Councillors’ new code of conduct ‘not tough enough’
Northumberland county councillors have expressed disappointment that proposed changes to their code of conduct aren’t tough enough.
They were particularly concerned over punishing councillors who have broken the code of conduct.
Cllr Susan Dungworth told the county council’s Standards Committee: “If I have a frustration, it’s that this still doesn’t go far enough. People continue to behave in whatever way they want because there are no consequences.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) published an updated code of conduct for councillors across the country in December 2020 following a consultation.
The code of conduct, according to the LGA is there to “assist you, as a councillor, in modelling the behaviour that is expected of you, to provide a personal check and balance, and to set out the type of conduct that could lead to action being taken against you. It is also to protect you, the public, fellow councillors, local authority officers and the reputation of local government”.
However, in 2019, the Committee for Standards in Public Life found that “under the current arrangements when a councillor has been found to have broken the code of conduct there is no requirement to comply with remedial action”.
To amend this issue, the report recommended that local authorities should have the power to suspend councillor found breaking the code of conduct for up to six months without allowances. The councillor in question would also be entitled to appeal this to a government ombudsman.
This would require legislative changes at parliamentary levels but central government has yet to respond to the 2019 report.
In addition, there is no mention in the LGA model code of conduct of stronger sanctions applicable to councillors who have broken the code.
One aspect of the LGA’s model code of conduct that was praised was the tightening of the bullying and discrimination guidance.
The guidance for local councils will be brought more in line with the Equalities Act 2010 whereby discrimination on the grounds of protected characteristics such as age, disability, pregnancy, etc, would be illegal.
Nationally, the response to the updated code of conduct has also been muted.
55% of councils stated in a survey they would not adopt the changes in full or in part.