Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee about the annual report for the year to 31 March 2014, and for giving me a little time to settle in to the post before doing so—that is appreciated.
I am accompanied by Mrs Helen Hayne, whose role as investigations manager includes responsibility for our case management system. In addition to being fully up to speed with our current cases, Helen offers a significant degree of continuity, having worked in the role for a number of years. She also has detailed knowledge of the internal aspects of our investigative processes. I hope that between us we will be able to answer any questions that you may have.
Anticipating that you would be as interested in what has happened since 31 March 2014 as in the details that are covered by the annual report, I have submitted updates to some of the tables—I believe that they have been circulated to members. The information has been supplied as at 18 March 2015, so it may be subject to revision before it is published in the next annual report in a few months’ time.
I will run through that information briefly. Table 2 shows the total number of complaints received, and gives a breakdown of the complaints against councillors and members of public bodies, as well as those that did not come within my jurisdiction to investigate. The figures have been somewhat distorted by a large number of related complaints that have been dealt with as a single case. It might be more helpful for comparative purposes to look at the final row in table 2, which shows the number of cases considered. There is a further breakdown of complaints in table 3, and members may well have questions on that.
Table 4 details the number of complaints that were received from members of the public, which is the vast bulk of complaints, and the number that were received from councillors. You will see that very much smaller numbers of complaints are received from officers of a local authority and MSPs and that, in a few cases, they are submitted anonymously.
I draw your attention to table 6, which gives comparative figures for the numbers of complaints that were progressed during the year. Because there was a spike—at least, I hope that it was a spike—in the number of complaints that were received during 2013-14, there were still 76 complaints outstanding at the end of that year.
I am pleased to report that, despite receiving a significant number of complaints in 2014-15 and, even allowing for the 524 that were dealt with as a single case, we appear to be heading towards a smaller number outstanding at the year end, although that figure will have to be adjusted to take account of what happened between 18 and 31 March. I have been very impressed by the steady and continuing effort of all the staff involved in progressing the cases over the course of the year.
Finally, table 7 lists the outcome in terms of my findings. As you know, my word is not final. All breach cases involving councillors or members of public bodies are reported to the Standards Commission for Scotland, which generally arranges a public hearing, at the end of which it may or may not agree that there has been a breach of the code. Because of the volume of complaints that were received in 2013-14 and 2014-15, there have been more public hearings than before. Eight were concluded in 2014-15, one of which involved two councillors, and one hearing has been continued until later this month.
That is a summary of the current state of play for the part of my work that falls within the remit of this committee. We are happy to take questions.