Committee needs ‘more teeth’ if Northampton councillors breach code of conduct

A committee that holds councillors to account if they breach the code of conduct needs to have ‘more teeth’, according to the members that sit on it.

Friday, 4th October 2019, 12:01 pm
The standards committee oversees the conduct of both borough and parish councillors in Northampton

Northampton Borough Council has a standards committee that scrutinises potential breaches of the code by elected members, but those who sit on it fear it has become ‘weak’.

The comments came as the committee discussed some new recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which aims to enable councillors to be held to account ‘effectively’ and would ‘enhance the fairness and transparency of the standards process’.

Some of their recommendations, which would involve legislative changes from the government, include new powers for local authorities to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months and a right of appeal for suspended councillors (including parish councillors) to the Local Government Ombudsman.

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The CSPL state in their report that the current sanctions available to local authorities are ‘insufficient’, adding: “This damages public confidence in the standards system and leaves authorities with no means of enforcing lower-level sanctions, nor of addressing serious or repeated misconduct.”

Other recommendations include revised rules on declaring interests, gifts and hospitality; and greater transparency about the number and nature of code of conduct complaints.

The standards committee on NBC has agreed to establish a working group to consider the recommendations of the CSPL and to recommend to the committee any improvements to the council’s ethical standards arrangements.

Councillor Brian Markham said: “As someone who was on the standards committee when it first started years ago, it had some teeth and it has been disappointing to see that we have far less of that these days.”

And West Hunsbury parish councillor Linda Hook added: “We have talked about public confidence in standards, and I do think a lot of people don’t take it seriously. So it’s important that if you have a standards committee that it is taken seriously. This will hopefully make it something worth having.”