The information provided in the consultation responses was generally of a good standard, detailed and balanced. This likely reflects the fact that most respondents were already users of the current Code – for example, as councillors themselves, or as council representatives – and were therefore well-placed to comment on the changes made in the revised Code. Among the respondents, there was a clear acceptance of the need to review the Code and a general sense that society and practice have changed since the Code was last updated and that a review in relation to these changes is needed and timely.
Overall, the responses to the consultation indicate a good level of support for many of the changes proposed in the revised Code.
In particular, respondents welcomed focus on clarity, use of plain English, and simplifying of the language of the revised Code. Whilst there were differing views on the use of the first person, the majority of those who commented on this felt it was helpful, making the Code feel more personal.
Respondents welcomed the inclusion of new guidance in relation to bullying and harassment. Respondents also welcomed the strengthening of provisions in the Code relating to the use of social media.
There were some aspects of the Code where respondents were more critical, and felt that more work needed to be done either to make the Code clearer in certain respects, or to tackle perceived problems of balance or bias.
In particular, respondents expressed concern about the level of restrictiveness in the current version of the Code, and whether this could be interpreted or applied in ways that will impeded councillors from fulfilling their duties to the public – such as holding council officers to account – or to generate malicious complaints against councillors.
“The Code needs to better balance the aspiration for high and clearly articulated standards, and the reality of a [councillor’s] job. The theoretical standards articulated will lead to risk averse behaviour by [councillors], and diminish their ability to fulfil their role as leaders of the community.”
Other areas of the Code that attracted a higher rate of comment and feedback were the sections on Gifts and Hospitality and on Declaration of Interests, with various requests for review and revision to these as set out above.
Several respondents made comments in relation to the processes for monitoring and responding to complaints made against councillors, the institutions tasked with this, and the need to review these more fully. Relatedly, because the consultation did not ask explicitly for comments in relation to the Annexes, which include sections which set out processes dealing with complaints and breaches are set out, there is a risk that these parts of the Code may not have been fully reviewed and considered by respondents.
Finally, several respondents noted that the development of clear and comprehensive guidance will be essential to the effectiveness of the revised Code, especially in view of the fact that some of the detail of the previous Code has been stripped out of this version for greater clarity. Respondents on this point were keen to review and comment on the guidance alongside the revised version of the Code.
Following the consultation and the finalisation of this report, the Scottish Government will consider the key findings and decide what actions – if any – need to be taken forward in finalising the revised Code in response to the consultation feedback.
Thereafter, the Scottish Government will take the actions required to ensure the Code is laid before the Scottish Parliament for scrutiny and approval at the earliest possible date.
Once the Code has been approved by the Scottish Parliament we will publish it on the Scottish Government website. The independent Standards Commission will also publish new Guidance to help councillors interpret and adhere to the provisions in the Code of Conduct and to attain the highest possible standards of conduct.