Standards Board for England
The Standards Board for England, branded as Standards for England, was a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Established following the Local Government Act 2000, it was responsible for promoting high ethical standards in local democracy. It oversaw the Code of Conduct, which covers elected and co-opted members who serve on a range of authorities. The board maintained an independent national overview of local investigations into allegations that members' conduct may have fallen short of the required standards. In certain cases, The board investigated allegations itself. It could not impose sanctions on members, but if it considered that further action may be necessary, it referred cases to the Adjudication Panel for England or to the relevant authority's own standards committee for determination. Standards committees can suspend members for up to six months. The Adjudication Panel can disqualify members for up to five years. The Standards Board for England also provided advice and produced formal guidance to members and officers on the Code of Conduct.
The board was be abolished under current plans by the British government as part of its 2010 economic and governmental reforms (2010 UK quango reforms). It ceased to function on 31 January 2012 and was formally abolished on 31 March 2012.
The last chief executive of the Standards Board for England is Glenys Stacey. Its chair was Dr Robert Chilton. The Standards Board for England worked with the following types of authority in England and their members:
- parish council
- district, city or borough council
- county council
- the City of London Corporation
- the Council of the Isles of Scilly
- fire and rescue authority
- police authority
- passenger transport authority
- national park authority
- the Broads Authority
- the Greater London Authority
It also worked with police authorities in Wales.
Responsibility for ethical standards
Primary responsibility for ensuring ethical standards rests with the Councils themselves. Each local authority which is subject to the Code of Conduct must appoint a monitoring officer and a local standards committee. The chief executive and legal officers of a council have a duty to advise members on ethical matters.
The standards committee of each council (which must be chaired by an independent member) is responsible for receiving allegations and deciding whether any action needs to be taken. Action may take the form of an investigation by the local monitoring officer, investigation by Standards for England, or some other form of action such as mediation or training. Standards committees report periodically to Standards for England.
Standards for England can also direct that a standards committee’s assessment and review functions be suspended and instead undertaken either by Standards for England or by another relevant authority. This would generally happen only after a series of attempts to improve performance, either before or after notification from Standards for England, had failed.
Code of conduct
The 2001 Code of Conduct was revised after an extensive consultation process and the new Code came into force on 3 May 2007. Revisions include the relaxing of the definition of 'personal interest' and extends the rights of councillors to speak in relation to matters in which they have a prejudicial interest. Where councillors have a prejudicial interest in a matter, they are now given the same rights as members of the public to speak at meetings where that matter is discussed.
A councillor is now only deemed to have a personal interest in a matter if it affects them to a greater extent than the majority of their constituents. This allows greater freedom for councillors to represent their constituents fairly and to act as community advocates.
The issue of predetermination is often confused with the Code of Conduct. The judge-made, common law rules on bias and predetermination have to be taken into account by councillors, but these rules are not part of the Code of Conduct or the responsibility of Standards for England.
The Standards Board for England was the subject of repeated criticism by Private Eye magazine for allegedly exceeding its powers, investigating preposterous cases, and deterring whistleblowers. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tyler raised similar concerns in the House of Lords, saying:
- “I have seen that happen time and again with large and small authorities – when apparently disreputable actions of a few leading members or officers of a council have been exposed by a whistleblower, but their reaction has been to seek to silence him or her.
- “Instead of welcoming transparency and remedial action, there have been persistent attempts to silence such dissent by claiming that their activities brought the council into disrepute. If a council, in whatever way, is disreputable, it deserves to be given that description. It is not the council that is being brought into disrepute by the dissident member but the behaviour of the council itself in whatever way.”
- Adjudication Panel for England
- Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000
- Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
- Standards Commission for Scotland