Councillors' code of conduct: December 2021

Code of conduct for councillors setting out standards of behaviour to be followed by elected members of local authorities, issued by Ministers under the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000. This version is effective from 7 December 2021.

Annex A: Protocol For Relations Between Councillors And Employees


The reference to ‘employees’ below covers all employees and officers of councils and all officers and employees of any other body or organisation to which a councillor is appointed or nominated by the Council.

The reference to ‘Convener’ below covers all committee chairs and portfolio leads.

The reference to ‘chief officers’ covers all Chief Executives, Directors and Heads of Service.

The reference to ‘committee’ also covers all forms of executive and scrutiny operating models.


1. This protocol outlines the way in which councillors and employees should behave towards one another. It should be noted that while some scenarios are included, these are not exhaustive. The protocol should be treated, therefore, as applying in all situations where there is interaction between councillors and employees.

2. Councillors and employees should work in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, with neither party seeking to take unfair advantage of their position or influence.


3. Councillors are required to provide strategic leadership and oversight. This involves setting strategy and policy, scrutinising and making major, complex decisions that concern the Council as a whole. Councillors are not, however, responsible for operational management (being the planning, organising and execution involved in day to day activities) as this is the role of employees. Chief Executives and senior employees have ultimate responsibility to ensure that the Council meets its responsibilities.

4. Legally, employees are employed by the Council / other body and are accountable to it as an entity. Employees are responsible for serving the Council / other body as a whole, and not any particular political group, combination of groups or individual councillor. It is nevertheless appropriate for employees to be called upon to assist any political group in its deliberations or to help individual councillors fulfil their different roles (see the section on political groups below).

Office bearers

5. For the Council to perform effectively, it is important that there is a close professional working relationship between a committee convener and the director and other senior employees of any service reporting to that committee. However, such relationships should never be allowed to become so close, or appear to be so close, as to bring into question an employee’s ability to deal with other councillors impartially, or the ability of a convener to deal with other employees impartially.

6. Conveners will have many dealings with employees. While employees should always seek to assist committee chairs, they are ultimately responsible to the relevant chief officer and not to any convener.

7. Conveners will often be consulted on the preparation of agendas and reports. Employees will always be fully responsible, however, for the contents of any report submitted in their name and will always have the right to submit reports to councillors on their areas of professional competence. The Convener does not have a right to veto this course of action.

8. Conveners are recognised as the legitimate elected spokesperson on their committee’s area of responsibility. Where authority is delegated to employees, they may choose to consult the relevant convener about any action they propose to take. The employee nevertheless retains responsibility for the final decision (as long as the delegated authority remains in place).

Political groups

9. Most councils operate through a system of groups of councillors, many of them based on political affiliation. All employees must treat all political groups and individual councillors in a fair and even-handed manner and must maintain political neutrality at all times.

10. Employees can provide political groups with support (such as discussing matters with the convener and vice-convener before a committee meeting or presenting information to a group meeting). While, in practice, such support is likely to be most in demand from whichever political group is in control of the Council, it nevertheless should be available to all political groups. The advice given by employees to different party or political groups should be consistent.

11. Councillors and employees must act in accordance with the council’s rules about the access and support to be provided to political groups (for example, that all requests must be approved by the Chief Executive).

12. Employee support for political groups must not extend beyond providing information and advice in relation to matters of council business. Employees should not be asked, or be expected, to be present at meetings or parts of meetings when matters concerning party business are being discussed. It is the responsibility of the convener of the political group meeting to ensure that all attending are clear on the status of the meeting and the basis on which any employees are present.

13. Councillors and employees must note that while political group meetings may form part of the preliminaries to council decision-making, political groups are not empowered to make decisions on behalf of the Council. Conclusions reached at such meetings are not council decisions and it is essential that they are not interpreted or treated as such.

14. Employees can provide information and advice in relation to matters of council business to political groups. Employees are nevertheless responsible for ensuring that all necessary information and advice is still provided to the relevant committee or sub-committee when the matter in question is considered.

15. Political groups must recognise that information and advice given by employees should be used to enhance discussion and debate at council and committee meetings. Such information or advice should not be used for political advantage (for example by issuing media briefings before a decision is made), as doing so could devalue the decision-making process and can place employees in a difficult position.

16. Employees should take special care when providing information and advice to a meeting of a political group where other individuals who are not elected members of the Council are in attendance, as such individuals will not be bound by the Councillors’ Code (and, in particular, the provisions concerning the declaration of interests and confidentiality).

17. Employees must treat any discussions with a political group or individual councillor as being strictly confidential.

18. Any difficulties or uncertainty about the extent of advice and information that can be provided to political groups should be raised with the Chief Executive (who should then discuss the matter with the group leader).

Councillors as local representatives

19. Councillors should ensure they act in accordance with the provisions of the Councillors’ Code and this protocol when performing such a role. Elected members must recognise that, when performing their local representative role, they are representing the Council. Employees must treat all councillors fairly and openly in their role as local representatives.


20 Employees should not normally copy any communications they have with an individual councillor to any other councillor, unless they have been clear in advance that they intend to do so (or this has been agreed).

Human resource issues

21. Where councillors are involved in the appointments of employees they must act fairly and openly, and make decisions solely on merit.

22. Councillors should not become involved in issues relating to any individual employee’s pay or terms and conditions of appointment, except while serving on a committee tasked with dealing with such matters.

Social relationships

23. The relationship between councillors and employees depends upon trust, which will be enhanced by the development of positive and professional relationships. While councillors and employees may often find themselves in the same social situations, they should take care to avoid close personal familiarity as this can damage the relationship of mutual respect and the belief that employees can undertake their role in an impartial and objective manner. Councillors and employees should, therefore, be cautious in developing close personal friendships while they have an official relationship.

Public comment

24. Councillors and employees both have a responsibility to project a positive image of the Council and should avoid making any public comments that could bring it into disrepute.

25. Councillors should not raise any adverse matters relating to the performance, conduct or capability of employees in public. Employees must ensure they treat councillors with similar respect and courtesy.

Employees supporting councillors

26. Where councils arrange for employees to provide direct administrative or practical support for individual councillors to help them undertake their duties, particular considerations will apply. While councillors may ask employees to provide such support in a particular way, they must nevertheless remember that the employee is accountable to their line manager. Any issues about conflicting priorities, conduct or performance must be referred to the line manager.



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