The local government minister said that work is progressing well towards establishing a new ethics code that will ensure the highest standards of conduct in Scottish councils.
A Bill is currently being drafted to implement the New Ethical Framework, which will be set before the Scottish Parliament. Among the details unveiled are proposals for a chief investigating officer, who will report to an independent panel over alleged breaches of the code.
Mr McLeish said:
'Councils will benefit from the increased trust this engenders. More importantly, local people will benefit from knowing that their council really is run to serve them and not the personal interests of those in local government.
'Under the framework, every local authority will be given a new duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by its members, and members of its committees, and to help them observe the new code. It will contain rules and principles, for example relating to the treatment of personal interests, that will apply to all councillors and committee members.
'A new independent Standards Commission will deal with alleged breaches of the code. This will give the public and members of local authorities confidence that every allegation will be dealt with thoroughly, fairly and consistently.
'It is proposed that a chief investigating officer will be appointed to probe alleged breaches of the code and report to the commission. The commission will convene a case panel to deal with each report.
At the conclusion of its hearing, the panel would determine whether a breach of the code had taken place and if so what penalty was appropriate. Three types of penalty would be available: censure; suspension from meetings of the authority and its committees for up to one year; and for the most serious cases, disqualification from being a member of an authority for up to five years.
'We have also developed a code of conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament that will help establish similarly high standards. We are
strengthening democracy in Scotland and we must ensure that people have confidence in their elected representatives.'
1. An expert group comprising COSLA, the Accounts Commission, the Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland and senior local government officers have advised on the development of the new framework.
2. In April 1998 the government produced a consultation paper A New Ethical Framework for Local Government in Scotland in response to the Nolan Committee recommendations (Third Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life: Standards of Conduct in England, Scotland and Wales). In December 1998 Henry McLeish announced the governments response to that consultation.