Within six months of the issue of this code every council is required to have adopted it - following advice from their standards committee. Which rather suggests there should be a standards committee by the middle of the year.
Indeed, the government expects each council in England and Wales - bar parishes - to establish such a committee in the next few months.
The role of the standards committee will be to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by officers and councillors, to monitor the operation of the members' code of conduct, to grant dispensations from the code and to arrange training. They may also discharge any other duties as the council may decide, such as taking an overview of the constitution or of handling complaints.
The committee must have at least three members. Though there is no maximum, the government believes small committees with seven or eight members, are most effective. At least 25% of the people sitting on the standards committee must be independent members, not councillors. No one can be an independent member if they are a friend or relative of a councillor or officer, if a reasonable person would consider that relationship could influence the independent member's judgment.
The independent members will be recruited by advertisements in local papers and formally appointed by a 75% majority of the council. If a council already has a standards committee with an independent member appointed in a different, but acceptable, way they will have two years to change their system.
The standards committee will consider complaints about the conduct of parish councillors and there must be at least one parish councillor from the council's area on the committee. If the county is two tier, the district council's standards committees will have the task of considering conduct issues arising from parish business.
Only one executive member can be on the committee and they cannot chair it. An elected mayor or cabinet leader cannot be on the committee at all. The committee will not be quorate without its independent member and at least two councillors. If a parish councillor is required on the committee, that councillor must be present.
The Access to Information Act 1985 will apply to the proceedings of the committee so it will be open to the public unless a confidential or exempt item of business is under discussion.
All this is still open for consultation and the local government legislation division of the DETR will welcome comments until 9 March 2001.
-Riddell Graham, head of legal and property services, Crewe & Nantwich BC.