Localism Bill

Memorandum submitted by R H K Stephens, Chairman, Standards Committee, Tewkesbury Borough Council, Gloucestershire (L 157)

Summary: Standards Committee members are concerned that the Government’s intention to abolish the national Code of Conduct and all local Standards Committees, would prove a mistake. Abolition would end the contribution that the Standards regime is acknowledged to make to improving the standards of ethical governance in the Borough and raises questions whether that is consistent with the objectives of Localism.

1. The Standards regime was established by the Government in 2001 to help restore growing loss of public confidence and trust in local government.

2, In 2010 the Audit Commission noted a marked improvement in ethical governance achieved by councillors and officers of Tewkesbury Borough Council, and the significant impact made by the Standards regime.

3. A much criticized over centralized regime when the Standards Board was first established in 2001 was amended in 2008 by strengthening the role of council appointed Standards Committees. Responsibility was delegated to them for assessing and, if necessary, investigating and hearing all but the most serious alleged breaches of the national Code of Conduct followed by all Councils.

4. The Government’s statutory requirement that 25% of all members of Standards Committees, including the Chairman, should be co-opted from the Public, strengthens public awareness of the Regime, and confidence in the objectivity of Standards Committees.

5, Conversely the Public has become increasingly cynical about the integrity of those who represent them at Westminster following the recent scandal about claims for allowances that has sullied the reputation of both Houses of Parliament. The concept of Localism requires greater accountability and increased transparency at all levels of government if it is to regain public support and trust.

In contrast abolition of the Standards regime, without prior local consultation about its replacement, invites distrust and suspicion of the Government’s proposal to scrap a system, which has proved effective in helping to raise local standards of ethical governance, and should be reconsidered.

March 2011