Tough new measures that crack down on genuine corruption and increase transparency in public life by requiring councillors to declare their financial and trade union dealings will take effect next week, Local Government Minister Bob Neill announced today.
In the drive for greater transparency across all Government, from 1 July, councillors will be required to register certain pecuniary interests, including trade union dealings on a publicly available register. Deliberate failure to declare interests could result in a criminal conviction.
These new measures, outlined in the Localism Act, will replace the bureaucratic and controversial Standards Board regime, which ministers believe had become a system of nuisance complaints and petty, sometimes malicious, allegations of councillor misconduct that sapped public confidence in local democracy. The old regime also raised concerns that it discouraged councillors from whistle-blowing or criticising waste and inefficiency in local government, as it opened them up to complaints by local authority officers.
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.
Our reforms take a tough stance on council corruption by making serious misconduct a criminal offence, accompanied by the sunlight of transparency on financial and union interests. Such reforms will give local people the confidence that councillors are putting local residents’ interests first.
Notes to Editors
The new arrangements coming into force on 1 July 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 register of interests regulations in force from 1 July for local authority members are in the Localism Act (sections 29 to 34) which received Royal Assent last November.
The regulations set out the rules for disclosure and registration of pecuniary interests, which may limit a councillor’s involvement with the business of the authority, where failure to comply with the rules without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence, punishable with a fine of up to £5,000 and disqualification from office for up to five years.
Pecuniary interests cover the member’s ‘employment, office, trade, profession or vocation’, any ‘sponsorship’ of the member, including contributions towards their election expenses, any ‘contracts’ between the member and the authority, any ‘land’ the member has an interest in and lies within the area of the authority, any ‘licences’ the member holds to occupy land in the area, any ‘corporate tenancies’, and certain ‘securities’ the member may hold.
The new arrangements explicitly state any payment or financial benefit from a trade union must also be declared.
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.