Ethical standards in public life - model code of conduct for board members: consultation analysis

An analysis of responses to the consultation on current proposals for a revised Model Code of Conduct for members of devolved public bodies.



In line with Section 1 of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 (‘the Act’), Scottish Ministers are required to produce a Model Code of Conduct for members of devolved public bodies (‘the Model Code’), as well as a Code of Conduct for Councillors (‘the Councillors’ Code’). The Act stipulates that Ministers must issue a Model Code – including any revisions – only once it has been laid before, and approved by, the Scottish Parliament.

The Model Code sets out the standards that all board members of organisations listed in Schedule 3 of the Act must comply with when carrying out their duties, and each organisation should produce their Code of Conduct based on the Model Code. The Model Code is supported by supplementary, independent guidance published by the Standards Commission for Scotland (‘the Standards Commission’), which provides more detail on what the Model Code means for board members in practice.

The Ethical Standards Commissioner (‘the Commissioner’) and the Standards Commission are two separate, independent statutory organisations.

The Commissioner is responsible for both public appointments and public standards. Where public standards are concerned, the Commissioner can investigate a complaint about a member of a devolved public body who is alleged to have contravened the appropriate public body’s Code of Conduct. Likewise, the Commissioner can also investigate complaints about a councillor in respect of the Councillors’ Code.

The Standards Commission has responsibility for enforcing compliance with the Codes of Conduct and providing general guidance on their interpretation. Following initial investigation by the Commissioner, the Standards Commission adjudicates on cases of alleged contravention of the Codes of Conduct. Where a hearing is held, the Standards Commission has the power to impose sanctions.

Purpose of this consultation

The Model Code was last reviewed in 2014 and the Scottish Government acknowledges that various developments have taken place in society since then. We think that it is important to take stock of these changes and provide end-users with an opportunity to contribute to a revised Model Code. For example, we want to highlight the increasing role played by social media in our society, while underlining the importance of respectful behaviour and highlighting that bullying and harassment should not be tolerated under any circumstances. At the same time, we also want to make the Model Code simpler and easier to understand, so as to ensure that the highest standards of conduct are maintained in our public bodies.

As such, on 19 October 2020, we launched ‘Ethical standards in public life: consultation on model code of conduct for board members of devolved public bodies’, to seek views on current proposals for a revised Model Code.[1] To respond to any changes resulting from the consultation, the Standards Commission will also review and revise its own guidance to support the Model Code.

The consultation contained 12 questions in total and this comprised a mixture of both closed and open-ended questions. The first three questions explored whether respondents had used the Model Code before (and, if so, in what capacity) and whether they agreed there is a need to review the current Model Code. The remaining questions asked respondents to comment on each individual section of the revised draft Model Code (from Section 1 to Annex A), how clear and easy the revised Model Code is to understand and, last, whether they had any final comments on the proposed revisions to the Model Code.

Methodology and responses received

We took every opportunity to promote the consultation to end-users of the Model Code, and those who chose to take part had the opportunity to participate either as an individual or collectively on behalf of an organisation. The consultation closed on 8 February 2021 and received 46 responses. This included one duplicate response, which was subsequently removed from the analysis.

The remaining 45 responses were analysed using MS Excel, with the responses to each question being analysed in turn. In addition to the analysis of the closed questions, a thematic analysis of the open-ended responses was conducted in order to identify key themes in relation to each question.

It is not possible to reflect every point of detail that respondents submitted in this consultation analysis, since detailed and specific comments were received on many different paragraphs within the Model Code. This analysis focuses mainly on points where multiple respondents made comments, and which thus emerged as themes of broader interest. However, all responses to the consultation will be carefully considered by the Scottish Government and key stakeholders, to ensure the revised version of the Model Code is fit for purpose.

Of the 45 responses which were analysed, 29 (64%) were received from organisations and 16 (36%) from individuals.

Thirty respondents (67%) provided information about their organisation.[2] Table 1 below summarises the types of organisations represented in the analysis where the relevant information was provided. The percentages are expressed as a proportion of the 30 respondents providing organisational information.

Table 1: Respondents by type of organisation (n=30) [3]
Type of public body No. of respondents (%)
Executive non-departmental public bodies 12 (40%)
Advisory non-departmental public bodies 2 (7%)
Public corporations 1 (3%)
Health bodies 3 (10%)
Non-ministerial offices 2 (7%)
Commissioners and ombudsmen 1 (3%)
Other significant national bodies 1 (3%)
Integration Joint Boards 5 (17%)
Regional transport 2 (7%)
Education 1 (3%)
Total 30

As shown above, respondents from executive non-departmental public bodies made up the largest proportion (12, or 40%) of the responses where information on organisation was provided.

It is important to highlight that the Model Code covers a wide range of organisations across a variety of sectors, each with their own remit and priority areas. This makes it challenging to produce one Model Code that will fully satisfy the needs of each individual organisation. Moving forward, we will ensure that the development of the revised Model Code takes cognisance of the views expressed across all organisations and sectors as far as possible.

It is also important to note that the views of respondents to the consultation are not necessarily representative of those of the wider population of interest – including board members, other staff members within public bodies and their stakeholders more broadly. This is because individuals and organisations who have a keen interest in any given topic, those who hold strong views, and those who have the capacity to respond are more likely to take part in a consultation than those who do not. As such, the responses to any consultation are a self-selecting group which may be biased in certain ways that we do not know.

Reflecting this, the analysis is primarily qualitative in nature. We do not try to identify the percentage of respondents who held particular views but instead focus on understanding which topics were of particular interest or concern to the respondents, and the range and strength of views expressed in relation to those topics.



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