Suspension power axed

WIGAN Council is set to lose powers to suspend councillors for bad behaviour.

The Standards Committee, which investigates complaints about local councillors’ conduct, will be unable to disqualify local authority members under new Government plans.

Instead Metro chiefs can offer training to councillors to encourage good behaviour, promote mediation or ask for an apology.

Borough solicitor Kevin Lawson admitted the penalties imposed by Wigan’s Standards Committee would be signficantly reduced.

Mr Lawson said: “We will still have a duty to maintain the standards of members and may want to introduce a voluntary code of conduct. But the penalties have been significantly reduced. The committee will have no power to suspend or disqualify members.

“At the moment, any complaints will go through the current arrangements until the bill comes into action at the end of the year.”

The Government’s new Localism Bill has abolished the need for local authorities to have a standards committee. The Standards Board for England (SBE), a body which investigates serious breaches of conduct after they have been referred by the council’s own standards committee, will be scrapped.

Instead councils, including Wigan, can adopt a voluntary code to outline the conduct expected of councillors - but with no power to suspend councillors when a breach of conduct is proven.

The authority will instead have powers to censure, enforce training or promote mediation or an apology. The Bill also includes a new offence to punish members who fail to register an interest in council business when duty bound.

Wigan Council is also considering proposals for a Greater Manchester Code of Conduct along with other authorities in the region.

Former Conservative leader and Mayor of Wigan, Coun Mike Winstanley said: “Most of the committee’s time is spent looking at trivial complaints. The changes could allow us to introduce a system to develop good practice among members.”