Monitoring officers give lukewarm response to LGA Model Code of Conduct, unlikely to recommend implementation: LLG

Monitoring officers have given a lukewarm response to the Model Code of Conduct issued by the Local Government Association last month, LLG (Lawyers in Local Government) has said.

In a joint statement at the beginning of the Code, which was released on 23 December and can be viewed here, the LGA said the Code had been designed “to protect our democratic role, encourage good conduct and safeguard the public’s trust in local government”.

Quentin Baker 5 v2 146x219However, Quentin Baker (pictured), LLG President, said: “It’s early days, but the model code is receiving a lukewarm response, with a number of monitoring officers saying that they will not be looking to implement it in their local authorities, firstly on the grounds that it is not as robust as the code they currently have in force, and secondly, there are concerns over whether it clearly and correctly mirrors the law with respect to councillors acting in a private capacity. There is at present, no proposed extension for the role of the ombudsman.

"Standards are not something to be swept under the carpet. They are to be valued and upheld for the good of local government decision making. Monitoring officers, as the custodian of standards, know this only too well. Time and time again we hear from monitoring officers struggling to deliver changed behaviour in the absence of sanctions, of a broken system without teeth, of parishes struggling to function. We need something stronger. 

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Deborah Evans, CEO LLG, said: “In 2019 the Committee on Standards in Public Life produced their report on ethical standards in local government, demonstrating a crying need to raise standards, improve consistency, provide statutory protection for officers, and give local authority codes of conduct ‘teeth’ through the introduction of sanctions.

“Two years later, we still have no official response from the government with regards to statutory protection or sanctions and the LGA has agreed a model code of conduct which is silent on both sanctions and statutory protection.” 

In the joint statement the Association said: “The role of councillor across all tiers of local government is a vital part of our country’s system of democracy. It is important that as councillors we can be held accountable and all adopt the behaviors and responsibilities associated with the role. Our conduct as an individual councillor affects the reputation of all councillors. We want the role of councillor to be one that people aspire to. We also want individuals from a range of backgrounds and circumstances to be putting themselves forward to become councillors.

“As councillors, we represent local residents, work to develop better services and deliver local change. The public have high expectations of us and entrust us to represent our local area; taking decisions fairly, openly, and transparently. We have both an individual and collective responsibility to meet these expectations by maintaining high standards and demonstrating good conduct, and by challenging behaviour which falls below expectations.”

The joint statement adds: “Importantly, we should be able to undertake our role as a councillor without being intimidated, abused, bullied or threatened by anyone, including the general public.”

The Code of Conduct covers:

  • Joint statement
  • Introduction
  • Definitions
  • Purpose of the Code of Conduct
  • General principles of councillor conduct
  • Application of the Code of Conduct
  • Standards of councillor conduct
  • General Conduct: Respect; Bullying, harassment and discrimination; Impartiality of officers of the council; Confidentiality and access to information; Disrepute; Use of position; Use of local authority resources and facilities; Complying with the Code of Conduct; Protecting your reputation and the reputation of the local authority; Interests; Gifts and hospitality
  • Appendix A: The Seven Principles of Public Life
  • Appendix B: Registering Interests
  • Appendix C: the Committee on Standards in Public Life

In July 2020 the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL), Lord Evans, wrote to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, asking when it would receive a formal government response to its January 2019 report Local Government Ethical Standards.

In the letter Lord Evans said he had not received a reply to a letter he wrote in October 2019 to Luke Hall MP, then Minister for Local Government and Homelessness, asking when the committee might receive the government’s formal response.

Key recommendations in Local Government Ethical Standards included that local authorities be given the power to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months. The CSPL said the current sanctions available to local authorities were insufficient.

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