The Nolan Principles

Selflessness – Integrity – Objectivity
Accountability – Openness – Honesty – Leadership

It is important that councillors uphold the very principles they signed up to –
The Nolan Principles.

Continue reading >

Open and Accountable Local Government

This site contains several documents that have been produced to help local councils and councillors perform their respective duties. However, the information they contain can be equally useful to residents in helping them understand what they should expect from their local government.

“Parish councils, we all know, are hotbeds of intrigue, corruption and passion. Those who sit on them, a colourful mixture of oddballs, bullies and idiots.”

Daily Telegraph February 2015

The quote above was a reference to a BBC television adaptation of JK Rowling’s fictional novel The Casual Vacancy, not about any real council or councillors – really!

It would be unfair to characterise all those who give up their free time to serve on a Parish or Town council as ‘corrupt, bullies or idiots’. Over the years councillors have made a significant contribution to their parish as a result of a great deal of hard work and dedication and they deserve the thanks and admiration of their parish. Given that there over 10,000 councils and around 80,000 councillors, there will always be some who work to a different agenda than that of their colleagues. It is these councillors who have allowed the name ‘Parish council’ and in particular ‘Parish Councillor’ to be held in such low esteem by the public.

With such a lack of trust, it’s not surprising that the Daily Telegraph article, mentioned above, generated a great deal of interest. There was a barrage of comments about the TV series and how closely people could identify with their own local council – a Fiefdom; favoured friends; decisions made in secret, to name but a few. A search online will readily offer you a great deal of criticism on how some councils are run and how they treat the very people they are there to represent.

Receiving the badge of office has been known to make a marked change of some councillors. Yes, they may start out with all good intentions, but with a little bit of power comes an inflated ego as they become full of their own self-importance; some become deceitful and dishonest some go on to become corrupt. There is an interesting anecdote regarding a new councillor. The day after he was co-opted onto the parish council he walked into the Parish Office and asked for his “badge”. “What badge” the clerk asked, “The one I can show people that I am a councillor so they will do as I tell them.” Clearly some take their role to a whole new level.

Understanding your council

What is clearly evident from the complaints, is that there are many councillors who ignore the basic principles of their office, openness, honesty and accountability. Hiding documents because it could be embarrassing or keeping the residents in the dark about projects which may be to the detriment of many within the parish, seems common practice.

Given the level of antipathy and distrust that has beset parish councils, you would have thought a national system would be in place to help councils deal with problems and complaints. There are a number of councils that have produced their own complaints procedure as per government guidance and they clearly show they work well with their residents as well as protecting themselves. However, there are many other councils without such a system?

In 2014 the government published a document called Open and Accountable Local Government. This guide set out to highlight National Rules that govern local government and help the general public and the press understand their rights when dealing with parish councils. What it doesn’t do is explain who to approach when a parish council fails to do the job they undertook – to represent all the residents of their parish. Unless there is a breach of the code of conduct, or a clear violation of the standing orders, parishioners often find they are on their own.

Becoming a good councillor

Understanding how a local council functions may help residents deal with the many issues they face in their parish. The Role of a Local Council sets out the details of a council and their functions as the first tier of local government.

One of the most important publications councillors can own is The Good Councillors Guide. It contains a considerable amount of information to help guide them in their duty as representatives of their parish. What is clear however, is that some councillors haven’t read it sufficiently to comprehend just what their role is, or maybe they feel the rules don’t apply to them.

All councils are required to adopt a Code of Conduct which should be available to all residents. Although the Code is produced by the council, it is a legal document that sets out the rules and responsibilities for both council and councillor. It is there to help guide them in performing their duty and to prevent councillors from using their position for their own gains. A breach of the code could result in a criminal conviction and a fine of up to £5,000 and/or disqualification from office for a period of up to five years. A Model Code of Conduct is available to all councils to adopt or use as the base for their Code of Conduct.

Standing orders are the written rules of a parish council. They are used to confirm a council’s internal organisational, administrative, procurement procedures and procedural matters for meetings. Councillors should receive a copy when they become a member. A Model Standing Orders is available to all councils to adopt or use as the base for their Standing Orders.

Also available is the Governance Toolkit which is a useful guide for parish clerks, providing information on a range of issues including responsibilities, public engagement, managing information and elections.