Headlines: July 9th, 1997

The Nolan investigation into standards in local government found that there is no fundamental malaise. What they did find was a lack of clarity about standards, which Lord Nolan said could lead to wrongdoing. The 39 recommendations of the Committee mainly address this problem and it is this tough approach which will raise the confidence of local communities in their councils.The recommendations include a new code of conduct to spell out individual responsibilities and the creation of a standards committee for each authority which would have the effect of keeping standards on the agenda. There would also be a local government tribunal which would put much stronger external constraints on all councils. The Report calls for the controversial surcharge system to be abolished and replaced with a new offence of misuse of public office. The penalties would range from imprisonment, fine to disqualification. For minor wrongdoing, such as bullying officers, the penalty would be suspension for up to three months. Lord Nolan said the current surcharge arrangements mean that auditors act as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury. The new offence would extend beyond local authorities and apply to all public office holders.

Tony Blair welcomed the Report and said: “It’s time to make a new start on the ethical framework in local government.” The Local Government Association welcomed both the Report and the opportunity it gives for improvement.

If all the recommendations are accepted by the Government they will add up to one of the most radical changes to the rules regulating local authorities.