensive the Regulations also limit the level of remuneration that may be paid to Independent Persons.
Local authorities have until the first ordinary meeting after 11 May 2015 to update their standing orders to incorporate the new provisions of the Regulations. The current rules will continue to apply in respect of any action taken before the Regulations come into force.