Headlines: January 4th, 2008

Local authorities may be given more powers to enforce high standards of conduct for councillors. The proposals have been set out by the Local Government Minister, John Healey and will be open for consultation and comments until mid-February.

If the plans go ahead they will create a new regime under which local standards committees will make initial assessments of all misconduct allegations against councillors. The measures would also see the maximum sanctions the committees could impose being increased from the present three-month partial or total suspension from office, to six months. In more serious cases the committees will be able to refer upwards to the Adjudication Panel for England, which would also see its range of sanctions increased.

Under the proposals the remit of the Standards Board for England would also change so that instead of investigating misconduct allegations it would provide support and guidance to standards committees in their new role. The proposals follow a review of the ethical regime for councillors carried out in 2005 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The review recommended that decision making on allegations of misconduct should be devolved as much as possible to local level.

John Healey said councils were best-placed to maintain and improve high ethical standards by their members. The proposals had been designed to devolve power to local authorities and to ensure local standards committees received the necessary support and guidance. “These proposals deliver our commitment to introduce a more proportionate and locally based regime for the investigation and determination of all but the most serious of misconduct allegations against local councillors,” he added.

The consultation will end on February 15th and subject to its outcome the proposals would be implemented in April next year at the earliest.