Report number: COU/WS/22/009
Council considered this report, which sought adoption of the Local Government Association (LGA) Model Code of Conduct as its new local Code of Conduct for councillors.
The Localism Act 2011 placed a duty on every council to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors and co-opted members of the authority and, in discharging that duty, adopt a code dealing with the conduct that was expected of those members when they were acting in that capacity. A Suffolk-wide local code of conduct was adopted by the councils in 2012.
In January 2019, the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) published a report following their review of local authority standards. This review had concluded that a model code of conduct would create consistency across England and reflected the common expectations of the public, regardless of geography or tier. It would also reduce the potential for confusion amongst dual-hatted or triple-hatted councillors. The CSPL also considered that matters such as gifts and hospitality, social media use and bullying and harassment had also increased in salience and where, perhaps, not regularly reflected in local authority codes of conduct and a model code would help to ensure that they did so.
The report directed a series of recommendations to the Government and to the local government sector. A key recommendation was directed to the LGA to create an updated model code of conduct, in consultation with representative bodies of councillors and officers of all tiers of local government. Consequently, the LGA approved a Model Councillor Code of Conduct in December 2020, which provided a template for councils to adopted in whole and/or with local amendments.
The Code (attached to the report at Appendix A) contained much of the existing Suffolk Local Code of Conduct and provided welcome guidance to explain the rationale for the obligations and how councillors should follow them. The LGA had also published more extensive guidance that would assist councillors and the public in understanding the Code and what was included. Moving forward, the LGA had committed to undertake an annual review of the Code to ensure it continued to be fit-for-purpose, incorporating advances in technology, social media and changes in legislation.
The Suffolk Monitoring Officers Group strongly recommended that there continued to be a Suffolk-wide code of conduct to enable clarity and consistency across the county and particularly across the tiers of local government where councillors represented more than one authority. The district council Monitoring Officer was responsible for investigating breaches of the code of conduct by town and parish councillors across the whole district and the ability to apply a single code to all complaints was desirable. The Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC) was also supportive of a Suffolk-wide code.
The key differences between the existing code and the LGA’s Model Code of Conduct were summarised in Report number: COU/WS/22/009, and these had been previously considered by the West Suffolk Standards Committee and the Constitution Review Group. Both forums had been content to recommend approval of the proposed new Code with effect from the Annual Meeting of Council in May 2022.
In the absence of Councillor Carol Bull, Portfolio Holder for Governance, Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, drew relevant issues to the attention of Council.
A discussion was held on the manner in which councillors should conduct themselves when posting on social media; and the use of the term ‘promote’ as described in paragraph 2.3 of the model Code in respect of the following sentence…. ‘I promote equalities and do not discriminate unlawfully against any person’, and whether this was an appropriate use of terminology.
In response, Council was informed that the LGA would be offering support, training and mediation to councils and councillors on the application of the Code, and therefore issues of concern or where clarification was sought on specific matters could be discussed as part of the training programme. Advice and support to town and parish councils would also be provided by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) together with local associations of local councils, which in Suffolk’s case was SALC. A training package in Suffolk was expected to commence from March 2022, starting with offering support and guidance to county, then district through to town and parish councillors.
On the motion of Councillor Mildmay-White, duly seconded by Councillor Jim Thorndyke, it was put to the vote and with the vote being unanimous, it was
That the Local Government Association Model Code of Conduct, as contained in Appendix A to Report number: COU/WS/22/009, be adopted as its new Local Code of Conduct for Councillors, with effect from the Annual Meeting of Council in May 2022.
(Councillors David Nettleton and Robert Nobbs left the meeting during the consideration of this item.)