Section 1: Introduction to the Code
Question 2: Do you have any comments on the changes proposed for Section 1: Introduction to the Code of Conduct?
Of all 48 respondents, 22 (46%) made a comment on Section 1 of the revised Code of Conduct. Of the remaining respondents, one did not answer, and 25 (52%) said they had no comments on the section.
Several respondents commented on the tone of the revised Code, particularly the use of the first person which is a major change from the existing Code. Most respondents who commented on this welcomed the use of the first person, although a small number felt that this was patronising.
“The use of plain English and the presentation of the Code in the first person is welcomed as a means of increasing councillor engagement and understanding of the provisions of the Code and their personal responsibility to comply with these provisions.”
There was some concern that the move towards clarity and simplicity may have resulted in reduced recognition of the complexity involved in making judgements relating to some of the matters raised in the Code.
Some respondents also felt that in general the bar is set too high in the Code, and that the standards being demanded here for councillors are unrealistic and go beyond what is required of other elected representatives.
On Paragraph 1.5, respondents raised concerns around the width of the application of the requirements here, and in particular how ‘could be reasonably perceived as acting as a Councillor’ might be defined. Respondents noted that councillors have the right to act in a private or political capacity and that this should be made clear in the Code. Some respondents noted that this is articulated in the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament, and that the Councillors’ Code of Conduct could adopt a similar approach.
Respondents also had concerns that basing this requirement on the perceptions of others is too subjective, and should be subject to the full objective test found elsewhere in the Code.
“Councillors have concerns that the Code may be considered to apply to them in circumstances where it was not their intent to act in their capacity as a Councillor… A Councillor cannot know how they are being perceived by a third party and this seems to impose a restriction on the expression of views that is not the case for other elected representatives.”
Several respondents commented on Paragraph 1.8, where they felt that the standard of being ‘above reproach’ was an unreasonably high standard for Councillors to meet. Respondents pointed out that most Councillors face some level of expression of disapproval or complaint, and that the Code needs to include an additional paragraph setting out how this can be objectively tested. There was a suggestion to include some of the wording from the Guidance in the Code to make this point clearer.
“The phrase “above reproach” sets an unreasonable standard for Councillors. Councillors will often be the subject of complaints for any number of reasons and there is no test of reasonableness in this section. Generally, the view was expressed by Councillors that the Code seeks to impose a higher standard of behaviour on them than is expected of other representatives and it is questioned whether this is appropriate.”
A small number of respondents also commented on Paragraph 1.9. One respondent felt that the change from ‘should’ to ‘will’ seek advice was too restrictive, and asked what the sanction would be if a Councillor did not seek advice. Another respondent noted that senior/experienced Councillors could be a source of advice.
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