A long-running row over the future of the standards regime has been settled with officers and members finally agreeing to a single code of conduct for councils.
The LGA has sent out a final and single piece of guidance for local authorities following four months of negotiations between officers, members and other professional bodies.
As LGC was first to report more than a month ago, disagreement about the tone and wording of any guidance led a decision that the LGA should send out two alternative model codes for councils to choose to adopt following the abolition of the Standards Board and break up of the existing standards regime.
However, a further four weeks of deliberation between LGA officers, members and professional bodies including Solace and the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors has now resulted in a single code being produced. The final version includes the clarity of language of an earlier shorter draft as well as some of the detail of a longer and more prescriptive document.
Gary Porter, leader of the LGA’s Conservative group and an advocate of the earlier, shorter version, said: “Solace, ACSES and LGA officials have done a really good job at crafting technically what needed to be done politically.”
A particular bone of contention with the longer draft had been ‘do’ and ‘do not’ instructions for members which Cllr Porter felt suggested “all councillors are crooked or small children and can’t be trusted”.
Graeme McDonald, Solace director of policy and communications, said the final version solved the disagreement over tone. “Individual conduct was included [as Solace and others wanted], but in a way that members were comfortable with,” he said. “It is straightforward, clear and it is a single code so that should avoid confusion.”
The delivery of the model code to council leaders on Tuesday marked the culmination of a four month process which has been criticised for its length.
An initial meeting in January between LGA officers and a number of professional bodies was followed in February by a meeting of the LGA’s leadership board where members were split over two alternative versions and decided instead to send both to councils.
However, that decision was not acted on and a further two months discussion took place before a final version could be sent out this week.
One senior figure involved in the debate said: “It was frustrating that we could not have got there faster. I think the LGA probably went to members too quickly.”
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the LGA’s Liberal Democrat group, said: “We were going to put out two, but having made that decision the legal advice changed. That meant we needed to change our minds and changing our minds takes time.”
David Sparks, leader of the Labour group, said: “This has taken far too long to go from decision to implementation and we [the LGA] need to learn the lessons. When we have made a decision we need to act on it.”
But Cllr Porter said the delay had been worth it. “Getting the right document is worth waiting for,” he said.