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Paper 10 - 28 January 2000 Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

28 November 1997

STANDARDS OF CONDUCT IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Paper from the Policy Officer

RECOMMENDATIONS

(1) That the response of the Association to the "Nolan" report be noted;

(2) That the Chief Executives' Group report further on the issues raised in this paper when the Government's response to Nolan is available; and

(3) That the future work of the Association in paragraphs 9 and 10 be noted.

THE "NOLAN" REPORT

1. The Nolan Committee has had a wide-ranging brief to look at ways further to enhance standards of conduct and ethics in public life. Initially it looked at issues around Government and Parliament. It went on to look at a range of quangos. Its third report focuses on local government.

2. The Hampshire Local Authorities (County and District Councils) set up a working party and made a joint submission to the Nolan Committee in 1996. They sought a radically new approach with:

an end to the "surcharge"

a new national code, supplemented by local codes

a new outside body to regulate the system

coverage of local government and parish/town councils.

3. The final report from Nolan is radical and has been widely welcomed by member authorities. It broadly recommends what the County and District Councils sought in their joint submission, but there are still some concerns.

4. In presenting the Committee's report to Parliament the Prime Minister said that the Committee's examination and analysis of the conduct of councillors and officers had confirmed the strength within Local Government. He made clear that the Government accepts that now is the time to make a new start on the ethical framework for Local Authorities.

5. The Government has stated its intention to work in partnership with Local Government and other interested bodies - consulting widely as proposals develop to establish such a framework for local authorities guaranteeing the highest standard of conduct. As a first step the Government invited comments on the report's specific recommendations. These had to be made no later than 31 October.

INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS' RESPONSES

6. Member authorities have commented in some depth on the extensive recommendations from Nolan. The Chief Executives' Group has established a "Nolan sub-group" to compare responses from member authorities, advise on the response from the Association, and develop the future work of the Association on this subject.

THE ASSOCIATION'S RESPONSE

7. The response of the Association (shown in the Annex) drew together the main common threads and particularly argued that parish and town councils should be covered by the new system.

FUTURE WORK OF THE ASSOCIATION ON NOLAN

8. There are some particular areas where the Association can "add value" when it comes to implementing the new ethical framework:

member and officer training

encouraging employers to release staff for local government service

linking the new ethical framework into related initiatives such as citizenship education

considering the proposed protocol for member/officer relations

assisting with local codes of conduct once the national model is agreed.

9. The particular point in the Association's response about parish and town councils will be followed up, possibly with a seminar on codes of conduct in local councils.

NICK GOULDER
Policy Officer

Date: 21 October 1997
Annex: 1
Contact: Nick Goulder - 023 8068 8431

ANNEX

STANDARDS OF CONDUCT IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Response to the Government by the Association on the report of the Nolan Committee

October 1997

This Association welcomes the Nolan Committee's Third Report on Standards in Public Life.

The seven principles of public life are in line with current practice. As the Hampshire authorities have already commented in their joint response to the original consultations, these seven principles will be adopted formally by member authorities.

The Association makes the following points on behalf of its member authorities:

(1) We welcome the proposals, which broadly follow the joint submission from the Hampshire authorities to the Nolan Committee.

(2) We re-iterate that the distinction drawn between pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests is unnecessarily confusing (recommendation 8). The joint submission to the Nolan Committee gave some examples and is enclosed for ease of reference.

(3) We support the abolition of the surcharge and the proposal for a new offence - Misuse of Public Office - which covers the whole of the public sector.

(4) We support the proposal for a Local Government Tribunal to act as an independent arbiter on conduct and to hear appeals. This will enable a body of "case law" to develop, as envisaged in the Hampshire submission. It will enable us to get away from the current system whereby the Ombudsman's advice can be inconsistent across the country, and is too often only informal advice. As "case law" develops, it will provide a sound basis for the national code to be reviewed.

(5) The rules on declaration of interests should be so drawn as not to discourage or preclude a Councillor from speaking in Council debates which relate to those outside bodies on which he or she sits.

(6) This Association represents not only local authorities but also the Parish and Town Councils Associations which represent 243 local councils in our area. Local councils have an important and growing role in local government. They can have a particularly important role in the planning process. We feel very strongly that local councils should be subject to the same principles of public life and to similar codes of conduct and protocols of behaviour as the rest of local government. Local councils are a training ground for local councillors. They should learn the same codes of conduct right from the start. We accept that there will be some differences for local councils eg the requirement for a separate standards committee will not be appropriate. However the general principles and rules of behaviour should be similar.

Member authorities are also making their separate submissions to you on the many detailed proposals put forward by the Committee. It is important for all councillors to be aware of the recommendations and to consider their impact on their particular authority.

Last update: 25/09/2000
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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