A local councillor has been suspended for two weeks for breaking the council’s code of conduct. This follows a complaint from a Labour Councillor to the Standards Board over comments he made at a public meeting last year.
In the Council’s code of conduct, councillors are banned from commenting about issues that affect them. This one made comments regarding alterations to the primary school serving his ward. He was advised not to speak at the meeting because he lives near the school.
Rightly in my opinion, he says now: “It is a sad day for democracy when a local councillor is hauled over the coals for speaking up on behalf of the residents who elected him. This decision has very grave implications for any councillor who lives in the ward that he represents, in that he or she may now have to decline to represent the interests of their residents. I am very disappointed with this result and I am now considering an appeal to the Standards Board for England”.
Although some may deplore the fact that councillors and MPs have become an arm of social services, the fact is that residents regard the most important work of a councillor to be representing their needs and wishes. Equally these days a councillor is criticized if he/she does not live in the patch.
Councillors need to be able to speak up for their own ward; for the people they have been elected to represent. But the code of conduct provisions, which started out as a well-meaning attempt to remove fraud and corruption from local government, now stop elected members from properly representing the people of their ward.
Councillors are required to sign up to the code of conduct as part of their declarations of acceptance of office. That and the draconian demands of the register of members’ interests are why many long-standing and unpaid Parish Council members have thrown in the towel. It is certainly why I would never again stand for election, even if I had not been alternately thoroughly bored and incandescently angered by my previous ten years as a Councillor.