Sunday, 08 July 2007 20:00

On behalf of the Liberal Party we would wish to make the following comments in the public domain concerning these fundamental questions over the rights and responsibilities of councillors.

To William Tandoh
Local Democracy Directorate
Department for communities and Local Government
Elland House
Bressenden House

Dear Sir,

On behalf of the Liberal Party we would wish to make the following comments in the public domain concerning these fundamental questions over the rights and responsibilities of councillors.

We believe the whole Standards Board approach is deeply flawed , it is in our view seeing the need to tie up councillors in regulations, almost assuming them to be guilty and tried by an elitist body of fellow councillors with vested interests in the outcome.

The different "regulatory" bodies are taking the place of municipal democracy. It is the task of an opposition to expose questionable standards and behaviour and to take its case to the hustings.

Similarly the recent grading of Councils by the Audit Commission suggests that municipalities are unaccountable corporate bodies that need to be assessed by by a government appointed regulatory body. Nonsense. In a democracy it is a key role of opposition to examine, assess, judge and then to hold the governing administration to account in the ballot box.

It is deplorable that as more money is poured into Councillors' allowances and into Group research and servicing, so do the powers of local government decline and the political ability to hold the executive to account is diminished.

In contrast the Board does not give any meaningful regulation to control officers who act unethically , undermine councillors, act with personal and political bias, obstruct legitimate information being provided to elected councillors, in particular to opposition councillors.

Nowhere is their a real defense of a councilors freedom to speak as community advocates and challenge the abuse of public powers or funds, on behalf of the people who have elected them It is our view that the people who elect councillors who should judge their behavior in the ballot box, unless a councillor is subject to criminal legal action.

In particular the interpretation that prior comment by councillors on issues, for example in election literature or other councils disqualifies them from decision making is an unjustified limitation of the powers and duties of a councillor and undermines the democratic process by limiting the ability of candidates and councillors to put a view on planning in the public domain during the electoral process.

If councillors are have to have their rights taken, ie excluded or suspended from office, away then they should be tied by a group of electors not by politicians who all too often may be at a personal or political advantage to extinguish political rivals.

The proposals for the concept of local investigation is even more prone to personal and political bias by officers and councillors. Without doubt we have had several instances of senior officers colluding with members of the ruling party to undermine the constitutional rights of opposition members.

The vague concept of not showing respect has been used and abused to prevent opposition councillors airing legitimate grievances and challenging abuse of powers.

In respect of disclosure again the code gives no expression for the right of councillors to share legitimate information in the public domain.

We are appalled that the paper declares confidential information as being disclosed for political gain as something to be suppressed. The difference between political gain and public interest is highly subjective.

We believe there should only be a restriction on information exempt from public domain where there are financial interests or personal privacy of individuals potentially compromised. The public interest must be judged on the whole not just in the cases of a matter of health and safety, environment or legal obligations.

In respect of criminal behavior. We do not believe a councillor should be subject to discipline for behavior that is considered criminal when there has been no criminal conviction.

We believe that the code should not apply whatsoever to the private life of an individual unless the action has a direct and meaningful link to their work as a councillor. Councillors do not have the benefit of a full  time salary or job security there is no reason why their private lives should be under scrutiny or subject to frivolous or malicious investigation or character assassination.

Lastly we would point out the common criminal is treated better than the current standards board procedures. The victim of allegations should be informed when allegations are made and have the right to a trial by jury, with the right of legal support, the right to examine all the evidence and call their own witnesses, all these basic procedural balances have been absent in the procedures operated by the standards board to date.

Councillor Steve Radford
President of The Liberal Party
Liverpool, UK

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