Memorandum by Bury Metropolitan Borough
OPERATION AND SANCTIONS AVAILABLE TO THE
STANDARDS INVESTIGATION PROCEDURES. THE EXECUTIVE/SCRUTINY SPLIT
ALLOCATION OF DUTIES BETWEEN EXECUTIVES AND COUNCILS
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
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,
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
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
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