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INVESTIGATORS MUST ANSWER TO BOARD

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ALACE demands Standards Board reform...
ALACE demands Standards Board reform

By Mark Smulian

Chief executives are to press for controls over ethical and financial investigators.

In evidence for the forthcoming local government white paper, the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives will urge that district auditors and Standards Board for England ethical standards officers should become accountable for their conduct.

Both enjoy operational independence, so senior managers are powerless to terminate any investigation they consider misguided.

ALACE secretary Alastair Robertson said: 'They should be responsible to their managers the same as any other specialist officer is. Everyone has to be accountable.'

The Standards Board, which probes alleged breaches of the councillors' code of conduct, has considered the case for limiting their officers' independence at a meeting called to consider the Islington fiasco.

Five Islington LBC councillors were cleared by the Adjudication Panel for England of all charges that they improperly appointed chief executive Helen Bailey in 2002 (LGC, 12 January).

The board took more than three years to bring the case before the panel, and legal costs exceed£1m.

In its findings, the panel criticised standards officer Nick Marcar's handling of the case.

It said his interviews 'strike the tribunal as being directed to obtaining evidence to support conclusions which the ESO had already reached, rather than being investigatory in nature'.

Last week board chair Sir Anthony Holland said he was 'deeply concerned' by the panel's criticisms. 'We are examining those reservations very carefully and will determine what lessons need to be learnt and what actions need to be taken,' he said.

'That includes considering the legal framework within which investigations are conducted and the independence afforded to ethical standards officers.'

Any such change would need legislation. The board will publish its view on the case's repercussions next month.

It has given its first hint of apologising for the handling of the Islington affair, expressing 'regret' that it was not completed quicker.

The board also said it now makes evidence and documents available to witnesses and those under investigation in advance of interviews.

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