Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by Bury Metropolitan Borough Council


  1.  There are many concerns regarding the proposals for the "New Ethical Framework". The main concern, and observation, is that the proposals introduced a level of intervention and bureaucracy that is not warranted. This is based on the findings of the Nolan Committee, the Audit Commission and indeed as detailed in the consultation paper where it is stated that "...the vast majority [of Councillors and Officers] operate in a conscientious and professional manner".

  2.  There is a need to have a mechanism for setting codes of conduct and standards, ensuring compliance and investigation of any complaints or allegations. However, the proposals now put forward take away from Local Authorities the opportunity to be self-regulatory and impose a requirement to introduce a mechanism (ie Standards Committee) which is essentially reactive and does not "add value" to the Executive decision-making structure.

  3.  In developing proposals for the new Executive decision-making structure adopted by this Authority detailed consideration was given to putting into place a valid mechanism for discharging the duties of a "Standards Committee". This also capitalised on the work already done to drive up standards through the establishment of a code of conduct, whistle blowing policy, Audit Sub-Committee, etc.

  4.  It was recognised that there was also a need to introduce a mechanism for the independent investigation of complaints or allegations. For this reason, in addition to establishing a Standards and Probity Committee, there is also provision for a Standards Panel, comprising the Council's Chief Executive (Head of Paid Service), Monitoring Officer and Section 151 Officer to receive such complaints and, where appropriate, arrange for investigation by a Standards Bench. The Members of the Bench will be independent of the Council and supported in their investigations by the Chief Internal Auditor.

  5.  If the Government introduces the structures and systems referred to in the Consultation Paper and Bill, it will require a fundamental review of our proposals. We feel that this would be a retrograde step and result in a "reactive" rather than "pro-active" approach to Standards and Probity issues.

  6.  Also of concern is the proposal relating to the suspension of members following the publication of an interim report by an Ethical Standards Officer. This could result in a member being suspended for up to six months with the opportunity to appeal to the High Court. There is a possibility that the case against a member is ultimately unproven but the interim report and subsequent suspension will inevitably cause damage to that person's reputation and credibility. Added to this is the fact that the electorate will, in effect, be unrepresented whilst a member is suspended. The opportunity of appeal to the High Court does not allay our concerns as this in itself could be a lengthy process which, even if successful, would not eradicate the damage done by the original suspension from office.

  7.  The overriding question has to be is the proposed system necessary when the crimes of fraud and corruption are dealt with by the Police and the Courts and maladministration by the Local Ombudsman and financial impropriety by the District Auditor. The introduction of another external bureaucratic regulator, which goes against the principles of self regulation and fostering a culture of trust, could potentially deter rather than encourage candidates from seeking election as Councillors.

  8.  In respect of the Executive/Scrutiny split there are real concerns that the proposed maximum of 15 per cent of the Council (rounded down) or 10 Councillors is too restrictive.

  9.  For this Authority the restriction would translate into an Executive of only seven Members. To discharge the duties and responsibilities of a unitary authority this is felt to be too small. This is not only a problem for our own Authority but will cause severe difficulties for all the smaller Authorities, unitary or otherwise.

  10.  There is clearly a case here for a less rigid approach that would also safeguard against the establishment of large Executive structures.

  11.  Regarding the allocation of duties between executives and Councils, we have taken a very positive approach to this particular aspect.

  12.  In addition to identifying specific portfolio areas of responsibility, we have also created a support structure for each of the Cabinet Members through the establishment of Lead Spokesperson positions.

  13.  The role of the Lead Spokespersons is to actively support the Cabinet Member by taking some responsibility for developing or overseeing the implementation of strategy/policy areas. Also, Lead Spokespersons will have a key role to play in ensuring that corporate objectives, targets and specific portfolio responsibilities are achieved. They are the contact points for their specific area in terms of information, press releases, etc.

  14.  In addition to helping Cabinet Members work effectively, this approach also provides a "career path" for Elected Members with aspirations to become Cabinet Members. They will have opportunities to attend "Cabinet" meetings and receive training to enable them to discharge their duties effectively (presentation/media skills, analysis/negotiating skills, effective communication etc).

29 June 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 11 August 1999