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07.08.18

Councils call for single code of conduct and £2m ethical standards training scheme

Parish and town councils would be supportive of a single code of conduct that could be used by all local authorities, research has found.

Local government currently uses different codes of conduct across its landscape, but 90% of councils surveyed by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) argued that this should be replaced by a single, cohesive code that is mandatory for all organisations.

Nearly 70% of respondents also called for new powers to impose additional sanctions beyond just current sanctions such as apologies and training. But 60% of those questioned believe these are not sufficient to punish breaches of the code of conduct or even to deter future breaches.

The research was undertaken by NALC to inform its submission to a parliamentary review on standards, which was first unveiled by Dr Jane Martin CBE at the NALC Annual Conference last year.

“We are interested in how local government has adapted to devolved standards arrangements and what scrutiny and sanctions regimes have been implemented, and how members and the public alike, think they are working,” she said during the event.

“We are also aware that the Act itself indicated that the government would look to review the Act five years after it took effect, which would be this year so it does seem that the focus in 2018 will be on Standards in Local Government.”

The NALC survey also laid bare gaps when it comes to training on codes of conduct. Almost 40% of local councils stated that their members hadn’t received any training whatsoever, whilst one in five reported that most members didn’t understand the rules around declaring interests.

Cllr Sue Baxter, chair of the association, who wrote for PSE about localism last year, said: “NALC does not believe the current ethical standards arrangements are working as well as they could and a review of the regime is something we have long called for. We would like to see stronger sanctions available to local councils, including the power of suspension and disqualification.

“In light of our research, we are also asking the government to invest £2m towards a national training programme that would see all new councillors undertake training on ethical standards and the code of conduct as part of their induction.”

The Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently reviewing local government ethical standards and is expected to report to Theresa May by the end of the year.

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