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.

Need to review and update the current Model Code

Question 3: Do you agree that there is a need to review and update the current Model Code? Could you provide information to support your response?

Forty-four respondents (98%) provided their views on whether there is a need to review and update the current Model Code, while one respondent (2%) did not. Of the 44 respondents who provided their views, the vast majority (41 respondents, or 93%) agreed that there is a need to review and update the Model Code. When asked to provide more information to support their response, these respondents most often expressed the view that society and practice is changing and that the Model Code must be updated to ensure its continued relevance and/or to incorporate lessons learned through recent experience, with some also highlighting that some time has passed since 2014, when the Model Code was previously reviewed. Comments from these respondents included:

“[The] Code [was] last amended in 2014 so a review would seem appropriate given the number of changes in recent years - particularly with recent changes accelerated by the need to work differently due to the pandemic.”

“It is appropriate to revisit the Code from time to time, to seek improved clarity and to update in light of experience and changing external drivers and expectations.”

“As it stands the Model Code does not reflect our ever increasingly diverse society around gender, race and ethnicity, disability, religion, sexuality, class and age. We recommend the Model Code needs to be drafted in such a way that it is able to respond in an inclusive way, appropriately and sensitively to this diversity. To be fit for purpose it needs to go further, setting standards on equalities to fundamentally ensure the highest standards of conduct are in place and maintained.”

Several respondents noted the increased role played by social media and online technology in society and felt that this justified the need to review the Model Code. A similar proportion recognised that the Model Code required updating to address issues relating to bullying and harassment and/or to strengthen key areas such as respect and courtesy, to ensure that current expectations around behaviour are adequately reflected in the Model Code. As we heard from one respondent:

“It is appropriate to make the Model Code easier to understand and to take account of developments in our society, such as the role of social media. It is also appropriate to strengthen the Model Code to reinforce the importance of behaving in a respectful manner and to make it clear that bullying and harassment is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. This refresh provides the opportunity to produce a Model Code that is fit for purpose and to ensure the highest standards of conduct are maintained.”

Others felt that the Model Code required reviewing in order to provide greater clarity. While some were of the view that more clarity was required in general, others highlighted specific parts of the Model Code that would benefit most from greater clarity. For example, respondents felt that clarity was needed in relation to:

  • when board members can reasonably be considered as representing their public body;
  • when a conflict of interest requires a declaration;
  • when conflicts of interest should remove board members from discussions.

Another relatively common theme among respondents was the need for the Model Code to be made more accessible and easy to understand. Respondents saw this as being important for both board members and members of the public. For board members, respondents said that a more simple and accessible Model Code would help to encourage compliance with the Model Code itself. Members of the public – who were viewed as being unfamiliar with the language and ethos of the public sector – were also seen as beneficiaries of a simpler and more user-friendly Model Code.

Out of 44 respondents to this question, three (7%) disagreed that there is a need to review and update the Model Code, all three of whom engaged with the consultation as individuals. When asked to provide further information, two of these respondents said that the Model Code did not need to be updated because the current Model Code works well. For example, as one respondent said:

“From my point of view the current Model Code works well and gives sufficient explanation and understanding of the rules for all to follow. We are all well aware of the Nolan principles and how they have been developed in the UK and in Scotland; from my personal experience the Code appears to work well.”[5]



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