The Ethical Framework
The Ethical Framework
Local government requires high standards of conduct to ensure that there is public confidence in everything we do. You have a legal duty to act ethically. This is set out in the Local Government Act 2000. Also, the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) (Wales) Order 2008 requires a mandatory Code of Conduct in each authority, based on a national model.
The Code draws on the 7 Principles of Public Life which were set out in the Nolan Report “Standards of Conduct in Local Government in England, Scotland and Wales”. Three more were added to these: a duty to uphold the law, proper stewardship of the Council’s resources and equality and respect for others.
The standards are now described as follows:
Members must act solely in the public interest. They must never use their position as members to improperly confer an advantage on, or to avoid a disadvantage for, themselves or to improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on others.
Members must declare any private interests relevant to their public duties and take steps to resolve any conflict in a way that protects the public interest.
3. Integrity & Propriety
Members must not put themselves in a position where their integrity is called into question by any financial or other obligation to individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their duties. Members must on all occasions avoid the appearance of such behaviour.
4. Duty to Uphold the Law
Members must act to uphold the law and act on all occasions in accordance with the trust that the public has placed in them.
In discharging their duties and responsibilities members must ensure that their authority’s resources are used both lawfully and prudently.
6. Objectivity in Decision-making
In carrying out their responsibilities including making appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, members must make decisions on merit. Whilst members must have regard to the professional advice of officers and may properly take account of the views of others, including their political groups, it is their responsibility to decide what view to take and, if appropriate, how to vote on any issue.
7. Equality & Respect
Members must carry out their duties and responsibilities with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity for all people, regardless of their gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age or religion, and show respect and consideration for others.
Members must be as open as possible about all their actions and those of their authority. They must seek to ensure that disclosure of information is restricted only in accordance with the law.
Members are accountable to the electorate and the public generally for their actions and for the way they carry out their responsibilities as a member. They must be prepared to submit themselves to such scrutiny as is appropriate to their responsibilities.
Members must promote and support these principles by leadership and example so as to promote public confidence in their role and in the authority. They must respect the impartiality and integrity of the authority’s statutory officers and its other employees.
The Code of Conduct
Every council has a Code of Conduct based on a national model. The Code of Conduct shows you how to apply the ethical framework.
Unless you sign your Declaration of Acceptance and give a written undertaking to observe the Code of Conduct you cannot be a member. If you fail to undertake or observe the Code, you can be suspended or even disqualified from office. The Code applies to all councillors in Wales.
The Code applies to you whenever you are…
- In any “official” meeting of the council;
- In any meeting where councillors or officers of the authority are present;
- Acting, claiming to act or giving the impression you are acting as a representative of the council;
- Conducting business of the authority as a member and acting as a representative of the council;
- Acting in an official capacity; and
- Acting as a representative on another body unless that body has conflicting legal rules or its own code.
Also at any time if:
- You conduct yourself in a manner likely to bring your office or council into disrepute; or
- You use or attempt to use your position to gain advantage or avoid disadvantage for yourself or others; or
- You misuse your authority’s resources.
General rules you need to follow under the Code
- Promote equality;
- Treat others with respect and consideration;
- Do not bully or harass people;
- Do not compromise the impartiality of officers;
- Do not disclose confidential information;
- Do not prevent access to information;
- Do not bring your office or authority into disrepute;
- You must report breaches of the code;
- Do not make vexatious complaints;
- You must cooperate with investigations;
- You must not use your position improperly;
- Do not misuse your authority’s resources;
- Reach decisions objectively;
- Consider advice that officers give you and give reasons if you don’t take it;
- Comply with the law and your authority’s rules regarding expenses; and
- Do not accept any gifts or hospitality that would place you under an obligation or seem to do so.
The public must have confidence that you are making decisions in their best interests not yours; therefore, if you have an interest in the matter you must declare it. There are two types of interest: Personal and Prejudicial.
What are Personal Interests?
You have a personal interest when a decision relates to or is likely to affect you or a “close personal associate” in relation to:
- Your job or business
- Your employer or company in which you are a partner or director
- Someone who has contributed to your election costs or member expenses
- Any company where you have shares over £25K or more than 1% of the total share value which has premises or land in your area
- Any contract that your authority makes with a company in which you are a partner, paid director or hold shares
- Any land in which you have an interest in your authority’s area
- Any land let by your authority to a firm in which you are a partner, paid director or hold shares
- Any land in your authority’s area which you have a license to occupy for at least 28 days
- Any body to which you have been elected appointed or nominated by your authority
- Any public authority or body exercising functions of a public nature, charity, public opinion or policy, trade union or professional association, private club or society in your authority’s area of which you are a member or in a management position
- Any conflict between your ward and decisions which affect the authority as a whole.
Who is a ‘Close Personal Associate’?
Someone who is a friend, a colleague with whom you have strong connections, a business associate or a close relative. It also includes someone with whom you have been in dispute. It does not include a casual acquaintance, distant relative or someone who you meet through your work.
What do you do if you have a Personal Interest?
- You must declare it verbally at meetings
- You must declare it when making written or verbal representations outside of a meeting
- You must complete a declaration of interests form
- BUT you are entitled to take part in discussions and vote unless it is a prejudicial interest.
What are Prejudicial Interests?
Prejudicial interests are personal interests which a member of the public would regard as likely to influence your opinion or your ability to be objective for example:
- If your daughter lives next to a proposed site for a new housing development
- If your son attends a local school which is due for closure.
What do you do if you have a Prejudicial Interest?
- You must leave the meeting during the discussion
- You must not exercise delegated powers
- You must not seek to influence the decision
- You must not make written or verbal representations.
- The Standards Committee has granted you a dispensation
- The public have a right to speak or provide evidence (but you must leave after you have spoken)
- You have been called before a scrutiny committee.
Predetermination and Bias
If you are involved in making a decision, you are required to take into account evidence and all relevant factors and disregard that which is irrelevant. You should also avoid making up your mind before hearing all the facts.
It is possible that your decision making may be open to challenge if you give the impression that you have made up your mind before hearing all the relevant information from all the relevant people. This is called ‘predetermination’ and means having decided a position on something where no argument would change your mind.
Predetermination has been the subject of legislation (Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011). which tried to clarify “that it is proper for councillors to play an active role in local discussions and that they should not be liable to legal challenge as a result”. This was because council decisions could be challenged because of councillors being accused of having closed minds, usually because of previous statements in meetings or to the press. Following the Act, cases are less likely to be brought against councillors based on what they have said previously. However, you may still be challenged if it can be shown that you did not follow your legal requirements to take into account all relevant factors before making a decision.
What happens if you breach the Code of Conduct?
If someone believes that you have breached the Code, a complaint can be made to your Monitoring Officer. As councillor, you have a duty to make a complaint if you think a fellow councillor is in breach of the Code. Authorities have their own ‘local resolution protocols’ for dealing with ‘low-level’ complaints locally which might involve for example Monitoring Officers addressing the problem with Group Leaders or an ad hoc committee of councillors. More serious alleged breaches of the Code will be referred to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. If a complaint is found to be proven, the Ombudsman will refer the case to a local standards committee or the Independent Adjudication Panel for Wales, and sanctions can range from no action through suspension, to disqualification for 5 years. Even if you are suspended you are still subject to the Code!
Your authority will have further guidance on the Code but if you are in any doubt about how you should act, ask the Monitoring Officer and read the Guidance from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales on this website.
Civility and Respect
You are responsible for your behaviour as a member. This goes beyond adhering to the requirements of the law, the code of conduct and rules and protocols. As a member you also have a responsibility to behave to a higher standard than is expected from the public. This means behaving with civility to other members, officers, and the public. Not losing your temper, not treating anyone disrespectfully and always using appropriate language. It means treating everyone with consideration and courtesy regardless of how they treat you. This applies to you all the time. Debate should never be conducted in a disrespectful manner, councillors can disagree with each other without being personal or rude. If you are a member of a Political party, your group leader is responsible for monitoring and where necessary advising you to modify your behaviour.