The chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has said the watchdog remains concerned that the Government has not formally responded to its local government ethical standards report, some two and a half years after it was published.
In the CSPL’s Annual Report 2020/21, Lord Evans of Weardale urged the Government to look at the recommendations made – including the need for greater sanctions, where appropriate, in the rare cases of significant or repeated breaches of the code of conduct – “as a matter of urgency”.
The chair of the committee did, however, praise the Local Government Association for acting "promptly" to take forward the recommendation of a model code of conduct for local councils.
“We wanted to enhance the consistency and quality of local codes, and to support action against bullying and harassment,” Lord Evans said.
The report added: “This is vital support for local authorities as they ensure councillors and officers adopt and maintain high ethical standards and we see this as an important step towards encouraging good conduct and safeguarding the public’s trust in local government. The importance of an ethical culture in every local council to maintain public trust and confidence in local democracy should not be underestimated.”
Lord Evans separately said the Committee recognised that the need for immediate action at a time of crisis meant that the normal way of doing things might have to be set aside. But he warned that there were some areas of concern “where important norms had been disregarded”.
He noted that “demonstrating the principles of public life, and showing a sense of fairness in carrying out its duties, has a critical impact on the ability of government to take the public and business with them and is necessary for building consensus.”
Lord Evans added that the Committee would continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on ethical standards in public life.
The majority of the Committee’s time and work during the period covered by the 2020/21 report was on two major reviews: one on election finance, the other covering the standards landscape (“Standards Matter 2”).
Its next review, to be launched later this year, will identify best practice in education, culture, and leadership on ethical standards. It will report to the Prime Minister in 2022.
The Cabinet Office meanwhile this week (15 July) announced that the Prime Minister had appointed Professor Gillian Peele, Emeritus Professor of Politics in the University of Oxford, and Ewen Fergusson, a former partner in the finance division at City law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, as members of the Committee, with effect from 1 August 2021.