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Government committee plans review of council standards

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The Committee on Standards in Public Life is to look into standards in local government in a report due for publication next year.

In its forward plan for 2017-18 the committee, which was established in 1994 to advise the prime minister, said it regularly receives correspondence from members of the public expressing concern on this issue and added it had been researching the topic during the past year.

Last week LGC reported that 60% of council legal staff were concerned they did not have enough powers to deal with serious councillor misconduct following the abolition of the Standards Board in 2012.

Last year Dame Louise Casey, then director-general of the Casey Review at the Department for Communities & Local Government, claimed the abolition of the board had “emasculated” monitoring officers.

A horizon scanning event, held by the committee under the Chatham House Rule on Monday, also heard concerns about the effectiveness of scrutiny in local government, weaknesses in council codes of conduct for elected members and systems for managing potential conflicts of interest in major developments.

Speaking to LGC after the event, Jonathan Goolden, partner at Wilkin Chapman solicitors, said the committee needed to take a fresh look at the rules on disqualification of councillors and conduct a “sensible review” of the sanctions available to local authorities following the abolition of the Standards Board.

He also felt they should examine the surprisingly restrictive definition of what pecuniary interests had to be declared by councillors and take a closer look at governance issues in some town and parish councils.

The committee, which is chaired by Lord Bew and whose members include former Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin, is due to launch a consultation in early 2018 to inform the review.

It also plans to publish research into ethical standards for providers of public services, assess the impact of social media on public life, and keep a watching brief on issues surrounding conflicts of interest and good governance in academies. 

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