Local government impacts the lives of citizens every day, providing essential services to those it serves. Its decisions directly affect the quality of life of local people.
High standards of conduct in local government are needed to demonstrate that those decisions are taken in the public interest and to maintain public confidence. They are also needed to protect the integrity of decision-making and safeguard local democracy.
As councillors, our role across all tiers of local government is a vital part of our country’s system of democracy. It is important that we can be held accountable and all adopt the behaviours and responsibilities associated with the role.
Our conduct as an individual councillor affects the reputation of all councillors. We want the role of councillor to be one to which people aspire.
We also want individuals from a range of backgrounds and circumstances to be putting themselves forward to become councillors.
Councillors represent local residents, work to develop better services and deliver local change. The public has high expectations of us and entrusts us to represent our local area, taking decisions fairly, openly, and transparently.
We have both an individual and collective responsibility to meet these expectations by maintaining high standards and demonstrating good conduct, and by challenging behaviour which falls below expectations.
Importantly, we should be able to undertake our role as a councillor without being intimidated, abused, bullied, or threatened by anyone, including the general public.
Local authorities are currently required to have in place a code of conduct of their choosing, which outlines the behaviour required of councillors.
There is considerable variation in the length, quality, and clarity of codes of conduct. This creates confusion among members of the public, and among councillors who represent more than one tier of local government.
Many codes of conduct fail to address adequately important areas of behaviour such as social media use and bullying and harassment.
Any standards process needs to have safeguards in place to ensure that decisions are made fairly and impartially, and that councillors are protected against politically motivated, malicious, or unfounded allegations of misconduct.
Following a recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life published in January 2019, the LGA developed a ‘model’ code – in association with key partners and after extensive consultation with the sector – as part of its work on supporting all tiers of local government to continue to aspire to high standards of leadership and performance.
The LGA model code, which was published in December 2020, is a template for councils to adopt in whole and/or with local amendments.
The LGA is encouraging all local authorities to adopt the model code to ensure consistency, with appropriate additions to meet local needs.
The code has been designed to protect our democratic role, encourage good conduct, and safeguard the public’s trust in local government.
The LGA will undertake an annual review of this code to ensure it continues to be fit for purpose, incorporating advances in technology, social media, and changes in legislation.
Guidance is being prepared to explain the provisions of the code for councillors. The LGA can also offer support, training and mediation to councils and councillors on the application of the code.