“Parish and town councils overwhelmingly support single code of conduct”

“Some 90% of parish and town councils surveyed would support a single, mandatory code of conduct, research by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) has revealed.

The NALC survey also found that nearly 70% of local councils would like new powers to impose additional sanctions.

“At the moment sanctions used by local councils include apologies and training. However, around 60% of local councils believe these are neither sufficient to punish breaches of the code of conduct or deter future breaches,” the association said.

Almost 40% of local councils meanwhile stated that their members had not received any training and 20% reported that most members did not understand the rules around declaring interests.

Cllr Sue Baxter, chairman of NALC, 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 research comes as the Committee on Standards in Public Life is conducting a review into local government ethical standards. The committee is due to report to the Prime Minister by the end of the year.”


Council behaviour standards falling – says Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

“The risks of standards in local government being breached have increased since 2010 while many of the mitigations that were in place have been weakened or removed, Solace (the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) has warned.

In its submission to the Committee for Standards in Public Life’s Review of Local Government, Solace said that since 2010 much had changed in local government which it believed was likely to have had a significant impact on the risk of poor ethical standards.

“For example, the financial environment has, over time, raised the stakes of councillors’ decision-making. Pressure on individuals has significantly increased as the consequences of their choices have become stark and more difficult. This pressure leaves individuals more vulnerable to inappropriate influence themselves or subjecting others to that type of behaviour. In a broader political environment which, as the work of the committee has already identified, sees increased intimidation of politicians and the demonization of experts, these risks are only heightened,” the submission said.

Solace also pointed out that local government was now operating in a significantly more complex operating environment.

“Every council has a wide range of strategic partners, commercial contractors and arms-length bodies. The governance picture is incredibly varied with individuals often required to act within different legal structure performing different roles.”

Solace highlighted how the simple client/contractor model of commissioning had been replaced by a multitude of business models operating in different services, to different geographies with different governance arrangements.
“While these innovative approaches are to be welcomed, for example, in the way they have enable additional investment to be unlocked or more system-based approaches to be utilised, this does risk arrangements becoming unclear, less transparent and blurred. Without continuous and consistent advice and counsel, innocent individuals can be left susceptible to crossing the ethical line, while others can take advantage of such ambiguity to operate inappropriately and unseen.”

On the weakening or removal of mitigations, Solace said the most significant change was the abolition of the Standards Board and the national Code of Conduct as part of the Localism Act 2012.

At that time the organisation recommended that its members worked with their elected members “to ensure a robust and proportional local systems were put in place, that the local codes of conduct which underpin each regime are clear, unambiguous and appropriate to local circumstances. Such an approach should ensure any code is practical while able to minimise the risk of external challenge.”

Although it has not conducted detailed research, Solace said a short review suggested that many local codes of conduct stuck tightly to the Nolan Principles but in a way that left little room for further explanation or context setting.

The submission continued: “In addition to a local code of conduct, a clear and transparent local process should be in place to administer complaints relating to the code. During the Localism Bill’s consideration in Parliament, Solace argued that a councillor panel with independent involvements was the most appropriate model for this. While the legislation has removed the requirement for such a body, Solace see no reason to change its view and would recommend a member panel should support the statutory ‘independent person’ in performing their duties.”

Solace also noted that the abolition of the Standards Board was not the only significant change that removed checks and balances relating to local government standards. “The abolition of the Audit Commission and a reduction in the ‘public interest’ activities of local external auditors have also removed an independent mechanism through which standards issues had historically been identified and dealt with.”

It meanwhile argued that the campaign to remove protections for senior officers, remove employment rights and recent senior figures undervaluing professional leadership in council had “eroded individuals’ ability to effectively speak truth to power”.

Solace argued that without adequate protection, senior officers in local authorities were “less likely to feel able to raise issues of governance and hinder openness and transparency within their authority, and that it was an erosion of the balance of local accountability which ensures high standards in local government on behalf of local tax payers”.

It suggested as an example that it was unlikely that successful criminal proceedings for corruption, as in the 2004 Lincolnshire County Council Cllr Speechley case, would have been successful if employment protection had not been afforded to the chief executive or monitoring officer.

The submission claimed that England had been left with a light touch approach to local government standards reliant on local codes, implementation and sanction. “Unlike the rest of the UK, there is an absence of national oversight, an inconsistency of sanction and a weakening of a range of mechanism that might reduce the risks of a decay of standards in other ways.”

However, Solace said it would not like to see a return to the “pernicious and over bureaucratic approach” of a national Standards Board. It did argue, though, that greater independent monitoring was required. “In an environment where evidence is unclear or anecdotal it is too easy to turn the other way and allow important challenges to remain out of sight.”

It argued that that inconsistency between different levels of Government was also unhelpful. “Parliament has done a great deal of work exploring the appropriate sanctions for elected politicians and it would seem appropriate that powers, including the power of recall, within local government mirror those introduced in Westminster.”


EDDC has second-highest number of complaints about councillors and staff in Devon

North Devon Council recorded the most complaints at 87, with Exeter City Council recording the least with just two.


“Westminster councillor resigns after receiving nearly 900 gifts and hospitality packages in six years”

Owl says: what is happening to Westminster council’s Monitoring Officer, Leader and Standards Committee? Nothing, so far.

And NO-ONE should be Chair of a Planning Committee for SEVENTEEN years!

“The deputy leader of Westminster city council has stepped down after it was revealed he had received nearly 900 gifts and hospitality packages over six years.

Robert Davis, a Tory councillor, was the chair of the borough’s planning committee until last year.

He has stepped aside as deputy leader and cabinet member for business, culture and heritage as an independent QC investigates his conduct.

Councillor Robert Davis has referred himself to the City Council’s monitoring officer and has decided to stand aside as Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Business, Culture and Heritage while the investigation is undertaken,” said Nickie Allen, the leader of Westminster City Council.

“Our residents need reassurance that the planning process is not only impartial, but is seen to be impartial,” she said, adding she had “asked the council’s chief executive to look at all aspects of the decision-making process to ensure planning is, and is seen as, an independent and impartial process.”

The Guardian revealed Mr Davis had received gifts and hospitality invitations 893 times over the last six years, which frequently came from property developers who were seeking planning permission.

Gifts and hospitality packages worth more than £25 must be declared and some of the items and invitations received by Mr Davis exceeded the figure.

The Cambridge graduate is the longest serving member of the council, having been elected in 1982. He was voted Conservative councillor of the year in 2014 and given an MBE in 2015 for his service to local and government planning.

“I think it’s important to recognise Robert Davis remains a candidate for the May election,” Adam Hug, leader of the Labour Group, told The Independent. “He remains a councillor.

“This move has been described as standing aside, with a clear view that if no legal wrongdoing is found he may return to his post. As he remains a candidate it is clear that the Tories believe what is known and not disputed is acceptable for them.”

He added: “Westminster Tories knew this was going on, did nothing for decades, and it is clear that unless legal wrongdoing is found, he may return to his post.”

In a statement, Mr Davis said: “Due to the ongoing interest and wrongful assertions regarding my time as chairman of planning I have decided to step aside from my roles as deputy leader and cabinet member for business, culture and heritage whilst the council investigates.

“In 17 years as chairman of planning committees which granted hundreds of applications and resulted in the council receiving substantial sums for affordable housing, public realm and other public amenity, I have at all times acted with the independence and probity required by my role.

“My desire to rigorously declare all meetings and hospitably, regardless of its nature, underpins this transparency and independence. It is trite to confirm that within these 17 years, I have got to know many of the developers and associated professionals who work in the city and help to develop Westminster into one of the most important economic centres in the country and home to over 280,000 people. Any suggestion or implication that I have done anything other than to further the interests of the city and its residents are baseless and strenuously denied.”


Commons committee urges greater council scrutiny

A subject close to this East Devon’s heart and the cause of many sleepless days …

“A report by the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee has warned that a lack of effective scrutiny of the decisions of council leaders and elected mayors risks contributing to “severe” failures in public service provision.

The study found that funding cuts have reduced the resources and staff available to help councillors examine and challenge their activities.

The committee urges changes to Government guidance and increased funding to ensure proper oversight arrangements are in place. It also says a change of culture in local authorities is needed to prevent executives using issues of “commercial sensitivity” to hide details of deals with private companies from councillors.”

Source: Yorkshire Post, Page: 1

Council fraud: never get complacent or assume auditors know what they are doing

Here are three examples, accessed within 5 minutes on Google.


“A former Plymouth council official has been arrested as part of a long-running fraud investigation.

Geoff Driver, treasurer and chamberlain at Plymouth City Council in the early 1990s and now Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council (LCC), was held as police probe financial irregularities at LCC. …”



A SECOND member of Cheshire East Council’s senior management has been suspended as a result of an internal disciplinary investigation.

Bill Norman, the council’s director of legal services and monitoring officer, has been absent from his post since April and has now been officially suspended.

The decision follows the suspension of council CEO Mike Suarez on April 27.

A CEC spokesman said: “The Investigation and Disciplinary Committee reconvened on Friday, July 14, 2017. The committee is considering allegations relating to the conduct of senior officers.”



A councillor has been suspended from certain duties for six months.
Sandy Duncan, who represents Turriff and District, contacted Aberdeenshire colleagues who were due to consider a planning application for a wind turbine from a firm he was partner in.

He was found to have breached the code of conduct for councillors.
The Standards Commission for Scotland found he had acted inappropriately by using council facilities having been expressly warned not to do so.”


Voting processes need tightening (and scrutiny) urgently

Why shouldn’t our council’s Scrutiny Committee check in its Electoral and Returning Officer’s procedures – even if the Monitoring Officer doesn’t like the idea because it MIGHT be considered political (by him)? A clean bill of health would reassure voters surely?

“The list of Brexit campaigners done for breaking the rules is getting lengthy.

Following the record £12,000 fine for breaches of spending rules, the pair of £1,000 fines for other offences, the company fined £50,000 for illegal text messages and the 11 anti-EU campaign groups struck off for breaking referendum rules, there’s now another £1,500 fine on a different Brexit campaigner:

The Electoral Commission has fined Mr Henry Meakin, a registered campaigner in the EU referendum, £1,500 for failing to submit his spending return on time. It is an offence not to deliver a spending return by the due date.

Though Mr Meakin reported spending of £37,000 in the campaign, the return was received more than 5 months late.”


EDDC uses purdah rules to avoid tricky questions on police criminal inquiry into Colyton Village Plan.

The Western Morning News has today covered in detail the situation in Colyton where police investigations are ongoing into aspects of its Village Plan.

When asked questions by the newspaper on this – via its CEO Mark Williams – EDDC hid behind rules covering “purdah” before local and general elections, when council officers must maintain political neutrality and avoid politically contentious subjects and instead went on the offensive against the EDDC Councillor (Cathy Gardner) who brought it into the open, querying where Councillor Cathy Gardner had got her information from, saying it had been known to only three senior officers.

He added that those three officers did not intend to comment until after local county elections on Thursday this week – and (possibly) even not until after the General Election, if anyone involved were to indicate that they wished to stand for Parliament. He said:

“…The council cannot comment on how Councillor Gardner became aware of the police investigation. The Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer were surprised she raised this at a public meeting”.


First, because the act of drawing attention to Councillor Gardner breaks his own rule! He is not willing to discuss if any councillor is involved in criminal proceedings in Colyton but IS prepared to discuss Councillor Gardner’s action in drawing attention to it.

Secondly, purdah can be overridden if it is in the public interest as this surely is.

Thirdly, had she not raised this matter at a public meeting – where was she expected to raise it? In private? Far, far too much of THAT going in at EDDC!

Purdah is NOT law, it is advice. Or, as the Local Government Association puts it, Civil Servants ARE (REPEAT ARE) ALLOWED TO:

Use a politician who is involved in an election when the council is required to respond in particular circumstances, such as in an emergency situation or where there is a genuine need for a member-level response to an important event beyond the council’s control. Normally this would be the civic mayor (as opposed to the elected mayor in those areas with elected mayors) or chairman (that is, someone holding a politically neutral role). If the issue is so serious, it is worth considering asking the council’s group leaders to agree to a response which would involve all of them.”

Click to access purdah-short-guide-public-4d3.pdf

Owl contends that this IS such a circumstance.

EDDC Standards Committee very happy with itself and has (so far) no Forward Plan


Happy with the code of conduct – tick
Happy with keeping complaints anonymous unless officially taken forward – tick

One more agenda item: Forward Plan. And the Forward Plan is?

Committee members to advise of any items for the Forward Plan.”

Click to access 271016standardscttecombinedagenda.pdf

The vast majority of complaints never make it past the Monitoring Officer to them.

What a happy committee!

“The UK needs to rethink its approach to the upholding of standards in public life”

“Is it time to re-think the UK’s public integrity strategy? Alan Doig argues that a new approach should be considered to take over from successive iterations of an increasingly ineffectual Committee on Standards in Public Life”:


Monitoring Officers get defence scheme

Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) has launched a Monitoring Officer Defence Scheme in partnership with law firm Weightmans.

LLG said the new full member benefit would apply to monitoring officers or their deputies when acting in that capacity and was designed to provide advice and assistance with issues relating to the statutory role.
The offer includes a telephone advice line, a conference meeting and preferential terms in tribunal proceedings.

The scheme will run under the experienced lead of Simon Goacher, a partner at Weightmans.

Prior to joining Weightmans, Goacher spent nearly two decades practising local government law. His roles included Head of Legal Services and Monitoring Officer at Wirral Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council

Full terms and conditions of use are available in the member section of the LLG website at http://www.lawingov.org.uk.”

The public who take their cases to Monitoring Officers get the toothless, pretty-much-useless Local Government Ombudsman.

And should Monitoring Officers really need such help – if they don’t understand their statutory role and its responsibilities, why are they in the job in the first place?

“Independent Person” needed for EDDC Standards Committee

Fancy dealing with what EDDC decides are its naughtiest parish, town and district councillors and being involved in the process of ever-so-lightly rapping their knuckles and/or sending them on rehabilitative training (since no other sanctions exist)?

EDDC is seeking to recruit what they call an “Independent Person” to join its Standards Committee. However, not so independent that they can over-ride the Monitoring Officer or even vote about the outcome of cases – just be there as an “independent” observer.

Advertisements appear in this week’s local press and the closing date for applications is 19 February 2016.

The process for dealing with recruitment of this very, very special person was shrouded in mystery – however, a Freedom of information request in 2011 threw light on the process:


Unfortunately, the vacancy does not appear in EDDC’s online list of current vacancies. Interested parties are told they can contact Monitoring Officer Henry Gordon-Lennox 01395 517408 for more information.

You must not be a relative or close friend of an officer or member of EDDC and you must not have served as an officer of any local authority in the last 5 years. Previous applicants are told they cannot apply.

Owl has been thinking of filling in an application form …

One thought: it says that the person must not be a close relative or friend of any officer or member of EDDC. However, there is now so much close working with Exeter City Council, Teignbridge and the like, could there not be conflicts of interest from even wider circles these days.

What if a member of the Local Enterprise Partnership were to apply, for example!

Ethical standards in public life

Owl would add some of the comments from this report, but its blood pressure can’t cope … well, ok, maybe just one:

Evidence of internal control and accountability measures – what is the internal control environment for maintaining ethical behaviour and standards in the organisation?

A suitable code of conduct – typically a series of Do’s and Don’ts, publicly available and adherence to the code monitored.

Identification of key indicators or measures of an ethical culture within the organisation and periodic reviews of their effectiveness.

Existence of and adherence to whistleblowing policy or speak up mechanisms, gifts and hospitality registers, anti-bribery and corruption, declarations of interests requirements, procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest, which are regularly reviewed.

Ethical risks captured and controlled in the risk management process and evidence they have been identified, assessed and where required mitigated.

Transparency and reporting arrangements which encourages “intelligent accountability” putting out good quality information in intelligible and adaptable formats creating a genuine dialogue with stakeholders.”

Click to access 6.1291_CO_LAL_Ethical_standards_of_public_life_report_Interactive__2_.pdf

“Parliament’s expenses watchdog hiding names of MPs being investigated for misusing public money”

“Rules dictate that MPs under investigation for unjustified or fraudulent expense claims must be publicly identified.

…Under rules set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), MPs under investigation for unjustified or fraudulent expense claims must be publicly identified.

But the organisation’s compliance officer, Peter Davis, has avoided naming individuals by carrying out detailed “assessments” of the complaints, denying they amount to formal “investigations”.

The loophole last week allowed Mr Davis to refer two MPs to the police over expenses fraud without ever launching a formal investigation, which would have triggered a public announcement.

It has also allowed other MPs to avoid publicity about using taxpayer-funded websites for party-political material by paying back website domain fees to Ipsa, or simply removing content from sites.

Ipsa previously proposed conducting probes in secret to prevent “reputational damage” to MPs – but the idea was dropped after criticism from the Commons Standards Committee and Committee for Standards in Public Life. It now appears that Ipsa is using “assessments” to get around calls for transparency.

According to a breakdown of cases, released by Mr Davis’s office in response to a Freedom of Information request, 40 “assessments” of allegations against politicians were carried out in 2014-15. But just one – relating to Conservative MP Bob Blackman’s mileage claims – was classified as a formal investigation and disclosed publicly.

Among those listed as “closed prior to an investigation” was a case in June last year where an unnamed MP claimed for a taxi journey that was not allowable. The compliance office concluded it had been a “legitimate error by a member of staff” and said it had been “repaid in full”.

In another case, an allegation was made that an MP’s staff had filed duplicate claims for a hotel. Mr Davis considered the matter closed after “the MP provided a valid explanation for why two separate hotels were claimed inadvertently for the same night and… repaid”.


Parliament’s “Monitoring Officer” investigates only 10% of complaints

“The Commons standards commissioner investigates just one in ten complaints about MPs, it can be disclosed.

Kathryn Hudson’s office has been asked to consider almost 300 formal complaints by members of the public and other MPs in more than two years but has opened just 29 investigations, a Telegraph analysis has found.

Mrs Hudson was this week left facing fresh questions over her judgment when a High Court judge found that Tim Yeo, an MP she cleared, was willing to act in breach of Commons rules.”


Parliament’s “Monitoring Officer” severely criticised

So what hope for district council monitoring officers getting it right?

Former sleaze watchdog questions whether Kathryn Hudson “applied sufficient rigour and detailed analysis” when she cleared the ex-minister

Kathryn Hudson, the parliamentary standards commissioner, is facing fresh questions over her judgment after a High Court judge found that an MP she cleared was willing to act in breach of Commons rules.

A former sleaze watchdog said that the ruling against Tim Yeo cast potential doubt on Mrs Hudson’s findings and highlighted the need for reform of the system regulating the behaviour of MPs.

Mrs Hudson ruled in 2013 that Mr Yeo did not have “an expectation of financial interest” when he met undercover reporters so could not have broken the MPs’ code when he offered to approach ministers on behalf of their fictitious client. She said there was “no evidence” that he had made such an offer.

However Mr Justice Warby, who examined the Commons rules, said it was clear from the evidence that the then chairman of the Commons energy committee was prepared “to do things which, if they had been done, would clearly have involved breaches of the code”, including that he had expressed a willingness to “approach ministers and civil servants” to benefit his prospective clients.

The judge also accused Mr Yeo of being “dishonest” in claiming in his evidence that he was joking when he appeared to suggest in the meeting that he had coached a business associate to give evidence to his committee.

Mr Yeo had made a similar claim to Mrs Hudson, who simply concluded that the remark “if intended as a joke, was unfortunate”. She cleared Mr Yeo of breaching the rules on lobbying ministers for financial reward and of bringing the Commons into disrepute.

On Wednesday Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the ruling raised questions about whether Mrs Hudson had “applied sufficient rigour and detailed analysis when she was considering the allegations against Mr Yeo”.

Sir Alistair added that the contrast between the judgment and Mrs Hudson’s conclusions showed the need for “urgent reform” of the Commons standards committee, which approved her memo and published a full report exonerating Mr Yeo.
Mrs Hudson faced criticism earlier this year after ruling that Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind did not break lobbying rules in a “cash for access” scandal exposed by the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

She also recently declined to open an investigation into Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, after receiving a complaint over his role in the decision to question Lord Brittan over an historic rape allegation.” …


EDDC wants extra complaints officer – but only for a year

Do they know something we don’t know?


Oh, and it’s a busy job:

“It is essential that you have excellent communication, organisational and time management skills. You must also have the ability to work without supervision and use your own initiative, as you will be dealing with complaints and requests for information from members of the public on a daily basis.”

Corruption in the UK (Updated)

A few excerpts from an article in the New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/06/think-britain-corrupt-russia-its-time-get-out-more :

“The last prime minister to make a fortune out of public office was Lloyd George. Today’s cabinet ministers earn middle-class salaries, and most of them live in modest houses. So why do people think otherwise?”

“Corruption in British public life can be divided schematically into three phases. Until the 19th century men entered politics in ­order to enrich themselves and to reward their dependants. Samuel Pepys was a senior civil servant at the Admiralty. His diaries in the 1660s are a squalid record of how he accepted endless financial and sexual favours in return for awarding contracts and arranging promotions. Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister, amassed a prodigious fortune.

“For reasons that are still not well understood, something fundamental changed in Britain in the Victorian period. Gladstonian liberalism brought moral rectitude to national life. The sale of military commissions was abolished. The Northcote/Trevelyan reforms led to the creation of an impartial civil service, with promotion by merit rather than nepotism. The Victorians consolidated the idea of the public domain, a sphere where the common good rather than self-interest and greed was paramount.

“Of course corruption continued, because human nature is venal. But it was no longer part of the system of government. Corrupt public officials were now rogue elements, who were sent to jail and held up to public scorn if they were caught.  …

“David Whyte, professor of socio-legal studies at the University of Liverpool, challenges this complacency in How Corrupt Is Britain?, an ambitious collection of essays. Professor Whyte maintains that only a “residual racism” prevents us from acknow­ledging that we are corrupt on the scale of southern Europe, Afghanistan or Russia. Corruption is once more embedded in British public life, Whyte asserts…

“These are extremely large claims and Whyte endeavours to substandestrtiate them by citing all kinds of malfeasance: phone-hacking, the LIBOR banking scandals, child abuse allegations, the manipulation of evidence by police over the Hillsborough disaster, the 2013 horse meat labelling scandal, and so forth. Corruption, he concludes, is “a central mode of power-mongering in contemporary Britain”.

“The same applies to police misconduct, the subject of several other essays in this book. The police have largely not been subject to the same sorts of pressure to adapt to market forces as have been brought to bear on the NHS, schools and the welfare state. Episodes such as Hillsborough are horrifying, but cannot be laid at the door of Milton Friedman. In any case, police corruption dates back to well before the neoliberal revolution, as the Mark report into Met corruption during the 1970s shows.”

Try this report as well Corruption_in_UK_Local_Government-_The_Mounting_Risks

A report from The Independent