The majority of Town and Parish councils, according to a new report, support the proposal for a standardised, compulsory code of conduct for councillors.
The current system requires each local council to provide their own code of conduct for their elected members. Although most authorities have adopted a recommended model form e.g. MHCLG or the LGA, the tendency is to make a range of local changes. Recent research into the enforceability and applicability of theses codes identified that of those asked, i.e. mainly Town and Parish councils:
90% of the councils agreed that they would support the introduction of a standardised code of conduct.
70% wanted to have a broader range of sanctions for breach at their disposal.
60% felt that the current sanctions were not strong enough to prevent/deter breaches or reflect the seriousness of the breach.
40% of councils had not provided their members with any training and a further 20% reported that the majority of their members were unclear about the rules and regulations regarding declaring interests-even though failing to disclose pecuniary interests may constitute a criminal offence.
The chair of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), Cllr Sue Baxter, commenting on the research findings stated that, she, on behalf of the NALC, “does not believe the current ethical standards arrangements are working as well as they could” and went on to suggest possible remedies stating that they would, “like to see stronger sanctions available to local councils, including the power of suspension and disqualification’.
Following the review, the NALC are asking the Government to invest £2m into training all new councillors so that they are fully aware of the ethical standards and the code of conduct before they begin.
A separate review, carried out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, is being undertaken and their findings are due to be presented to the Prime Minister by the end of the year.