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CLEAR STANDARDS SET FOR COUNCILLORS' PROPRIETY

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New rules that all councillors are now required to observe while ...
New rules that all councillors are now required to observe while

carrying out their duties will ensure that the highest professional

standards are met by those who run our councils and lead our

communities. That was local government minister Alan Whitehead's

message to delegates at a major local government conference today.

The code of conduct - the final piece in the government's new ethical

framework for local government - came into force this month. Under

this all councillors must:

- Promote equality, treat councillors with respect, and must not

bring their council into disrepute

- Record any personal interest, and gifts or hospitality they

receive in their capacity as a councillor

- Declare personal interests before participating in council

business

- Set the circumstances in which councillors should not take part in

council business because of conflicts in interests

Nearly 4,000 councils - including over 3,500 parish councils - have

notified the Standards Board that they have now adopted the new

codes. A further number have signed up, but have not yet formally

notified the Standards Board.

Dr Whitehead said:

'The government wants to see the highest standards of conduct within

local government. The three key elements of the framework - the codes

of conduct, standards committees and the Standards Board are now

fully operational.

'Members of all relevant authorities are now bound by the provisions

of the code and complaints about breaches can now be made to the

Standards Board.

'The new codes provide reassurance for local people that their

councillors must observe the highest standards of conduct. This will

help to promote trust in councillors and confidence in the democratic

system and make the conduct expected by councillors quite clear.

'There has been a good deal of misunderstanding and misinformation

around the introduction of the codes. It is not true, for example,

that councillors must declare any Christmas presents or gifts

received in a private capacity. Nor must a councillor register his or

her spouse's shareholdings.

'The codes introduce a more common-sense approach to declaring

interests, which will allow councils to make better use of the

expertise and special interests of members. There are clear

guidelines covering the sort of prejudicial interests that should

debar councillors from taking part in decisions.

'I think it is absolutely right to expect parish councils to adopt a

register of interests. This is totally in line with the Nolan

Committee's recommendation. The majority of parish councils - and

their associations - actively support this change.

'The government fully appreciates that parish councillors are

especially in touch with grass roots democracy. They also have wide

discretionary powers and some parishes have the ability to raise a

precept on their electors, and some have budgets of up to£1m

a year.

'It is only right, therefore, that they are, and should be,

accountable to the local people of thearea, who have the right to

expect the same standards of conduct from their local parish

councillors as they expect from other elected representatives.

'I know that some councillors - especially parish councillors - have

looked at the new codes and felt unable to sign up. In the great

majority of cases, though, councillors have recognised the importance

of what we are trying to achieve, and considered that the

administrative effort and openness required is a price worth paying.

Nearly 4,000 councils across the country have notified us that they

have adopted the codes, and I am confident that the vast majority of

councils will in due course sign up. I very much hope that those

councillors who have hesitated will look at what their colleagues are

doing and will feel able to give their assent.'

At the conference Alan Whitehead also launched a consultation on the

procedures for local investigation of misconduct cases.

'We are proposing that the Standards Board for England should have

the central role in investigating major allegations, and in deciding

which cases should be handled locally. We feel that these

recommendations will give reassurance to local people and a clear,

sensible and fair process for local councillors.'

NOTES

1. The Conference 'Confidence in local democracy' has been organised

by the Standards Board for England. It is intended to be an annual

event aimed at monitoring officers and standards committee members.

2. Alan Whitehead announced the publication of a consultation

exercise on the local determination of cases in response to a written

Parliamentary Question. The full text of the PQ

is as follows:

'I intend to publish very shortly a consultation paper with a

proposed framework for handling at local level allegations of

breaches of the Code of Conduct. The framework will help to promote

high standards of conduct among local councillors, and will provide

sensible and efficient procedures for resolving any allegations of

misconduct.'

Copies of the consultation paper are available here .

Closing date for consultation

is 1 July 2002.

3. New Ethical framework - Key facts

Part III of the Local Government Act 2000 introduces a new ethical

framework for local government:

Section 49 of this Act provides the secretary of state with powers to

lay an order before Parliament specifying general principles of

conduct for members and co-opted members of relevant authorities,

such as parish councils, park authorities and police authorities. A

Statutory Instrument (SI no 2001/1401) setting out those principles

came into force on 6 April.

Section 50 provides the secretary of state with powers to issue model

codes of conduct for members and co-opted members of relevant

authorities in England (and Welsh police authorities). Four national

model codes were laid in parliament on 6 November 2001.

Councils will have lead responsibility for their own standards of

conduct. Section 53 of the Act requires them to establish standards

committees to maintain standards within the council.

Section 57 of the Act makes provision for a new independent body, the

Standards Board for England who will investigate allegations of

breaches of the codes.

Under section 52 of the Act, all serving councillors should provide a

written undertaking to observe the code within 2 months of it being

adopted by their council otherwise they will cease to be councillors.

New councillors are required, on accepting office, to undertake that

they will observe their authorities' code.

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