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SALFORD COUNCILLORS CHAMPAGNE AND BACK HANDERS
 

Star date: 20th July 2012

GOVERNMENT LOCALISM ACT MAKES COUNCILLORS COME CLEAN ON SELF INTEREST – OR DOES IT?

The Government's feted Localism Act is supposed to make councillors' financial interests more transparent. Now, they don't have to just declare if they or their wife has an interest in a decision they are making, but also if their close mates and children can benefit.

However, there's so many loopholes it's going to be hard to pin them down. And what's this about only having to declare `gifts and hospitality' over £100? Now we'll never get to know about all those free tickets for The Lowry and Salford Reds.

Full story under the table…click here


Amidst all the fuss about the new Salford Mayor's salary at the full Salford Council meeting this week (see here for full story), the first item on the councillors' agenda was voted through with hardly any fuss.

It was about a new Code of Conduct for Members, brought about the Government's Localism Act, which supposedly puts more power into local people's hands (and there goes a flying Pickles over Salford Precinct, but that's another matter)…

The main thrust of the Code of Conduct - based on the seven so-called Nolan Principles of Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership (stop laughing!) - is about monitoring whether councillors get any personal benefit from the decisions they make… through the buggers either declaring interests at meetings or via the official Council Register of Members' Interests. Here's the Salford Star guide…

CODE OF CONDUCT – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE VERY, VERY UGLY…

THE GOOD

• Under the New Code, councillors now have to disclose whether a decision benefits their mates – which should be interesting. Does Peel Holdings' John Whittaker constitute a mate? Or Salford Reds' John Wilkinson? Oh the fun we can have with this one! The Council report gives the example where a "Member of the Council's Planning Panel becomes aware that a decision in relation to a planning application involves a `relevant person' (such as a child or close friend of the Member), the draft New Code will require the Member to disclose this as a `Personal Interest' to the meeting". Unfortunately, it's not a criminal offence if they don't…


• Under the New Code, councillors can't be reported for mere `failure to show respect to others' as they could have been before. Now the Code only prohibits `bullying and being abusive to others'. It might lead to more interesting times. But which one does taking your coat off in the Civic Centre corridor and offering out another councillor come under?

• It's now a criminal offence for councillors not to disclose what are called Disclosable Pecuniary Interests (DPIs), although the punishment is a bit puny – only `a fine of up to £5,000 and/or disqualification from office for a period of up to five years'. DPIs are things that councillors, their wives or partners have a monetary interest in, or as the Code states `any employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain'.

• The councillors Register of Interests is finally going to be made available online in the autumn. As opposed to the current method of having to make an appointment to go down to the Civic Centre to view the thing, only to find it's been hurriedly filled in while you were on the bus…

THE BAD

• There are no references in the New Code to councillors' conduct in their private life. So, for instance, if a councillor was visiting a brothel in Eccles, say, while he was, say, involved with child protection, say, then this wouldn't be covered. Not that there are, of course, any councillors who have ever visited brothels in Eccles…this is purely in the realms of fantasy.

• Councillors have to declare any Personal Interests in the Register – political parties, trade unions, charitable organisations etc - but now they only have to do this if they are in `a position of general control or management'. Meanwhile, if we've read this right, councillors don't have to register that they have a stake in a company unless they hold shares with a value over £25,000. Which is rather disgusting.


THE VERY, VERY UGLY

• Councillors only have to register `receipt of gifts and hospitality with an estimated value of £100' whereas it was previously £25. The Council report states that "it was felt on review that the previous figure of £25 under the Current Code was too low." Don't know where they are living but in Salford you can still get a bloody good free night out on £99.99. Tickets for The Lowry, Salford Reds…meals at Puccini's…champagne at The Crescent pub…the list is endless…


• Loopholes. There's loads of them. Or, in Council-speak `dispensations'. While councillors have to declare interests before they can take part in debates or vote, the Localism Act lets the Council itself decide whether they have to declare those interests. And `dispensations' can be granted for all sorts of things, most notably, that it's "in the interests of people living in the Council's area" or "otherwise appropriate" to grant the dispensation. Even the Council report recognises that this is rather `subjective' and proposes to delegate the dispensation decision to the Standards Committee – made up of, er, councillors, and an `independent person' who doesn't actually get a vote…

• And, finally, if a councillor breaks the Code of Conduct, the Government's shiny new Localism Act doesn't actually give the Council any specific powers to impose sanctions. The report states "As a result, the range of actions that the Council can take in respect of a Member who has been found to have failed to comply with the New Code is very limited"…If found guilty at a battery of Standards sub committee hearings, a terrible fate awaits any naughty councillors. Amongst punishments available, the naughty councillor may…have their Council computer taken off them! Be banned from certain rooms at the Civic Centre! Or be sent for training! You can hear the squeals of terror from here…

 

To read the full 44 page Council report (we're sure you can't wait), click here and then click on item 06 `New Code of Conduct for Members and Arrangements for Dealing with' (the heading finishes there…)

Cartoon nicked from Private Eye Rotten Boroughs page

Mark Armstrong wrote
at 20:55:33 on 23 July 2012
I love the cartoon it depicts Salford so well
 
Joe O'Neill wrote
at 12:38:53 on 21 July 2012
I wonder when one calls one a T--- on salford on line does that mean one can have ones computer prevlidges removed?.I would suggest people who wish to gain access to the postion of Councillor remember they are here to represent not bully.
 
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