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At long last the DTLR has announced it will shortly be consulting on a code of conduct for council staff, which, on...
At long last the DTLR has announced it will shortly be consulting on a code of conduct for council staff, which, once approved, will be included in their terms and conditions of employment.

The code, which is issued as part of the ethical framework set up by the Local Government Act 2000, will not apply to firefighters or teachers, who have their own codes already. It is expected to come into force next spring.

A code of conduct for staff in Welsh councils has already been approved. It is assumed the code for England will be broadly similar to the Welsh version. If this is the case, it will contain a number of principles with which staff will be expected to comply. Any breach of the code will be regarded as a breach of discipline.

The key points of the Welsh version of the code say staff should act with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity; be accountable to the whole council; be politically neutral; comply with equality policies; avoid conflict between personal life and public duty; whistleblow where appropriate; and preserve the confidentiality of information where this is necessary.

The Welsh code contains a statement, which is reflected in the code for councillors, that mutual respect between staff and councillors is essential for good local government, and working relationships should be kept on a professional basis. Given some of the recent high-profile cases involving breakdowns of confidence in relationships between councillors and senior officers, this provision is to be welcomed.

Although this will be the first time most local government staff have been subject to a statutory code, there have long been provisions relating to official conduct in national conditions of service. For example, in 1994 the Local Government Association and the former Local Government Management Board issued a model code which many councils adopted or adapted for local use.

Existing arrangements will need to be looked at again in the light of the new law, and if a council wishes to adopt provisions additional to the statutory code, and give them contractual force, then the contracts of individual staff will need to be varied in the usual way.

Tim Rothwell

Managing director, GWT Rothwell

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