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Review of ethical standards launched to 'safeguard democracy'

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A review of ethical standards in local government will enable the committee on standards in public life “to stay ahead of the curve” on local processes and safeguard local democracy, according to committee member Jane Martin, who is leading the review.

Today the committee announced it will examine “structures, processes and practices” for maintaining codes of conduct for councillors, as well as ensuring investigations are fair, enforcing codes of conduct, managing conflicts of interest, and whistleblowing.

The review will consider all levels of local government in England, including combined authorities and the Greater London Authority.

Ms Martin, a former local government ombudsman, told LGC that gathering new and extensive evidence of how councils are using their devolved powers over standards is key to understanding practices, as a review has not been carried out since the Standards Board for England was abolished in 2012.

She said: “We want to stay ahead of the curve and not behind it.

“We just don’t know at the moment how effective or not the landscape is, so hence organising a much more structured consultation in the first instance so we can get a much better evidenced-based picture of how things are working.”

Speaking to LGC following the publication of her high profile review into integration and opportunity last year, Dame Louise Casey said former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles “threw the baby out with the bathwater” when he abolished the Standards Board for England, leaving monitoring officers “emasculated”.

Ms Martin said the committee receives regular correspondence from people with concerns over local government standards.

A committee report in December last year on intimidation in public life found the requirement for candidates standing for election as councillors to publish their home addresses had been “a significant factor in enabling intimidatory behaviour”.

Ms Martin said the current review would examine this issue further, as the December report was required to focus on central government.

She added: “It is absolutely critical that corporately officers, councillors and the public have confidence that there are appropriate structures, processes and practices in place, so they know they can access them.

“As well as safeguarding local democracy, we want to support councillors in their role representing the public; we want to make sure at a local level there is a robust and fair political process underpinned by appropriate arrangements to ensure good ethical standards and that is important for public confidence.”

The consultation is open until 18 May. The committee is intending to publish its findings and recommendations late in 2018.

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