John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
  Liverpool Dispute
This dispute in Liverpool is interesting because it it not unique. I have heard of a large number of instances when Council Officers (and particularly senior council officers) have used the Standards Board as a threat against Councillors.

In at least three authorities the leader of the council has been removed from office for things which vary, but would not normally be judged as being corrupt.

In practise the whole system which involved sacking a Labour councillor for going out of the wrong door, sacking a Lib Dem Councillor for writing to an MP and suspending an independent councillor for being rude about officers undermines democracy.

Oddly enough MPs are allowed to be rude whilst councillors are not supposed to be rude however upset they are. With the Audit Commission applying tight constraints and targets on local authorities this government has massively undermined local democracy.

In a number of local authorities you end up with a situation in which there is a tension between the permanent staff who have their own agenda and that of the politicians who are there to hold the system to account and make it respond to the local citizens.

Another problem has been the need to declare invitations to events that you refuse. It is only supposed to involve events which cost more than £25, but on that basis rather than spend the time working out how much each event it I merely declare everything. This involves a large amount of work for absolutely no benefit.

Without question if someone offers a bribe it should be reported to the police, but if I am invited to a concert and don't go, I see no merit in reporting that.
 
Comments:
Much as it pains me to agree with you, I'm also a little concerned about the Standards Board. No-one can argue that elected members should not be held to account for their behaviour, but it seems that some council officers across the country are using the letter of the law to threaten councillors.

There are some councillors who will stand up against those threats (Paul Dimoldenburg, for example), but I would be concerned that some council officers are able to dominate less experienced or less confident members.

This does seem to overturn the concept of elected accountability. If a councillor is abusing their position or corrupt, then I have no problem with them being removed from office. Many of these things are better left to internal discipline or to the electorate.
 
Bloody hell, John, I think I should resign. I do not think I could agree with you more. I cannot say too much because I am bound by a legal compromise agreement, but in at least one council I can think of, elected members are so tightly bound and gagged by their chief officers, with full complicity of ODPM, that they are totally hamstrung from even commenting on ward issues unless they have run them through the council press office first. Of course there were councillors who abused their positions, but the pendulum has swung in totally the opposite direction. Soon Chief Executives will be electing members. A bit like the elected Mayor syndrome, I suspect.
 
This is one of my campaign issues.
 
I've put a lengthy post up at Talk Politics on this subject - there's a consultation on the councillor's code of practice running up until 17th June which needs to be targeted by all parties from the standpoint of upholding democratic principles of accountability as being paramount.
 
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