Updating our Standing Orders to uphold our Code of Conduct
Why there's a problem.
Following the abolition of the national standards board for councillors, it's become up to political parties themselves to discipline their councillors. In most of the country this hasn't been a big deal but Leicestershire hasn't. There have been a number of scandals within the Conservative ranks, the worst example involving their leader. This exposed existing measures to hold councillors to account as completely inadequate. Everyone in the Leicestershire County Council have agreed that this needs to be addressed.
You'll be pleased to know that none of the Lib Dem councillors were caught up in these scandals, but the responsibility still falls on all parties to restore public confidence in Leicestershire's local politics. For that reason we've updated our standing orders to emphasize the need for exemplary conduct and to also give our group a disciplinary process to quickly and effectively deal with any situations that did arise.
What we're doing about it!
Our standing orders now includes a section on Code of Conduct, detailing the Seven Nolan Principles, as well as committing the member to the Leicestershire County Council Code of Conduct. We have also updated our Aims section, making exemplary conduct one of our key aims as a council group.
We have also updated our disciplinary section. We already had provisions to suspend or expel members for breaking group rules. There was even an automatic suspension for any member charged by the police. This has now been extended to give the group powers to investigate complaints. If a complaint is made to us about one of our members, it will be investigated. If we find that the member hasn't met our expectations in conduct we will now have the power to suspend or expel them, stripping them of the benefits that being a member of the group brings.
We have an excellent team of councillors who have kept an impeccable record of conduct. Had these new tough rules been in previously, none of us would have fallen foul of them. That's why we have no qualms in bringing it in now, confident as always that our members will uphold the highest standards and determined to do what is necessary to improve the reputation of local politics.
The changes we have made:
- We have added exemplary conduct as one of our core aims:
"e) To uphold exemplary standards of personal conduct, suitable to represent the Liberal Democrat Party, both nationally and locally. This includes upholding the Seven Principles of Public Life and abiding by the Leicestershire County Council Code of Conduct."
- We have added a section on Code of Conduct:
"a) Members are expected to hold themselves exemplary standard of conduct.
b) When acting in the capacity as a County Councillor, members are expected to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life, also known as the Nolan Principles:
i) Selflessness - Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
ii) Integrity - Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
iii) Objectivity - In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
iv) Accountability - Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
v) Openness - Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
vi) Honesty - Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
vii) Leadership - Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
c) Members are also expected to uphold the Leicestershire County Council Code of Conduct. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action as detailed in Section 9 (Disciplinary Procedures)"
- We've kept the provisions for automatic suspension if a member is charged by the police:
"A Group Member charged by the police with a Criminal Offence shall automatically be suspended without prejudice from Group membership. If subsequently acquitted or the charges are dropped they shall be automatically reinstated. A group member found guilty of a Criminal Offence which does not disqualify them from council membership may be reinstated if a simple majority of the group present vote in favour of their re-admission on a notified agenda item. This would be in addition to, rather than an alternative to, any disciplinary procedures pursued as detailed in Section 9."
- And we now have a full process for investigating and acting on complaints:
"a) Disciplinary action may be brought against a member of the group for any of the following reasons:
i) Persistent conduct that conflicts with provisions in Section 6 (Group Loyalty)
ii) Persistent conduct that conflicts with provisions in Section 1 (Aims)
iii) Conduct that conflicts with provisions in Section 15 (Code of Conduct)
b) A complaint either received by the leader or raised at a Group meeting will be investigated using the procedure set out in (c). Any member of the Group who receives a complaint or has concerns is urged to either raise it with the leader or raise it at a Group meeting to ensure that it is investigated and dealt with.
c) If a complaint is made, a panel made up of at least three members will meet with the members to discuss the issue. The panel will then investigate the issue and draw together recommendations to be voted on by the members at a full group meeting.
Any member under investigation themselves cannot be part of the panel.
d) The following recommendations can be accepted by a simple majority of the members present:
i) Find no fault
ii) Issue a verbal warning (minuted in writing)
iii) Issue a written warning
iv) Require compliance with stated contract of behaviour, the breaching of which will result in the immediate reconvening of the panel to recommend further action
v) Suspend the member from the group for up to a year.
e) The following recommendations require a 2/3rd majority of the members present to be accepted.
i) Expel the member from the group
ii) Recommend to the party that the member be expelled from the party.A member under criminal investigation may be advised by legal counsel not to engage in the process for fear of incriminating evidence being presented. A member rights in this are respected, and the legal obligation of witnesses to present truthful evidence will be transferred to provide evidence to the necessary authorities."