Standards in Public Life – Leveson and its Aftermath
Richard Edmondson aka Aufona at the Chronicle and Echo has for a number of years questioned the value of the Local Government Standards Boards who are in place to maintain Standards in Public Life, most notably to make sure Councillors don’t step out of line, and in many ways they are and have been very effective.
Let me say that I have no intention of discussing the current situation I find myself in preferring to let the process take its course under due process.
The vast majority of the public have no understanding of what the Standards Board or committee do or even that it exists, and quite frankly don’t care, but it is a necessary and important committee of independents and local councillors from all political persuasions whose role should not be for political or personal purposes if its value isn’t going to be undermined.
One problem with the standards process is that anyone can bring forward a claim of misconduct against a serving Councillor without having to face the consequences of their actions even if it turns out that there isn’t a charge to answer or if it is based on rumour and inference with no supporting evidence.
In fact the current process allows for charges to be brought against any serving councillors based on nothing more than being vexatious or personal prejudice that ends up in the public domain and unquestionably calls the individuals integrity into question.
The fourth estate, in other words the media, are naturally and understandably worried that if councillors consider they are likely to be brought before a standards committee based on talking about issues or in answering questions put to them, they will stop talking to the media.
It is a very understandable concern and of course putting barriers up between locally elected councillors and the media may if you want to prevent criticism and conceal problems from the public could well be seen as effective tool by those who choose to use it.
Perhaps what needs to be put in place is a stricter evidence based process that has to be followed by those who want to report an individual to the standards committee, and if charges are erroneously brought that those who bring them have to publicly explain why they did.
I’ve never considered reporting anyone to the standards committee and quite frankly can’t see any circumstances in which I would.
Having said that I can understand why those who have unfounded charges brought against them may well consider that an apology is not sufficient and that the initiator and instigators of the charges be called on to resign.
After all if unfounded accusations and charges are made and brought before the courts then the accusers are faced with either civil or in extreme cases criminal charges that at the very least carry a financial penalty in legal costs and a possible loss of livelihood.
Which brings me to the Leveson enquiry,
I’m sure whatever relationship there is between the fourth estate locally and local politicians turning the Standards Committee into a minor Leveson enquiry is going a bit far, or, perhaps too many people have been watching too much of it and are working on the theory that if you want to protect yourself look for someone else to blame.
Later on this month Northampton Borough Council will be debating a new standards process for the Council which I introduced last year and which I fully support, providing of course there are sufficient safeguards for those unjustly accused.
Whatever the outcome, discussion and debating the issues of the day in public and with the media is an essential part of the political process and should be strongly defended as the issue of the Grosvenor decision announced this week and the latest information that neighbourhood committees which gave an opportunity for the public to be heard being axed is an illustration.
Freedom of speech in a threat free environment is the cornerstone of democracy?
Or is it?