That was the message from Scottish devolution minister Henry McLeish when he announced the government's response to the consultation paper 'A new ethical framework for Local Government in Scotland.'
Work has begun on drafting the Bill, which contains proposals for a new National Standards Commission. The Bill will ensure that councillors meet the highest standards of conduct and that any allegations of misconduct are investigated in a fair and impartial way.
Mr McLeish, speaking in Edinburgh, said:
'The Bill will make it a legal requirement for all councillors to follow a new national Code of Conduct. Councillors will have to register their interests and withdraw from meetings where those interests might conflict with their council duties. The Code will also set out a requirement for councillors to act in an ethical way in relation to a broad range of principles including propriety, honesty, objectivity, openness, accountability and integrity.
'The Bill will establish a new national body a National Standards Commission- to investigate the most serious allegations of misconduct in an independent and apolitical way. The Commission will have powers to impose various sanctions including suspension or disqualification from office for a fixed period. In addition, each council will have to set up a Standards Committee, which will investigate complaints where all parties agree it should be looked at locally.
'We will be working in close consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Local Government Ombudsman and the Accounts Commission to make sure that we get the details of the Bill right. We are determined to produce workable legislation that has wide support and which once and for all stamps out conduct that tarnishes the image of local councils. This is all part of our drive to create modernised local government delivering the services people need'.
1. In April this year, the Government produced a consultation paper 'A New Ethical Framework for Local Government in Scotland'. This was produced in response to the Nolan Committee recommendations and asked for views on a range of proposals aimed at ensuring that councillors adopt the highest standards of conduct.
2. The responses to that consultation have now been analysed. Drawing on these, the Government will be drafting a Bill, which will be presented to the Scottish Parliament. There will be a new Code of Conduct, building on the principles identified by Nolan as important. In addition, a new body (a National Standards Commission) will be created to provide a strong element of independent external investigation of misconduct and each council will have to establish its own Standards Committee to deal with lesser breaches of the Code. The Standards Commission will have a range of sanctions to impose if it finds evidence of misconduct. Sanctions are likely to include public censure at one end of the scale to disqualification from office for a number of years at the other.
The Government will be working in close consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Local Government Ombudsman and the Accounts Commission as it develops its proposals further.