The new complaints process – our first year

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When the Lib Dems’ new members’ complaints procedure went live on 1 July 2019, we committed to an independent, fair, member-led process. The Federal Board agreed to review how the system was working at the end of its first year and I’m pleased and proud to say that the first steps in that review has identified some clear positives.

The system is independent. The Federal Board has no role in – or knowledge of – individual complaints. Instead, the Senior Adjudicators’ Team (SAT) leads and advises our volunteers. This team of four specialists, lead by our Lead Adjudicator, Neil Christian, reflects the federal nature of our party and it means there are up to three people from outside the state party of the complaint to provide impartial advice to our volunteers.

It is well-staffed: since our volunteer call last year we’ve trained over 100 volunteers to act as adjudicators, mediators and investigators. That’s well in excess of the 55 volunteers Conference originally agreed we needed, and we are working to train more.

The rules are much more transparent and flexible than they have been in the past. We have spoken to members and party bodies across all the state parties since last July to ensure it works – and to make amendments where it doesn’t. These changes are drafted by the Disciplinary Sub-Group and agreed by Federal Board as needed. The procedure is published on the party website and we welcome input from all members on how we can improve it.

We are also working to make the guidance easy to follow. The guidance always said that complaints should be anonymous unless and until identifying the complainant is required to take forward the complaint (and then it can go ahead only with the complainant’s consent). However, this wasn’t clear to members so we added a box to the complaints form so complainants who are concerned about anonymity can be sure it will apply in their case.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, this system is addressing your complaints.  94 have been through the system completely, with more decisions being made each week.

However, the first steps of our review have also identified two serious problems, which the Federal Board’s Disciplinary Sub-Group are already dealing with:

  1. A changeover in personnel in HQ just before the general election meant that a few complaints made in a short period in September 2019 slipped through the net. This cannot be allowed to happen again. We have put in place contingency plans and we believe we have now identified all such complaints and we are contacting all the members involved. If you think you should have been contacted about a complaint from this period but you haven’t been, please contact our new Standards Officer, Eve Giles, at [email protected].
  2. A lack of standard communications meant parties to complaints received inconsistent or unclear communications, or even no communication at all, about the next steps of their complaint. Again, this cannot be allowed to continue. The Disciplinary Sub-Group and the Senior Adjudicators’ Team have been working hard with the relevant teams in HQ to draft standard comms and ensure updates on complaints are clear, consistent and regular. By the 2 June 2020 the Standards Officer should have contacted all complainants and respondents with both active and closed complaints in the system to ensure they know what stage their complaint has reached. If you are a party to a complaint and you haven’t heard from her by 3 June 2020, please email [email protected].

These are serious issues, and trust in the system is key. If you feel you have been unfairly affected by these issues please contact the Party’s Pastoral Care Officer, Amanda Curtin, at [email protected].

If you have comments, questions or suggestions about the rules, guidance or training or you want to comment as part of our review you can contact the Disciplinary Sub-Group at [email protected] by 1 July 2020.

* Alice Thomas is a member of the Federal Board and leads the FB Disciplinary Sub-Group. She is a solicitor based in Southwark who joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since.

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23 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 28th May '20 - 3:30pm

    The Liberal Democrats are at 6% to 9% in recent opinion polls. Have we got our priorities right?

  • I’m a huge fan of the new system, really glad it was brought in – but not a fan of how it is working. So many complaints go in, you hear nothing, you e-mail in to standards, you hear nothing back, you e-mail in to standards and the party president, you hear nothing back.

    I’m sorry to say, it’s faith you (the complaints system) have to earn back – you don’t get it as a given anymore.

  • Paul Barker 28th May '20 - 5:42pm

    Its great to see this happening & I would like to express my thanks to all involved.
    Way back in the last Century I was on the The Green Party,s Mediation Commitee & it was a thankless task. The Theory was that Mediation would be the 1st stage but that hardly ever happened, by the Time we were called it it was usually far too late for Mediation to work.

  • Alice Thomas 28th May '20 - 7:41pm

    @Peter – thank you so much for volunteering! You were one of 448 people who did, and we uncovered a great deal of untapped talent in the party – from judges to professional mediators to former police investigators. We have been training people in batches of 10-20 at a time and we are currently over the requirements so although I’m sure we would benefit from your expertise it may take a while to get to you – in the meantime thank you for your patience.

    @Dan – I’m sorry to hear you’ve had issues with communication – we know this is an issue and we are working on it now. If you don’t receive an update from the Standards Officer by next week (3rd June) please email her directly one more time and also let me know at the DSG email so I can follow up.

  • Tony Greaves 28th May '20 - 8:44pm

    In order to increase our diversity we need a better functioning complaints system? I despair.
    I wonder who the 100 trained people are, not including those who have been “Black-balled”, and what the opportunity cost is of setting up such a system involving such a large number of people?
    As for the system not working, it’s the nature of the system and the complex nature of it, that means it will not work in an effective manner. In my humble opinion.

  • Mark Blackburn 28th May '20 - 9:41pm

    To those who question prioritising this: I have seen far too much young potential in the party be discouraged by sexist, ageist and/or inappropriate sexual behaviour so I welcome the party taking this seriously. Not only is it a moral imperative, it will benefit the party in terms of retention of talent.

  • Alice Thomas 29th May '20 - 7:57am

    @John – the detail of how confidentiality, anonymity and cross examination work are all explained in detail in the guidance. As this is linked in the article I think it’s best to point you to that rather than try to repeat it all here. If you have further questions once you’ve read through please do contact the DSG.

  • Alex Hegenbarth 29th May '20 - 9:27am

    @Tony Greaves

    “ In order to increase our diversity we need a better functioning complaints system? I despair.”

    What do you despair about? That the new systems helps increase and improve support for people?

  • Gwyn Williams 29th May '20 - 11:00am

    Following on for @Peter Black’s comment. Who are the members of this panel? How are they appointed? What was the vetting process?

  • Alice, thanks. I will follow the link.

  • Alice Thomas 29th May '20 - 11:38am

    @Gwyn – I assume you’re talking about the individual complaints panels? These are made up of adjudicators who are party members who volunteered for this process in response to an open call last year (the 448 volunteers I referred to in my response to Peter above). Most have relevant professional experience and then the DSG is responsible for training them in our system specifically. A specific Complaints Panel consists of 3 Adjudicators
    appointed by the Lead Adjudicator by random allocation, in a manner
    independent from interference by executive bodies (see paragraph 5.2.3 of the guidance linked to above).

  • Thank you for your work on what is often a thankless task.

  • Gwyn Williams 29th May '20 - 7:53pm

    @ Alice Thomas, I wish to echo @Andrew T’s comment about the thankless task. I did not make myself clear I was hoping to know who are the members of the Disciplinary Sub-group and how does the Federal Board appoint them.

  • Alice Thomas 30th May '20 - 10:19pm

    @Gwyn – the DSG is made up of federal board members and state party reps. There was an application process internally which kicked off at our first federal board meeting this year and the board reviewed and appointed people based on their relevant expertise.

  • Gwyn Williams 31st May '20 - 8:40pm

    I am sorry to have to keep at this but what are the names of the members of the Disciplinary sub-group? I cannot find their names anywhere. I do not believe that there is any need to keep the names of the members of the sub-group secret.

  • Alice Thomas 1st Jun '20 - 2:14pm

    Hi @Gwyn – sorry I had thought that was clear from my previous comment – our details can be found in the minutes of the FB meeting. I’m not going to put all the names here for data protection reasons but all members should be able to access them on the members’ section for the party website.

  • Celia Osbourne 4th Jun '20 - 6:59pm

    The intentions and ambitious timescales are brilliant. However, my very recent experience is that correspondence to the e mail address:
    standards [email protected] is not read and therefore and no answers are sent out.
    Unless this basic level of communication works, the whole process will remain a shambles.

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