The purpose of this paper is to set out IRS's findings and recommendations regarding the staffing of the office of the Commissioner for Standards.
The review considered the continuing need for additional secretarial support and the need for additional support for the Commissioner's investigative activities.
The review took into account the current and anticipated workload and the Commissioner for Standard's objectives and priorities. Discussions were held with:
The Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee
The current and previous Commissioners for Standards
The Registrar of Members' Interests
The Clerk of the Standards and Privileges Committee
The PA to the Commissioner
Figures produced by the Commissioner for the current Committee on Standards in Public Life review of the regulation of the standards of conduct in the House of Commons indicate a rising trend in the number of complaints dealt with to end December 2001. However activity levels have dropped in recent months. The Commissioner has completed consideration, initiated by his predecessor, of several complaints and is currently developing an investigation, which may lead to a report. While the Office continues to receive a number of allegations, all of which require attention, there are currently no further cases that require full investigation but this may change at short notice.
Assuming that the House approves the Ninth Report of the Standards and Privileges Committee on a new Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules, the office is about to begin work on a major exercise which will involve the production of a new Register of Members' Interests by the autumn.
The need for additional administrative support for the Office's day to day activities was recognised and agreed by the Director of Personnel Policy in the summer of 2000. Following the September 2000 IRS review of workload in the Commissioner's Office the funding for this post was extended to April 2002 pending a further review of workload in the Office.
In February 2002, following discussions with the previous Commissioner and her staff, the Review Manager wrote to the Director of Finance and Administration recommending that the funding should be diverted to provide for a full time post. As an interim measure the House Administration has contracted to employ directly the current agency post-holder until the end of November.
A recent letter from the Clerk of the Standards and Privileges Committee makes clear how some extra resource in the Commissioner's office could help avoid intolerable pressure during the very busy periods when the Committee Clerk is involved in the compilation of reports for the Committee.
We have concluded that the present level of secretarial and general administrative support will be required for the foreseeable future and that the desirable solution is a permanent post rather than the present agency secretarial help. The appropriate pay band for work of this nature would be Band D1. Since the House regularly recruits to these levels, a transfer of the resource to another area of need would be straightforward if the workload were to decrease. The full year cost of a new Pay Band D1 post based on the pay band average will be £17,606 plus ERNIC costs of approximately 8.5% plus superannuation.
The House has already agreed to employ directly the current agency post-holder until the end of November. Subject to the workload remaining at current levels, we recommend that the recruitment of a permanent Pay Band D1 post begin in time to enable the post to be filled from the beginning of December.
The review considered the support presently available to the Commissioner in conducting investigations into complaints. Some help is given by both the Registrar of Members' Interests and the PA in this respect but it is clear that the bulk of the work falls on the Commissioner. In a complex case, this can be both detailed and time-consuming. In the course of our previous review we concluded that the burden of a large investigative caseload led by necessity to a concentration on the minutiae of each case which left little time for a strategic or preventative focus.
From our discussions the present Commissioner and the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee have made it clear that they wish to develop a more strategic focus to help ensure that the system of self-regulation operates as effectively as possible. This means that the Commissioner should be freed from some of the day-to-day investigative detail to focus on such matters as:
the codification and, where possible, simplification of procedures
the development of the preventive and educational side of the work, including preparing appropriate guidance to Members, running seminars, etc
the development of agreed ground rules covering such matters as relations between the Commissioner's office and the media.
In addition, the inquiry into self-regulation by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is already generating some work in relation to the submission of evidence and may generate more once its recommendations are published. As indicated earlier the office is also likely to be particularly busy later this year if the House approves a revised Guide to the Rules governing Members' conduct.
Currently the caseload is at a low level, which should enable the Commissioner to undertake both the investigative and strategic aspects of the work within the time frame of his current contracted hours of three days per week. However, a new focus on education and prevention will be sustainable only if there is appropriate support on the investigative work.
We therefore recommend the appointment of an investigative support officer to take over the routine conduct of investigations, under the overall supervision and guidance of the Commissioner. The main functions of this post would include:
the initial assessment of complaints received in the office, involving a recommendation to the Commissioner on whether or not they fall within the remit of the office and require investigation
the conduct, under the Commissioner's oversight, of a preliminary enquiry into any complaints within the Commissioner's remit. This would include: analysis of the complaint; correspondence with the Member concerned about it; preliminary evaluation of the Member's response; and advice to the Commissioner on whether a full inquiry is merited
assistance to the Commissioner in cases where a full investigation is required, including in relation to correspondence and interviews with the Member and with third parties; telephone enquiries; analysis and tabulation of documentary and other evidence; discussion of key issues with the Commissioner; and assistance in the preparation of a report;
other assistance, e.g., in helping prepare reports on procedural matters, as required.
The skills required would include:
the ability to analyse complex cases, including identifying key issues which need pursuing
application and care in following up lines of enquiry
awareness of procedural proprieties (fairness, etc)
sensitivity and patience in dealing with complainants, Members and others
trustworthiness, integrity, objectivity and presence
ability to summarise accurately, clearly and concisely the results of inquiries made
judgement in weighing the outcome
competence in drafting (letters, memoranda, etc)
IT skills (word-processing, spread sheets, etc)
In assessing the grading of the post, the confidential nature of the work, the contact required with Members and with others (often in senior positions) outside Parliament, and the need for mature judgement and sensitivity in dealing with others would need to be borne in mind. The balance of work will also have a bearing: with a low investigative caseload the balance of the work will be general support for the development of the education and advisory systems, which would suggest that Band B1/SEO would be correct level. A higher caseload will require greater contact with discrete investigations and the application of skills usually found in posts within the House service at Pay Band A2. While we recognise that from time to time high level input will be required it is our view that the balance of the role will be appropriate for Pay Band B1.
A likely benefit of a greater emphasis on education and prevention could be, over time, a reduction in the number of cases requiring full investigation. With this in mind we recommend that the continuing need for support of this nature, together with a review of the level at which it is carried out, should be re-assessed by IRS after a period of one year.
The full year cost of a new Pay Band B1 post based on the pay band average would be £26,690 plus ERNIC costs of approximately 8.5%, plus superannuation.
The introduction of such a post would not free the Commissioner from close involvement in and responsibility for the conduct of investigations but would lessen some of the detailed day-to-day work. It would also enable the Registrar to concentrate on, and help the Commissioner with, the preventative, educational and advice side of the work. The Registrar would continue to assist the Commissioner in the interpretation and application of the Code and Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members, and to offer drafting support in the production of memoranda to the Standards and Privileges Committee.
The introduction of the proposed new post would have some impact on the work of the Commissioner's PA but this is likely to be modest and to the extent that any of her time was freed up for other purposes, it could usefully be devoted e.g., to the improvement of statistics and record keeping in the office.
We recommend that additional funding should be provided to recruit a Pay Band B1 investigative support officer. We further recommend that the continuing need for support of this nature together with a review of the level at which it is carried out should be re-assessed by IRS after a period of one year.
The recommendations in this report have been fully discussed with the Commissioner, and take account of his views. He agrees the recommendations.
We have found that, although the position should be kept under review, the current time commitment of the Commissioner of three days per week should be sufficient to meet his current and expected workload, provided that adequate support arrangements are in place. On support staff we recommend:
That the current office support post (Band D1) be made permanent;
That a new post of Investigative Support Officer (Band B1) be introduced;
That there should be a further, brief, review in 12 months' time to verify the resources used, and to check the grading of the Investigative Support Officer in the light of experience.
Review Manager, Internal Review Service