Headlines: June 17th, 2005

Consulation ends today on the review of the code of conduct for English local councillors to bring it into line with the Freedom of Information Act, introduced at the start of the year. The Standards Board for England has been seeking views on a number of issues, including ‘whistleblowing’.The consultation began in February and the Board sent out more than 62,000 consultation invitations. The responses will be used to help the Board formulate recommendations, which will go to the Office of the Deputy prime Minister.

At the same time it is carrying out an online study looking into the components of an ethical environment. Monitoring officers, standards committee members and other local authority satff are being asked to share their ideas and opinions.

The Board says early indications from responses to the Code of Conduct Review suggest the key areas that it has highlighted have prompted a wide range of comments. The issues are those that have been raised at the Board’s annual conference and at other events.
Key topics being addressed in the consultation have included the ‘Duty to Inform’, which means councillors are obliged at present to report other members who they believe may have breached the Code of Conduct. It is also considering whether there should be an explicit public interest defence for so-called ‘whistleblowers’ who disclose confidential information. Other areas under review are the extent to which the Code of Conduct should cover members’ private behaviour and ways to improve and simplify the present system for declaring interests.

Meanwhile the Board this month launched an online survey to assist its research into what makes up an an ethical environment. It has commissioned the Institute for Political and Economic Governance at the University of Manchester to carry out the research. The survey is asking for examples of initiatives and practices that support good conduct within local authorities. It will also look at communication and training, the role of standards committees, the importance of leadership and the role of ethics in corporate governance.

Sir Anthony Holland, chair of the Standards Board said the online survey was part of a wider project from which it was hoped to draw ideas and examples of best practice regarding ethics. “We hope it will further strengthen our ties with standard committee members and monitoring officers and enable us to continue to build a positive relationship with them,” he said.