Publication - Research and analysis

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

Published: 10 Jun 2021
Local Government and Communities Directorate
Part of:
Public sector

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

Ethical standards in public life - model code of conduct for board members: consultation analysis
Section 1: Introduction to the Model Code

Section 1: Introduction to the Model Code

Question 4: In Section 1, and throughout the Model Code, we have removed unnecessary information to make it easier to understand. Do you have any comments on the changes proposed for Section 1: Introduction to the Model Code?

Twenty-nine respondents out of 45 (64%) provided comments on the changes proposed for Section 1 of the Model Code, while 16 (36%) did not. Among those who commented, the feedback received was generally positive, with many respondents highlighting that the revised Section 1 was easier to understand and more user-friendly than the equivalent section in the current Model Code. In particular, respondents liked that the revised section was shorter and this was felt to make it easier to follow. They also commented on the removal of unnecessary information and “wordy” paragraphs, the use of plain English and the improved layout and format of Section 1, which made it easier to find the relevant information. These changes were felt to have brought greater clarity to this particular section of the Model Code.

A few respondents commented positively on the use of the ‘first person’ narrative in Section 1 and felt that this helped to underline the responsibility placed on individual board members. As one respondent said, “The use of the ‘first person’ throughout makes it clear it is the individual’s responsibility to understand and comply with the code.”

At the same time, however, a few respondents did not like the use of the first person. These respondents said that they were unconvinced that the use of the first person was the best way to encourage board members to take ownership of their behaviour, or felt that the use of the first person could be seen as patronising, unhelpful or unnatural.

Several other respondents also provided their views on other changes and/or additions that could be made to the Model Code, or on things they did not like about the revised Model Code. A few highlighted issues with Paragraph 1.5 in particular. It was felt that not enough clarity was provided around when individuals could be reasonably perceived to be acting as a board member, and that the circumstances in which the Model Code would apply are therefore too wide. One respondent said that this created ambiguities about when a breach of the Model Code could be perceived to have taken place. On Paragraph 1.5, they commented:

“I presume that this was included to reflect the current situation inasmuch as a breach of the Code only occurs when an individual is, or could reasonably be construed as, acting in the capacity of a board member. However, as written, it places the obligation on members to comply with the Code in that capacity but does not remove the obligation to comply when they are not acting in that capacity. As a consequence of this drafting, to use a simple example, Paragraph 1.4 (see above) would apply to an individual regardless of whether they were or could be construed to be acting in the capacity of a board member. This same issue applies to the rest of the content in Section 1.”

A couple of respondents also highlighted issues with Paragraph 1.10 in relation to training and development. These respondents felt that the current wording creates an obligation to undertake any available training regardless of the need for, relevance of or cost of that training. As such, they suggested the removal of the word ‘any’, prefacing the section with ‘relevant and necessary’, or making it clearer that any training or professional development for board members should be at the discretion of the relevant Chair. The research team acknowledges that it may be relevant for these issues to be considered by the Standards Commission in their guidance supporting the Model Code.

Some examples of other suggested changes to Section 1 included:

  • including a brief introductory paragraph at the beginning of Section 1, explaining the purpose and use of the Model Code – the research team acknowledges that it may be more appropriate to include this in the Standards Commission’s guidance and not in the Model Code itself;
  • including a reference to politicians in Paragraph 1.6;
  • placing greater emphasis on equality and diversity, for example by including the need to undertake training in relation to the Equality Act 2010 and including accessible references to supporting guidance on the Act;
  • providing a definition of the ‘objective test’[6] and making it clear that this test applies wherever the Model Code makes use of the term ‘perception’ – again, the research team suggests that this could be reflected on in the Standards Commission’s guidance accompanying the Model Code.