Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) (L 110)

1. In connection with the Localism Bill (Volume 1) Part 1 – Local Government Chapter 5 – Standards sections 14 – 20 please accept this written representation on behalf of the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC).

2. The SLCC is the professional body for local council managers in England and Wales currently representing 3,700 members who are Clerks and senior managers in 4,700 parish, town and community councils.

3. Mr Nick Randle OBE is the Chief Executive Officer of the SLCC, Mrs Sam Shippen is the SLCC External Affairs Officer and a practising town clerk in Seaford, East Sussex.

4. The position of the SLCC in relation to standards has been to support the principles of high standards in public life and the provisions contained within the code of conduct for local government members.

5. We are therefore in favour of the provisions contained in section 15 of the Bill.

6. In relation to section 16 – Voluntary codes of conduct we would wish to register our strong view that a single national code be maintained for adoption by local councils. Such a national code could be developed and agreed with the relevant sector bodies, the National Association of Local Councils (NALC and ourselves. Any system of investigation and sanction could still rest within the council whilst appeal may be considered to rest with sector organisations.

7. Local Council Clerks are in a unique position in local government, being the senior officer of a council with a role of proper officer who is required by statutory duty to carry out all functions required by law. It is the role of the Clerk to advise and support the council as a body corporate and assist in the formation of overall policies to be followed in respect of the Council’s activities and in particular to produce the information required for making effective decisions and to implement constructively all decisions. The Clerk is accountable to the Council for the effective management of all its resources and will report to them as and when required. In smaller local councils the Clerk is often the only employee of the council.

The independence of the Clerk in respect of dealings with individual councillors or factions within the council is a crucial aspect of this unique relationship with the body corporate. We believe the preservation of this is essential to maintain the integrity of the democratic mandate.

8. We are of the opinion that removal of the existing provisions in relation to standards will be a retrograde step for our members, particularly in relation to bullying which can and does take place.

The SLCC believes that the current standards regime since its implementation in 2002 has had a significant effect on improving the position of Clerks in relation to dealing with attempts by individuals or minority factions to unduly influence the actions of the officer. We have significant evidence of specific cases where the Code of Conduct and its implementation by local standards committees and/or Standards for England have been successfully utilised to stop bullying behaviour of individuals and groups. If required we can provide specific examples for consideration by officials or the committee.

9. Whilst in relation to bullying Clerks do have access to recourse by reference to existing employment law provisions, in relation to bullying this usually requires cessation of employment before action can be taken and is not ideally designed to guard against the actions of individuals or factions unrepresentative of the corporate body but who may nonetheless be influential.

10. It is also our view that in respect of section 17 – Disclosure and registration of members’ interests, that the Secretary of State when making regulations, consider under subsection (4) the retention of the current requirement that the specified person in relation to a parish council be the monitoring officer of the principal authority for the area.

11. Section 18 will make a breach of regulations a criminal offence, it is our opinion that such an action is disproportionate and we fear that many police forces and in fact the Director of Public Prosecutions do not have the necessary resources to investigate and enforce such offences.

12. We would be pleased to forward additional specific evidence to further explain our position should this be required either now or during consideration of the relevant aspects of the Bill.

February 2011