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Ministers rethink standards concession

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Ministers have rowed back on a recent concession over the new standards regime.

Local government minister Bob Neill has warned that any independent members from the “old discredited regime” can only remain in post for 12 months in order to ensure there is “a wholly fresh start”.

Lobbying by monitoring officers and others led ministers to allow independent appointees from the old standards committees to become an independent adviser, after initially indicating there should be no cross-over, but the government has now decided this transitional arrangement must end by April 2013.

In a letter sent to all council leaders last week, Mr Neill said councils “now have the opportunity to make a clean break from the bureaucratic standards arrangement of the old regime which so often led to petty or politically motivated complaints…It will be important that all can clearly see your new arrangements are not some modified continuation of the old discredited regime, but rather a fresh start”.

Mr Neill said the government had adjusted its policy following representations from the sector, and despite “fundamental differences” between the new and old independent roles, but was now minded to limit the transitional arrangements to 12 months.

“Given the importance that the new arrangements are, and are clearly perceived to be a wholly fresh start we are minded to make further provision so that any former member of a standards committee appointed under the transitional arrangements as an independent person can hold that office only until 30 June 2013.”

Tony Kilner, policy and development officer for the Association of Council Secretaries & Solicitors which lobbied ministers for a rethink, said the late change was a surprise.

“It seems odd that ministers did not apparently consider the term of appointment of former independent members as independent persons, when considering the transitional arrangements”, he said.

Independent members would not find it difficult to grasp the changed role under the new system, he said, but “it will be difficult to replace the depth of knowledge and understanding of local government that independent members have developed”.

Mr Kilner added: “The Localism Act does not, incidentally, appear to prevent the appointment as independent person of a person who was an independent member of another authority.”

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