The Committee on Standards in Public Life have just published their report to Government on “Local Government Ethical Standards”
The key points from the report are summarised in the following bullets: -
- majority of councillors and officers maintain high standards of conduct
- clear evidence of misconduct by some councillors
- evidence of persistent or repeated misconduct by a minority of councillors
- many codes of conduct fail to address adequately social media use, bullying and harassment
- an updated model code of conduct should therefore be available to local authorities
- Parish Councils should be required to adopt the code of their principal authority (or the new model code)
- a principal authority’s decision on sanctions for a parish councillor should be binding
- a local authority should maintain a standards committee
- independent members of decision-making standards committees should be able to vote
- the current lack of robust sanctions damages public confidence
- local authorities should be given the power to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months
- local authority should only be able to suspend a councillor where the Independent Person agrees both that there has been a breach and that suspension is a proportionate sanction.
- the view of the Independent Person in relation to a decision on which they are consulted should be published in any formal decision notice.
- Councillors, including parish councillors, who are suspended should be given the right to appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman
- the decision of the Ombudsman should be binding.
- current requirements for registering interests should be updated to include categories of non-pecuniary interests
- current rules on declaring and managing interests should be repealed and replaced with an objective test
- current criminal offences relating to Disclosable Pecuniary Interests are disproportionate in principle and ineffective in practice, and should be abolished.
NALC, which supports the bulk of the report, however has issued a plea to the Government to address the report’s failure to recommend and promote more councillor training and development. NALC has been pressing for greater encouragement and support for induction and regular refresher training for local councillors on standards, coupled with new investment in a national training programme. NALC looks forward to further dialogue and engagement with the Committee and the government over taking forward the report’s recommendations.