Standards & Behaviour

Improving Professional Standards

As the professional body for town, parish and community clerks in England and Wales, SLCC is the voice of the profession. We pride ourselves on our collaborative work across the sector to ensure the issues of importance to you, our members, are represented.

In 2017, SLCC commissioned Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd to conduct an extensive piece of research to support a report on the state of standards and behaviour in the sector. The report included the first evidence-based data on the subject.

At the time of the report, the profession had an average turnover rate of between 25% – 30%. This is disproportionately high (the average UK employee turnover rate is 12% – 15%). Further, the report indicated that this was not so much a reflection of the abilities of the officer involved, but how they are treated.

Since the report was commissioned, we have worked hard on improving professional standards, working with sector partners to produce a Code of Conduct and a Local Council Governance Toolkit to support clerks and monitoring officers who are experiencing problems with standards and behaviour.

We plan to build on our professional presence by lobbying the government via consultations, meetings and partnering with other colleagues including the National Association of Local Councils (NALC), Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), the Association Of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO), and the Local Government Association (LGA).

While it is fortunate that this issue impacts directly on a minority of members, its impact and implications – the shadow it casts – in terms of the profession and the sector goes much further. The fundamental issues of employment security, appropriate management, and equitable and lawful treatment of clerks and officers have a significant impact on the delivery of SLCC’s mission of improving professional standards in the sector. We have created this resource to keep you abreast of our ongoing work and progress.

SLCC, National Association of Local Councils (NALC), county associations of local councils and One Voice Wales (OVW) have joined together to form the Civility & Respect Project Working Group committed to promoting civility and respect in public life, good governance, positive debate and supporting the well-being of councillors, professional officers and staff. Read more about the Group below.

Please scroll down to view a summary of the recent 2021 Standards and Behaviour Survey along with a timeline of actions and events.

Our Belief

We believe that temporary suspension and, in the most egregious of cases, permanent disqualification should be available as sanctions for breaches of the Code of Conduct.

We also believe that training should be mandatory for councillors – specifically in roles and responsibilities and employment management and legislation.

Surveys

A summary of the 2018 & 2021 survey results

2021 Survey on Standards & Behaviour

Workplace Bullying remains high on the list when it comes to members seeking advice from SLCC and our sector partners. The bottom line is that it can cause ill-health, it affects morale and is the cause of untold misery to people in this sector. Your concerns and representations at the 2020 Virtual National Conference, National Forum meeting and at Board level are at the forefront of the work we are doing on your behalf to bring about the changes which you have so rightly demanded to improve standards and professionalism across the local council sector.

We recently commissioned a survey from Hoey Ainscough Associates, further to the survey in 2017, which closed 15th January 2021 and provided comparative data. The high number of respondents reflects the largely negative impact that code of conduct issues have on the working lives of our members and the importance of the SLCC lobbying on your behalf for change.

Click here to view the full report conducted by Hoey Ainscough Associates, the recommendations are set out on pages 17 – 20.

At the 2021 Practitioners’ Conference, Paul Hoey, along with colleagues from SLCC, Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) and the Association of Democratic Services (ADSO) launched the new Local Governance Toolkit, providing a vital resource available not only to parish, town and community council officers in England, but, for the first time, to local council Democratic Services Officers. The Toolkit, which is available to SLCC members, provides information on a range of issues including governance, roles and responsibilities, public engagement, managing information and elections, along with template policies, protocols and forms.

Click here to view the Local Council Governance Toolkit.

The Civility & Respect Project Working Group

The Civility and Respect Project Working Group set out a mission statement summarising the core aims and values for securing permanent change in the sector:

‘Civility and respect should be at the heart of public life and good governance is fundamental to ensuring an effective and well-functioning democracy at all levels.

The intimidation, abuse, bullying and harassment of councillors, professional officers and staff, in person or online, is totally unacceptable; whether that is by councillors, professional officers, staff or members of the public.

This can prevent councils from functioning effectively, councillors from representing local people, discourage people from getting involved including standing for election, and undermine public confidence and trust in local democracy.

National Association of Local Councils (NALC), county associations of local councils and One Voice Wales (OVW), as the membership organisations representing the first tier of local government in England and Wales, and Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) as the professional body for clerks, are committed to working together to promote civility and respect in public life, good governance, positive debate and supporting the well-being of councillors, professional officers and staff.

To that end the Group will be working to deliver tangible resources, actions and interventions in four main areas: providing councils with the tools to support good governance; lobbying to strengthen the standards regime and encourage more people to get involved; training; and processes to intervene to provide support to struggling councils.’

Timeline

October 2021

Michelle Moss, will commence her role as Project Manager on 4 October 2021. Michelle was previously deputy clerk for Horncastle Town Council and has also had a successful career in project management for the financial and transport sectors. Michelle will be focused on bringing forward the objectives of the group and will work closely with SLCC, NALC, OVW and the county associations in the joint approach to raising standards and behaviour throughout the sector.

Find out more in the Update from the Civility Group at National Conference 2021.

August 2021

Interviews for the role of Project Manager have taken place and the successful applicant has been notified. More details to follow.

July 2021

The Civility & Respect Working Group publish the Project Manager vacancy. 

June 2021

The Civility & Respect Project Working Group finalise plans for the appointment of a Project Officer to drive forward the important package of work named the ‘Civility and Respect Project’. Click here to read the full update and the Group mission statement.

May 2021

Rob Smith, SLCC Chief Executive, Steve Trice, SLCC Chairman, Linda Larter MBE FSLCC, SLCC President, and Lee Dunkley FSLCC, SLCC Director (South West), attend second meeting of the Civility in the Sector Working Group.

SLCC Chairman, Steve Trice said, ‘The Working Group meetings have been productive and we are working hard to move this important issue forward. We are optimistic that this joint approach with dedicated resource will further strengthen the Code of Conduct and toolkit to support clerks and monitoring officers who are experiencing problems with standards and behaviour.’

April 2021

Rob Smith, Chief Executive, Steve Trice, Chairman, and Linda Larter MBE FSLCC, President, attend first meeting of ‘Civility in the Sector Working Group’ joined by representatives of county officers, clerks & councillors. This is the first step in a joint approach with dedicated resource to tackle the issues of standards and behaviour in the sector.

March 2021

SLCC receive a response following its letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on 19 February 2021 in support of NALC’s request for changes to the current standards regime and to press for a response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) review of local government ethical standards. Read the full letter here.

The Government has confirmed it intends to publish ‘its formal response in due course’ and ‘recognises it has a key part to play in ensuring the standards framework is clear, effective and serves to enhance the reputation of local government, particularly regarding the behavioural difficulties faced by local councils.’ Read the Government response here.

February 2021

LGA has commissioned Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd to produce good practice guidance to accompany the new code of conduct. SLCC attended a Code of Conduct meeting on 16th February along with other sector partners to discuss the guidance and will provide feedback as it is produced.

Rob Smith wrote to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in support of NALC’s request for changes to the current standards regime and to press for a response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) review of local government ethical standards. Click here to view the letter.

December 2020

SLCC commission a further survey (to our survey in 2017) from Hoey Ainscough Associates which provided comparative data. The survey closed Friday 15th January 2021. The data is now being analysed and Paul Hoey of Hoey Ainscough Associates will present the findings at our virtual Practitioners’ Conference on 23rd, 24th and 25th February 2021.

October 2020

Our Board and Forum meetings w/c 12th October included in-depth discussions on standards and behaviours – as they often do – and we generated some promising ideas. On each of those bodies we are not short of practicing professionals with a great deal of experience and knowledge.

We are currently developing a plan of deliverable actions which will aim to improve things for our members and move things forward.

September 2020

SLCC attended a stakeholder group meeting as a final stage of consultation on CoC.

August 2020

SLCC made formal submission to LGA CoC consultation.

LGA offered a bespoke local council clerks consultation webinar.

April 2020

SLCC conducts the full membership survey to inform its formal submission to LGA on the draft model Code of Conduct.

January 2020

SLCC attended consultation workshops as part of the LGA’s work on a CSPL recommendation to develop a model Code of Conduct for national use across all tiers of local government

November 2019

SLCC attended ‘Civility in Public Life’ conference

February 2019

SLCC partnered with LLG and ADSO to form a taskforce. Initial objectives were to influence the development of the model Code of Conduct and to deliver a ‘toolkit’ to support clerks and monitoring officers

Joint Taskforce

January 2019

CSPL report published

CSPL Report

December 2018

SLCC meet with Rishi Sunak (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Local Government) to seek his support on delivery of the CSPL report recommendations

Rishi Sunak Meeting

April - October 2018

SLCC attended CSPL consultation roundtables and provided supporting evidence used in CSPL Report on Local Government Ethical Standards

March 2018

The Hoey Ainscough report was published

Paul Hoey Report

October 2017

In 2017, the Board setup a Standards & Behaviour Working Group and approved financial resource to fund the commissioning of research and a formal report into standards issues in the local council sector.

SLCC commissioned Hoey Ainscough Associates Ltd to conduct an extensive piece of research to support a report on the state of standards and behaviour in the sector.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL)

CSPL was established in 1994 and is an advisory non-departmental public body of the UK Government. Its remit is to advise the Prime Minister on ethical standards of public life and the promotion of the Code of Conduct called the Seven Principles of Public Life, better known as the ‘Nolan Principles’.

In January 2019, the CSPL published their review of Local Government Ethical Standards. It included 25 recommendations which affected all tiers of local government.

The review reflected the significant role SLCC had taken and the significance of the research we had commissioned in the discussions and formal consultations which formulated the report. It covered a wide range of ethical issues across all tiers of local government.

CSPL

It’s findings in relation to local councils included:

  • Parish councils are highly dependent on the skills, experience and support of clerks – it found evidence of substantial difficulties where clerks are inexperienced, untrained, feel isolated and/or there is poor member behaviour
  • 15% of parish councils experience serious behaviour issues, 5% are effectively dysfunctional as a result of them
  • Parish councils should report complaints, not the clerk
  • Some Monitoring Officers decline or lack resources to provide advice or accept parish complaints
  • Variation in parish codes is a burden on the principal authority and confusing for dual hatted members
  • Parish councils can ignore sanctions recommended by principal authority hearing
  • Parish councils can take lawful protective steps short of sanctions

Recommendations

 

On a Code of Conduct

Recommendation 1: The Local Government Association should create an updated model code of conduct, in consultation with representative bodies of councillors and officers of all tiers of local government.

Recommendation 20: Section 27(3) of the Localism Act 2011 should be amended to state that parish councils must adopt the code of conduct of their principal authority, with the necessary amendments, or the new model code.

On Monitoring Officers

Best practice 12: Monitoring Officers’ roles should include providing advice, support and management of
investigations and adjudications on alleged breaches to parish councils within the remit of the principal authority. They should be provided with adequate training, corporate support and resources to undertake this work.

 

On Sanctions

Recommendation 16: Local authorities should be given the power to suspend councillors, without allowances, for up to six months.

Recommendation 17: The government should clarify if councils may lawfully bar councillors from council premises or withdraw facilities as sanctions. These powers should be put beyond doubt in legislation if necessary.

Recommendation 21: Section 28(11) of the Localism Act 2011 should be amended to state that any sanction imposed on a parish councillor following the finding of a breach is to be determined by the relevant principal authority.

On Clerks’ Competence

Recommendation 19: Parish council clerks should hold an appropriate qualification, such as those provided by the Society of Local Council Clerks.

Get in touch

If you feel that you have an idea or suggestion to help move this forward, please get in touch by email or phone or by whatever means you choose. Every member has a local Branch and National Forum Representative through whom they can channel feedback to the National Forum and onto the Board. But, if you’d prefer to speak with our Chief Executive, Rob Smith, directly, please email rob.smith@slcc.co.uk