Section 2: Key principles of the Code of Conduct
Question 3: Do you have any comments on the changes proposed for Section 2: Key Principles of the Code of Conduct?
Of all 48 respondents, 23 (48%) made a comment on Section 2 of the revised Code of Conduct. Of the remaining respondents, two did not answer, and 23 (48%) said they had no comments on the section and two did not answer. This may indicate that the majority of respondents were content with the changes proposed to this section. However, a degree of caution is required here as it may also be the case that respondents did not provide feedback for other reasons.
Some respondents commented on the statement that the principles should be used for guidance and interpretation only. For clarity, they felt that the statement within the Code should be expanded to include wording from the Guidance to the effect that a breach of the principles does not in itself constitute evidence of a breach of the Code.
Many of the comments on this section related to the principle of Duty as set out in Paragraph 2.1 of the Code. Several respondents commented on the requirement in the principle that ‘I have a duty to act in the interests of the Council as a whole’, expressing the view that councillors’ primary duty is to their constituents and not to the Council.
“Councillors are elected to their role by the public and serve the public first and foremost. The current proposals over-emphasise the Councillor’s duty to the Council rather than to representing their constituents. As drafted, the Code assumes the public interest and a Council’s interests are synonymous, but it is often demonstrated that this is not the case.”
The same respondent also pointed out a potential conflict between the duty to take decisions solely in terms of the public interest, the duty to act in the interests of the Council as a whole, and the duty of leadership: to maintain and strengthen public trust and confidence in the Council and Councillors. They also felt that the Code could be interpreted to prevent the scrutiny and holding to account of officers.
Also commenting on this section, another respondent felt that the need to represent the interests of all constitutents should be emphasised.
Respondents commented on the principle of Respect. One suggested that it should reference online and social media communications, while another considered that the wording of the principle on respect is too simplistic and should include some qualifying language to reflect situations where a Councillor might need to defend themselves or someone else against the actions of a third party.
One respondent thought that the restriction in the Openness section might potentially be mis-used by some Councillors “to hide behind mistakes and unfair decisions”.
Another respondent felt that there should be a duty on Councillors to challenge failings in the Council’s performance. The same respondent also considered that:
“There should be a principle of committing to democratic decision-making, transparency and accountability, and local government that is directed by the authority’s local elected representatives. Absent such provisions there is a real danger the code serves to insulate bureaucracy from democratic elements.”
Relatedly, another respondent felt that Section 2 could be open to challenge under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in relation to free speech.
Two respondents were concerned that Paragraph 2.2 from the existing Code has been removed. This says that Councillors should apply the principles of the Code to a wide range of informal interactions. Both respondents felt that it would be helpful to retain this paragraph.
Another respondent felt that useful detail had been lost in this simplified version of the Code, particularly in relation to planning matters which were previously covered in more detail. They suggested that some of this detail could be included in the Annex.
One respondent suggested that there should be an additional principle on training and awareness, requiring Councillors to undertake appropriate training for their role.