Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Standards Board is Anti-Democratic

THIS story illustrates why the Standards Board for England should be wound up. A Conservative Councillor on Sutton Council has been disqualified from office because she said publicly that the council's Planning Department is corrupt and accused a local Police chief of being a LibDem sympathiser. Obviously I cannot know all the details of this case and I make my judgements based on what I have read. But one thing I do know. It is not the job of a government quango to oust a democratically elected councillor from office - that is what the electorate is for. LibDem Voice seems to be uncomfortable about the issue too. Anyone who believes in democracy should be.


Curbishly said...

We have a similar problem that we may have to get to grips with in the not too distant future.

One of our Cllrs is being investigated for allegations made by Council officers.

This Clr is up for election in May (thirds).

If the Standards Board rule against and disqualify him for 6 months, say from February, is that cllr allowed to stand in the elections in May?

We're not too sure. Does anyone know?

John M Ward said...

Hmm. Tricky...

I agree that once one has (forcibly -- there is no option on this!) signed up to the Code of Conduct, then one needs to abide by it.

The problem is that the Code is not particularly useful in enabling elected representatives to do their job, and -- most interestingly -- is far stricter than the behaviour required by MPs. It is yet another case of Westminster telling everyone else what to do, but not doing it themselves...

Perhaps even more interesting is that we have at least one Labour councillor on our council who has behaved just as badly, if not worse, yet the Standards Board has refused to take any action.

I am keeping a close eye on all of this (and extensive records!) but at the moment it is looking as though there could be political bias in the Standards Board. This latest incident, when informed by what I already know has been going on in my area, reinforces that impression even more strongly than before.

In mitigation, I have to state that a clearly indefensible malicious action by Labour people to take me to the Standards Board was in fact dismissed by them -- so it isn't that overwhelming a bias, if it does exist. I have published the documents HERE for anyone interested in that case.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like she is being shut up before she uncovers some dodgy going on - it's straight out of some corrupt county in the Southern US 40 years ago.

old and angry said...

I have had some dealings with the Standards Board for England.
In a nutshell,
My parish council wanted to impose a precept to keep a local service running, (the borough council had closed this service down)
So the parish Council organised a vote in my village.

A YES vote was to agree the precept.
A NO vote was not to agree the precept.

Anyone NOT VOTING, the Parish Council deemed that these people must be happy to let the Parish Council vote YES, on their behalf!!!

I contacted the Standards Board to complain about this. (after i contacted my Parish Council)

I pointed out that if any Government, of any persuasion were to adopt the same methodology, they would be guaranteed power in perpetuity.

The Standarsd Board thought it perfectly acceptable,to manipulate the vote in the way my Parish Council did. To achieve the result they wanted.

Anonymous said...

So does this mean there is a Code of Conduct that it is compulsory to sign ..... if so then people should refuse to sign it. I'd guess if thousands of elected councillors refused to sign then the whole thing would collapse.

In any case if the Sinn Feiners have enough principle to refuse to take an oath then so should democrats

Anonymous said...

So local councillors don't have the equivalent of parliamentary privilege when expressing views in council? Has this been removed from them or did it never exist in the first place?

If the councillor concerned believes the local planners are corrupt, could she in fact refer this to the police?

Steve Horgan said...

Old and Angry is a good example of why the Standards Board should go; because it allows people like him to put local Councillors through an investigatory process for any reason or for no reason. The idea of the Standards Board was to deal with malpractice, not to allow venting to people who just disagreed with what a Councillor does. Important point: you don't take Parish Councils to the Standards Board, you take Councillors, named individuals, so someone trying to serve their community probably unpaid and part-time would have been on the end of this. In the case described the Parish Council would have been under no obligation to hold a referendum, and having done so could take the results any way that they liked. If you don't like it then vote for someone else. Don't put well-meaning people on the lowest rung of British politics through a bureaucratic and worrying process just to get your pound of flesh. To do that to Parish Councillors who have little or no professional support is especially despicable. Can't be bothered to serve on your own Parish Council but perfectly happy to victimise those that do eh? They don't deserve you.

John M Ward said...

Anonymous @ 3.14 pm wrote: "So does this mean there is a Code of Conduct that it is compulsory to sign ..... if so then people should refuse to sign it."

Then we would have been seemed to have stood down as elected members. That's how it was rigged. A bit like Q in the first Star Trek: Next Generation episode telling Picard that the only permissible please is 'guilty'...

That's how it is in NuLab Britain.

Anonymous said...

John M Ward said...

"Then we would have been seemed to have stood down as elected members. That's how it was rigged. ... That's how it is in NuLab Britain."

No rigging involved. If you were not prepared to accept the Code of Conduct then you should not have stood in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I'm no longer a Councillor, but I was for 4 years recently. Having taken an interesting in the workings of the Standards Board, what I find most disturbing is their obsession with the rather minor issues of 'rudeness' and 'plain speaking'.

Council Officers now routinely use the threat of taking a Councillor to the Standard's Board. Should any Councillor be so bold to kick them up the butt so to either follow the views and policies of the Councillors or cease wasting taxpayers money then the Councillor ends up getting the boot and not the bureaucrat.

Anonymous said...

i once worked at the standards board.

I would now never DREAM of becoming a councillor.

It's not the public that refer matters to the SBE - it's opponets from other parties.

Yep, one big party-political bun fight hosted by the SBE. Woohoo.

But Iain, you've loved the SBE when Red Ken was in the hot seat for supposedly upsetting Jews...

inconsistent, much?

John M Ward said...

In response to Anonymous @ 6.53 pm, I can state that althoiugh the Code of Conduct was introduced afetr I was elected, I personally have no problem with it.

Remembering Mayor Salvor Hardin's epigram (Asimov: "Foundation") that "the atom-blaster is an excellent weapon; but it can point both ways", I am content to work withinit and with it.

That doesn't change the way it was enforced (which I explained for the benefit of the earlier contribution) nor any of the valid criticisms about the way the whole system now operates.

Yes, the Standards Board does need to go, as it has failed to be of genuine benefit and is (as it has admitted) open to and frequently misused as a party political or personal attack device, rather than for its ostensible purpose.

That can never be fixed, so it needs to go, and go it certainly shall!

Anonymous said...

John M Ward said...
"In response to Anonymous @ 6.53 pm, I can state that althoiugh the Code of Conduct was introduced afetr I was elected ....."

Yes, but the model code had been around for some time and at the time of your election you knew that it was about to be implemented.

Duncan Borrowman said...

Councillors should be answerable to the democratic process, not quangos.

If they break the law, then the police should be called in.

The SBE is a total disaster.

Anonymous said...

The whole Standards Board thing is crap. I recently sat through (as an observer) local Standards Board hearing/meeting - they broke just about every procedural rule going and obviously exasperated the expert investigators they had spent huge sums on.

It would be good if the SB were not needed. The trouble is, raise the sort of stuff you have to bring to the SB on your leaflets etc and you are accused of 'negative campaigning' (even if you're understating the sins) which the electorate don't like (after all they are hardly likely to know if what you're saying is true even if it is). So it is difficult to use the electorate as a 'jury' over disgraceful acts of their representatives. If you leave it to elections and the Parties pick the bad guys (or gals) as their candidates, the poor party-loyal electors also end up with the quandary as to whether to vote for the party or the person.

Anonymous said...

danfhope [6.58 PM] I agree. The present system gives too much power to council officials who are often second-rate and sometimes deserve the most robust bollocking.

Anonymous said...

Interesting see Lib Dem Blogger Duncan Borrowman arguing against the existence of the Standards Board.

He reported my colleague Cllr Julian Grainger, who he stood against and lost in 2006, to the Board.

Julian was cleared of the charges brought by Duncan Borrowman.

Anonymous said...

The standards board needs to be either abolished or radically changed. at the moment anyone can refer any councillor to it for any deemed error. this is often done for the sole purpose of being able to accurately say that "x" has been referred to the SB -thus implying something scandalous. Genuine complaints are surely completely overwhelmed by complaints done for political reasons.