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CLERK'S BRIEFING NOTE 6-12

SEDLESCOMBE

CODE OF CONDUCT

1. Background. The model Code of Conduct that was adopted previously by the Parish Council in accordance with the Local Government Act 2000 has now been superseded by the passing of The Localism Act 2011 (Royal assent received on 15/11/2011). Not all of the relevant provisions in the 2011 Act are in force yet and relevant secondary legislation has not yet been made. It is anticipated that changes will take effect on 01/07/2012.

2. Who this part of the Act applies to. The new provisions of the 2011 Act apply to both members and "co-opted members" of "relevant authorities", including parish councils.

3. The new Code. Section 27 of the 2011 Act provides that every relevant authority in England, including parish councils, is under a duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by its members and co-opted members and that in doing so it must adopt a Code of Conduct that is expected of them when they are acting in that capacity. This Code of Conduct will not apply to members and co-opted members in their private lives.

In accordance with Section 28 of the 2011 Act, every relevant authority must adopt a Code of Conduct which:-

  1. is consistent with the Nolan principles of conduct in public life which are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty; and leadership and
  2. includes provisions which the authority considers appropriate in respect of the registration and disclosure of 'pecuniary interests' and 'interests other than pecuniary interests'.

    NB The 2011 Act provides no definition of pecuniary or non-pecuniary interests (ie a return to the pre-2000 position) and this may result in local variations as an authority can choose the Code to adopt. It is expected that principal authorities will encourage parish councils in their areas to adopt the Code adopted by them. This is because they will be responsible for handling and determining Code of Conduct complaints which relate to parish councillors in their areas. NALC and LGA are working on a template Code of Conduct which will be issued in due course.

4. Breaches of the Code. The 2011 Act does not specify what sanctions can be imposed by the District Council in respect of a breach of the Code. Censuring/naming/shaming appear to be the only actions that can be taken if a councillor is found to be guilty. However, see the new Criminal Offence at 7 below.

5. Register of Interests - what the Monitoring Officer must do. According to Section 29 of the 2011 Act, a Monitoring Officer of the principal authority must establish and maintain a register of interests of the members and co-opted members of the parish councils in its area although the Act does not define 'interests'. The Monitoring Officer must ensure that every parish council's register of interests of its members and co-opted members is:

  • available for inspection at all reasonable hours at a place in the District Council's area;
  • published on the District Council website;
  • published on the parish council website (if the pc has a website).

6. Register of Interests - what a parish councillor must do. According to the 2011 Act, parish councillors must notify the Monitoring Officer of any "disclosable pecuniary interests" within 28 days of becoming members (the Secretary of State is expected to prescribe by regulation what will constitute "a disclosable pecuniary interest"). It is confirmed by Section 30(3) of the Act that these interests will relate to not only a member's interests but also to those of his/her spouse or civil partner or the person with whom he/she lives as if they were a spouse or civil partner.

7. New Criminal Offence. A new criminal offence has been introduced with the 2011 Act for the following:-

  1. Failure to register a "disclosable pecuniary interest" within 28 days of election. NB if a councillor becomes aware of a disclosable pecuniary interest at a meeting, they must declare it to the meeting and register it with the Monitoring Officer within 28 days of the meeting.
  2. Provision of false or misleading information on registration.
  3. Participation in discussion and voting in a meeting on a matter in which the councillor has a disclosable pecuniary interest. If a councillor is aware that he/she has a disclosable pecuniary interest in a matter at the meeting, they are barred from partipating in discussion or voting at a meeting.

Prosecution will be at the instigation of the Director of Public Prosecutions and will carry a Scale 5 fine of £5,000 and/or disqualification for up to 5 years.

8. Dispensations. According to Section 33 of the 2011 Act, a parish councillor with a disclosable pecuniary interest can submit a written request to the proper officer at the parish council for the parish council to grant a dispensation to relieve him/her of the restrictions in Section 31(4), namely to participate in a discussion or vote on a matter in which he/she has a disclosable pecuniary interest. A parish council may grant a dispensation if having had regard to all relevant circumstances, it considers that:

  1. without the dispensation, the number of persons prohibited from participating in any particular business would be so great a proportion of the body transacting the business as to impede the transaction of the business;
  2. granting the dispensation is in the interests of persons living in the authority's area;
  3. it is otherwise appropriate to grant a dispensation.

9. Summary. The effect of the 2011 Act will be as follows:

  1. Sedlescombe Parish Council will need to adopt a Code of Conduct which will include provisions for the disclosure and registration of pecuniary and other interests - consider at Annual Meeting in May 2012 or when definitions of interests have been made available.

  2. SPC's Standing Order No.6 - Code of Conduct - will need amendment.

  3. Councillors will have to register disclosable pecuniary interests with the District Council Monitoring Officer within 28 days of election or when the councillor becomes aware of the interest. This will include interests of spouses/civil partners. It will be a criminal offence with a fine of up to £5,000 not to disclose as required or to provide false or misleading information. Awaiting further information.

  4. The Register will be available for inspection at reasonable hours in the District Council's area.

  5. The Register will be posted on the District Council's website.

  6. The Register will be posted on Sedlescombe Parish Council's website.

  7. Interests must be declared at meetings where relevant. It will be a criminal offence with a fine of up to £5,000 to take part in discussions or to vote on a matter in which the councillor has a pecuniary interest unless dispensation has been granted by the parish council as in 9 below. Although the Act does not require the councillor with a pecuniary interest to leave the meeting, the current SPC Standing Order does require members with a prejudicial interest to leave the meeting. Members will need to consider whether a revised Standing Order should be included.

  8. In accordance with existing SPC Standing Order No.2, if the chairman becomes aware during a meeting that a councillor has a disclosable pecuniary interest in a matter about to be discussed, he can draw this to the Council's attention and then the chairman or another councillor can move that the councillor with the interest should be excluded from the meeting.

  9. A councillor with a disclosable pecuniary interest may request dispensation by writing to the Parish Clerk and asking if he/she may take part in the discussions/voting. After consideration, this may be allowed by the Council. A new Standing Order will be needed to take this into account. If a member does not do this, they will no longer be able to address the Council or answer questions as previously allowed under paragraph 12(2) of the Local Government Act 2000 (this was adopted by SPC but not by all councils).

  10. The Standards Committee at Rother DC will be able to investigate alleged breaches of the adopted Code by councillors but will not be able to take any significant action against offenders.

P J Raymond
Clerk/RFO, Sedlescombe Parish Council

1 March 2012