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OPINION - STANDARDS BOARD SHOULD APOLOGISE

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The board finally appears to be confronting its errors...
The board finally appears to be confronting its errors

Is the Standards Board groping its way to an apology over the Islington LBC inquiry fiasco?

In January, the Adjudication Panel threw out allegations, which the board had taken over three years to investigate, that Liberal Democrat councillors had improperly appointed former party activist Helen Bailey as chief executive (LGC, 12 January).

Five weeks after the board's widely derided attempt to counterattack by misrepresenting the panel's findings, there are signs of a welcome change of tack.

In place of its earlier bluster, the board now says it is 'deeply concerned by the serious reservations expressed about the investigation process', and promises a full response next month.

A key issue the board is increasingly willing to address is removing the operational independence of its ethical standards officers to ensure managers can prevent them from pursuing pointless lines of inquiry. Police are subject to line management, but board investigators and district auditors can run investigations more or less as they please. The board must press for primary legislation to change this - and ministers should take the opportunity to apply the same rules to auditors.

This would prevent future investigations being dragged out for years and reduce the chances of investigators losing their objectivity.

The board's investigator had little understanding of how local government worked. This contributed to the time taken to investigate the allegations.

The board's response needs to address this deficiency.

It needs to regain the trust of council officers by apologising to Helen Bailey for its treatment of her. It must also address reimbursing legal costs for officers - and councillors who are cleared. The members also deserve an apology for the time taken.

Six years into the 21st century the board might also like to enforce a strict equalities code for its investigators. Helen Bailey was driven to telling LGC the questioning she endured amounted to misogyny. No doubt that will form part of the board's apology to her.

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