All holders of public office should take a new oath of adherence to British values as too many councillors have been willing to “turn a blind eye” to behaviour that exacerbates inequality, according to Dame Louise Casey.
In a report published today, Dame Louise says she found evidence that local political leaders have allowed the development of “separatism and segregation” through fear of being accused of being racist or losing support from some voters.
She said some although issues could be perceived as “trivial” or “ridiculous cases of officialdom being overly political correct”, they can lead to “harmful neglect” or the “legitimatisation of very serious issues”.
The review cites an example of support and funding by a council in a northern town for two religious leaders – one Christian and one Muslim – who promoted views including the denial that so-called Islamic State was a terrorist organisation.
The review concludes that current processes for formal intervention were not sophisticated enough to deal with these problems, with “little recourse” to address damaging or divisive behaviour by councillors.
It says there is currently no external monitoring of compliance with local authorities’ self-produced codes of conduct and no checks on the status of the required ‘independent person’ involved in creating the code and settling disputes.
Dame Louise said processes for registering complaints were “far from robust”, with no obligation on the council to accept the findings of the local government ombudsman following a complaint.
She added that while political parties can apply pressure on councillors to step down, they do not have the power to force a resignation from the council.
The review also found there were “very few” circumstances in which a councillor can be removed from their role.
One of the four cited is if they are sentenced to a prison sentence of three months or more.
It adds that the requirement for the sentence to be custodial is under review following the case of Mick Buckley, a parish councillor in Saddleworth in Oldham. Cllr Buckley refused to resign despite being convicted of downloading indecent images of children and is permitted to stay in the role until the next election.
The review said interventions in councils by central government are rare and only happen in extreme circumstances.
While accepting such interventions were “a very public intrusion into local democracy”, Dame Louise said the rarity of intervention left “a void between what can feel like ineffective action locally on serious misconduct and exceptional intervention in cases of widespread and serious failure”, such as happened in Tower Hamlets LBC and Doncaster and Rotherham MBCs.
Dame Louise concludes: “We expect the highest standards in all civic leaders in selflessness and integrity, so too we should expect all in public office to uphold the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
“The government should work with the Committee for Standards in Public life to ensure these values are enshrined in the principles of public life, including a new oath for holders of public office.”