Following the introduction of a new local standards regime last month guidance clarifying the requirements of councillors to declare their pecuniary interests has been published, Local Government Minister Bob Neill announced today.
A new local standards regime, outlined in the Localism Act, has replaced the bureaucratic and controversial Standards Board, which ministers believed had become a vehicle for petty, partisan and sometimes malicious, allegations of councillor misconduct that sapped public confidence in local democracy.
In the drive for greater transparency across all Government all councillors have been required to register certain pecuniary interests, including trade union dealings on a publicly available local register since July. Deliberate failure to declare interests could result in a criminal conviction.
To help make sure the new approach is properly understood, the Government is publishing a practical guide, which shows the new local standards strike a common sense balance between electoral accountability and personal privacy. It clarifies specific issues like urgency of declarations; personal information safety; handling spouse or partner interests and gold plating.
Local Government Minister Bob Neill said:
The Standards Board regime led to an explosion in petty, partisan and malicious complaints that dragged down the reputation of local government, as well as suppressing freedom of speech. We have published a practical guide that shows how the new local standards strike a common sense balance between electoral accountability and personal privacy.
As a former councillor myself, I know councillors are motivated about doing a good job for the local residents they serve. Instead of having hundreds of expensive and frivolous investigations hanging over their heads, local councillors should now be free to get on with their jobs.
Notes to editor
Openness and transparency on personal interests: A guide for councillors is available at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/personalinterestsguide.
The Minister has written to all councillors and chief executive highlighting the guidance www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/personalinterestsletter.
The Standards Board for England ceased its regulatory functions on 31 January 2012, and was formally abolished on 31 March 2012. The abolition of the Standards Board was included in the Localism Act. The Localism Act received Royal Assent on 15 November 2011. A plain English guide to the Localism Act is available at: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localismplainenglishupdate.
Since 1 July 2012, all standards matters became the responsibility of local authorities, to be handled under the new arrangements, which include a code of conduct based on ‘Nolan principles’, the involvement of an independent person in allegations of misconduct, a register of members’ pecuniary interests, and a new criminal offence for failing to declare or register pecuniary interests. The new arrangements reflect the Government’s policy that elected representatives should continue to declare financial interests in an open and transparent way, to avoid conflicts of interest especially on issues such as planning applications or financially benefiting from the issuing of council contracts.
An illustrative example of what a local code of conduct could look like can be found here: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localcodeconduct.