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LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEADS THE WAY IN PUBLIC STANDARDS, NOLAN TOLD

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The principles governing councillors' conduct should be applied to ministers and MPs, the local authority associati...
The principles governing councillors' conduct should be applied to ministers and MPs, the local authority associations said today.

In their evidence to the Nolan Committee, the LAAs say that ministers should be legally forbidden from taking up jobs related to their ministerial responsibilities for at least a year after leaving office. Such a restriction already applies to councillors who cannot become employees of the same council for at least one year after giving up their seat.

In addition, ministers should declare all gifts they receive. Apart from safeguarding the individual, this would avoid the embarrassment of offending a donor by refusing to accept a gift.

MPs could also improve their image considerably if they were subject to the same rules of disclosure as councillors. For example, all councillors are governed by a register of interests and failure to provide the information required is a criminal offence. It is also a criminal offence for councillors to play any part in a matter in which they have direct or indirect financial interests.

The associations say that the overall position in local government is one of openness and they support the same principle in relation to MPs and peers.

Turning their sights to the quangos, the LAAs point out that these non accountable bodies now spend more money than is given to local government in England and Wales in RSG. There are too many of them, too many appointees - over 42,000 - and any appointments made on a political basis should be few in number and clearly acknowledged as such.

Because appointees are not subject to the ultimate sanction of the ballot box, the LAAs say the standards expected of them should be even higher than of elected councillors.

'Transparency in the system of appointments demands the introduction of common standards across all quangos, with effective supervision of the standards and clear signposting for queries and complaints about the system', say the LAAs.

There should be a national code of practice for all appointed bodies and their financial and service performance should be subjected to the same scrutiny as local government.

The LAAs conclude their evidence: 'Openness and independent scrutiny are the two principles which should underlie the proposals of the committee, and only if both figure prominently will public confidence in standards of conduct in public life begin to be restored.'

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