Agenda item

To consider the attached report.


Contact Officer:


The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) advised the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life in England. It monitored and reported on issues relating to the standards of conduct of all public office holders and promoted the 7 principles of public life. In 2018 the CSPL had carried out a review into the ethical framework for local authorities which included stakeholder consultation. Its report had been published in January 2019 and the Executive Summary and Recommendations were attached at Appendix 1 to the agenda.


The main findings, observations and conclusions were:-

·                    High standards of conduct in local government were needed to protect the integrity of decision-making, maintain public confidence and safeguard local democracy.

·                    Evidence supported the view that the vast majority of councillors and officers maintained high standards of conduct. Where there was misconduct most of the cases involved bullying or harassment or other disruptive behaviour.

·                    Having considered the need for a centralised body to govern and adjudicate on standards the Committee had concluded that whilst the consistency and independence of the system could be enhanced, there was no reason to reintroduce a centralised body and local authorities should retain ultimate responsibility for implementing and applying the 7 principles of public life in local government.

·                    There was considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of code of conduct and many codes failed to address adequately important areas of behaviour, such as social media use and bullying and harassment. An updated model code of conduct should therefore be available to local authorities in order to enhance consistency and quality of local authority codes.

·                    Any standards process needed to have safeguards in place to ensure that decisions were made fairly and impartially and that councillors were protected against politically-motivated, malicious or unfounded allegations of misconduct. The Independent Person was an important safeguard in the current system and this role should be strengthened and clarified.

·                    The current sanctions available to local authorities were insufficient. Party discipline whilst it had an important part to play in maintaining high standards, lacked the necessary independence and transparency to play the central role in the standards system.


The report made 26 recommendations, mainly to Government but also to the Local Government Association and Parish Councils in some cases. The key recommendation were that:-

·                    An updated Voluntary Model Code of Conduct be created by the Local Government Association in consultation with representative bodies of councillors and officers at all tiers of local government

·                    The register of interests should include categories of non-pecuniary interests.

·                    Current rules on declaring interests should be repealed and replaced with an objective test.

·                    Independent persons should have fixed terms of 2 years, renewable once and protection by legal indemnity put in place if their advice or views were disclosed

·                    Councils to be given discretion to establish decision-making standards committees with voting independent members and voting members from dependant parishes.

·                    Councils to be given the power to suspend councillors for up to 6 months, to include parish councillors, if an Independent Person agrees to the suspension.

·                    Councillors should be given the right to appeal against suspension to the Local Government Ombudsman.

·                    The criminal offences relating to disclosable pecuniary interests should be abolished.

·                    Parish councils should be required to adopt the code of their principal authority (or the new model code) and a principal authority’s sanctions for a parish councillor should be binding.

·                    Monitoring Officers should be provided with adequate training, corporate support and resources to undertake their role in providing support on standards to parish councils. Clerks should also hold an appropriate qualification.

·                    Political groups should set clear expectations of behaviour by their members and senior officers should maintain effective relationships with political groups.

·                    Political groups should require their members to attend code of conduct training provided by local authorities and write this into national party model group rules.


The CSPL also made 15 best practice recommendations shown in the Table below which were directed at local authorities. The Committee expected that any local authority could and should implement these recommendations. The Table indicated the current position at Buckinghamshire Council in terms of compliance with these recommendations.



Recommended Best Practice

Current Position



Prohibition on bullying and harassment  included in code of conduct together with a definition and a list of examples of the behaviour this covers

The Code includes bullying.

Guidance for members refer to definition and examples of the behaviour



Codes should require councillors to comply with any formal standards investigation and prohibit trivial or malicious allegations by councillors

Tit for tat complaints discouraged in complaints procedure



Codes should be reviewed annually and where possible, views sought from the public, community organisations and neighbouring authorities

Reviews due to be carried out annually but external consultation is not currently proposed



Codes should be readily accessible to councillors and the public in a prominent position on the council’s website and available in council premises

Included in the Council’s Constitution and accessible when searching under complaints



Council’s should update their gifts and hospitality register at once a quarter and publish it in an accessible format, such as CSV

Gifts and hospitality of £25 or more registrable under the code of conduct and published with the member’s register of interests. Separate register not currently kept.



Council’s should publish a clear and straightforward public interest test against which allegations are filtered

Assessment criteria listed in complaints procedure



Councils should have access to at least 2 Independent Persons

The Council appoints 3 IPs



Independent Person should be consulted on whether to undertake a formal investigation and be given the option to review and comment on allegations which the MO is minded to dismiss as being without merit, vexatious or trivial.

These provision were included in the adopted complaints procedure



Decisions following a formal investigation should be published as soon as possible on the Council’s website, including a brief statement of facts, the provisions of the code engaged by the allegations, the view of the Independent Person, the reasoning of the decision-maker and any sanction applied.

Complaints procedure provides for decision to be published



Councils should have straightforward and accessible guidance on their website on how to make a complaint under the code, the process for handling complaints, the estimated timescales for investigations and outcomes

Guidance on the complaints procedure to be considered by the Committee on 2 July 2020



Formal standards complaints about the conduct of a parish councillor towards a clerk should be made by the chair or the parish council as a whole, rather than the clerk in all but exceptional circumstances

This is a matter for parish councils to adopt



MO roles should include providing advice, support and management of investigations and adjudications on alleged breaches to parish councils within their area. MOs should be provided with adequate training, corporate support and resources to undertake this work

The council’s complaints procedure applies to complaints about parish and town councillors and these will be investigated if the relevant assessment criteria are met



Councils should have procedures in place to address any conflicts of interest when undertaking a standards investigation. Possible steps include asking the MO from a different council to undertake the investigation.

Complaints procedure allows for an external investigator to be appointed which  addresses any potential conflicts of interest.



Councils should report on separate bodies they have set up as part of their annual governance statement and give a full picture of their relationship with those bodies.

Separate bodies created by Councils should abide by the Nolan principles and publish their board agendas, minutes and annual reports in an accessible place.

Details of separate bodies are included in the Council’s annual governance statement

Publication of board agendas, minutes and reports is subject to the Constitution and procedure rules of each bodyand relevant statutory provisions


Senior officers should meet regularly with political group leaders or group whips to discuss standards issues

Meetings are held informally as and when required



The Committee was informed that most of the best practise recommendations were already in place.  Members were invited to consider whether to ask the monitoring officer to bring a report on the outstanding areas to a future meeting of the committee for further consideration.


One of the CSPL recommendations addressed to the Local Government Association (LGA) was to review their model code of conduct. The LGA have undertaken this review, holding an event on Civility in Public Life with a range of stakeholders at the end of 2019 and three consultation workshops at the beginning of 2020. Their consultants also examined examples of good practice, both in local government and other professions. The result of this initial work was a consultation on a draft model code of conduct, attached at Appendix 2 to the agenda. The LGA also intended to create additional guidance, working examples and explanatory text to go alongside the model code.


Consultation on the code ran until 17 August 2020 and consultees were asked to respond by completing the questionnaire attached at Appendix 3 to the agenda. Members were advised that the LGA would particularly like to know if the model code stood up to the new ways of working that have been introduced and gave enough of a steer on social media and online activity. The Committee was therefore invited to consider and comment on the model code and authorise the Service Director for Legal and Democratic Services to submit a final response in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee.


Members sought additional information and were informed:-

(i)                 (Table with current position at Buckinghamshire Council against the 15 best practice CSPL recommendations that local authorities should implement) – it was explained that the current position (8 green, 7 amber) on implementation was an assessment taken at the establishment of the new Council.  It was confirmed that a report could be submitted to a future meeting on the progress being made in implementing all of the best practice recommendations.

(ii)               (CSPL recommendation 3) – that it had been recommended that the Localism Act 2011 be amended to presume that Councillors were acting in an official capacity in their public conduct, including statements on publicly-accessible social media.


Members also commented:

·                    (CSPL recommendation 12) – that given the number of Town/Parish Councils in the Council’s area, Members were supportive with representation from dependent parishes being involved to decide some allegations.

·                    (CSPL recommendation 18) – Members were supportive on the criminal offices in the Localism Act 2011 relating to DPIs being abolished.

·                    (CSPL recommendation 20) – Members were supportive of parish councils having to adopt the code of conduct of their principal authority, amended as necessary.




(1)               That the Standards in Public Life (CSPL) recommendations on Local Government Ethical Standards, attached as Appendix 1 to the agenda, be noted.


(2)               That a report on the progress made in implementing the CSPL best practice recommendations (amber ratings) be reported to a future meeting.


(3)               That the model member code of conduct proposed by the Local Government Association, attached as Appendix 2 to the agenda, be noted.


(4)               That the Service Director for Legal and Democratic Services be authorised, in consultation with the Chairman of the Standards and General Purposes Committee, to submit a formal response to the LGA’s consultation questions on the model code attached at Appendix 3, having regard to the Committee’s comments made at this meeting.

Supporting documents: