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FRONT LINE FIRST-LAW

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For those Monitoring officers appointed to their positions on 28 July, recent guidance issued by the Association of...
For those Monitoring officers appointed to their positions on 28 July, recent guidance issued by the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors will be an essential read.

The guidance summarises the background to the changes which led to a new role for monitoring officers emerging as a result of The Local Government Act 2000. The position is substantially enhanced both in terms of supporting the standards committee and maintaining levels of conduct and probity.

The guidance highlights the need for monitoring officers to assist members with advice on the code of conduct, registration of interests, vires issues and key decisions. It specifies they should advise whether they are a departure from the policy framework, and help to resolve conflict issues informally before a complaint is made to the standards board.

A key role of the monitoring officer will be promoting high standards of conduct through work with the standards committee. This will require close liaison with the standards board.

The guidance recognises monitoring officers need to be suitably experienced and says it would be surprising if early guidance did not emphasise the desirability of a legal qualification and substantial experience in constitutional issues.

The establishment of the post at chief officer level represents best practice, but is not a statutory requirement. The monitoring officer

will need to be involved in decision-making and formulation at the highest level.

Close working relationships between the three statutory officers - the head of paid service, chief financial officer and monitoring officer - will need to be established.

In order to undertake the role effectively, the role of monitoring officer will need to be properly resourced. Protocols to help the monitoring officer fulfil the role in a positive and constructive manner should then be introduced.

The guidance includes a draft protocol which might be adopted by councils and a summary of the key functions of the post.

The role has increased substantially, not only as a result of its pivotal position in the ethical framework, but also because the post will form the focal point for compliance with complex procedure rules under new constitutions.

Councils will need to recognise that new role and its contribution to the implementation of the modernising plan.

- Copies can be obtained from Norman Yates, executive officer, ACSeS on 01772 739073 or acsesny@cybase.co.uk

Kirsty Cole

Assistant chief executive, Newark & Sherwood DC and press officer, Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors

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