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Local Government: Code of Conduct

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 4 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they plan to introduce a code of conduct for local government officers.

My Lords, the Government are committed to considering the introduction of a statutory model code of conduct for local government employees. In taking that forward, we wish to be able to take into account any lessons learnt from the first year’s operation of the revised model code for local councillors, which came into effect in May 2007.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Does she accept that the introduction of directly elected mayors has fundamentally altered the role of council officers, who are now answerable to a single individual and not to the council as a whole? Does she agree that the lessons that are now emerging from London suggest that a code of conduct for officers is now becoming urgent?

My Lords, as I have said, we will certainly look at the lessons that have come out of the councillors’ code. We will consult over the summer, and we hope to produce something appropriate for employees in the autumn. In the mean time, the GLA is governed by the ethical framework that applies to all local authorities—by both voluntary codes for its employees and a statutory code for its councillors.

My Lords, if we are to have one of these codes for local government employees, will the Minister give the House an assurance that it will apply to all local government employees? I understand that the Welsh, who have stolen a march on the Government in this matter, have managed to exclude both teachers and firemen from their code of practice.

My Lords, I can certainly give an assurance that it will cover all local authorities and local authority employees. I expect that it may in part be incorporated in the contracts of employment, which employees hold and which makes them different from councillors themselves. It will be interesting to look at the seven principles of public life, which are set out in most of the voluntary codes, and to see the extent to which we can make them exemplify, as the councillors’ code does, what exactly we mean by independence and selflessness in government.

My Lords, is there not the slightest danger that the introduction of this code will require legislation similar to the Civil Service Bill?

My Lords, that is not the case at all. It is something that we can do, as I understand it, under the Local Government Act 2000, so the legislative framework is already in place.

My Lords, has not the introduction of elected mayors, of the cabinet system of local government, and of the executive, overview and scrutiny split inevitably led to top local government officials becoming much more politicised than they were, because inevitably they are now working to the council leadership rather than to the council as a whole? Is this not an undesirable trend?

My Lords, I do not recognise that picture, because the point about our local government officials is the historical integrity and seriousness of purpose with which they serve not only local government but the local area as a whole. It is interesting; we have 80,000 local councillors but a very small number of cases are brought to the Standards Board for England every year. That says a great deal.