Town hall could get powers to suspend misbehaving Wigan councillors

Proposals to hand town halls power to suspend misbehaving councillors would be "particularly useful" for Wigan, a committee has heard.

Friday, 15th March 2019, 12:38 pm
Updated Friday, 15th March 2019, 1:43 pm
Wigan Town Hall

A review of ethical standards across local government last month recommended councils need more robust measures to address serious or repeated misconduct.

Elected members could therefore be suspended without allowances for up to six months, if the plans are adopted.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Local authority bosses in Wigan have consistently highlighted in recent years the lack of options available to deal with repeated code of conduct breaches.

A report tabled for a committee meeting this week said a working group of councillors – who submitted information as part of the year-long national review – was "largely pleased" with the recommendations.

The suspension option would be used as a "last resort" and an appeal process, overseen by the local government ombudsman, would be in place, council lawyer Janet Davies told committee members.

Coun Michael Winstanley, said: “We did feel that was particularly useful and something we didn’t have (before).

“The added backstop of giving an appeal option to the ombudsman ensures there are checks and safeguards there.

“We were conscious that you could suspend a member and that could potentially be viewed as ‘political’ and lead people to say this is a kangaroo court or witch-hunt situation.”

The working group, made from members of the audit, governance and standards committee, did highlight concerns about the length of suspension proposed, however.

Under current rules, councillors can be removed from office if they do not attend a council meeting for six months.

And as the recommended suspension powers allow for up to six months, it could "lead to removal of a member by default".

But Ms Davies said the review panel’s report suggests an exception can be made should that situation arise.

The recommendations from central government’s committee on standards in public life also include more stringent rules on declaring interests, gifts and hospitality.

And stricter guidelines on when an elected member is seen as acting in an official capacity when posting on social media.

Although committee members said they welcomed the recommendations, they were informed by Ms Davies that they may face a considerable wait before they are implemented.

The cross-party government committee will now present its findings to ministers.

Chairman Lord Evans said in a statement last month: “A system which is solely punitive is not desirable or effective; but, in an environment with limited external regulation, councils need the appropriate mechanisms in place to address problems when they arise.

“Our recommendations would enable councillors to be held to account effectively and would enhance the fairness and transparency of the standards process.”