Guidance on the new ‘disclosable pecuniary interest’

Most parish councils will be grappling with the requirement for declarations of disclosable pecuniary interests and such like, so a letter on the subject from Bob Neil MP (DCLG), to ‘Local authority leaders’ will be of interest. The letter makes particular reference to parish councils. It is reproduced in full:

Dear Colleague,

I am writing to update you on the introduction of the new standards and conduct
arrangements for members which will apply from 1 July 2012 in all principal authorities,
including your council.

Following extensive debate in Parliament and the Royal Assent of the Localism Act, we
have now put in place all the secondary legislation necessary to introduce these new
arrangements, including the provisions for disclosable pecuniary interests and winding
down the last vestiges of the centralist Standards Board regime. Our new localist
approach gives councils wide freedoms to decide their own arrangements for promoting
high standards of conduct for all their members, and I know that many councils have over recent months been preparing for this.

To help I wrote to you in early April with an illustrative example of a simple,
straightforward local code. I felt it was important that councils did not feel the need to
spend money on external legal advice on drawing up a new code, and were not
pressured into simply adopting the old centralist code, with all the associated problems it
brought on malicious and frivolous complaints.
http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localcodeconduct

All councils now have the opportunity to make a clean break from the bureaucratic
standards arrangements of the old regime which so often led to petty or politically
motivated complaints. I am sure you and your council will wish to make the most of this
opportunity and put in place simple, fit-for-purpose arrangements in which all can have
confidence. It will be important that all can clearly see your new arrangements are not
some modified continuation of the old discredited regime, but rather a fresh start creating genuine trust and accountability between your council and local people.

Accordingly, I would particularly draw your attention to the role of the new independent person. This is in no way similar to the role of the independent chairman and independent members on the former standards committees. That former role was
principally to be involved in the determination of allegations about misconduct of
members. In contrast the role of the new independent person is wholly advisory,
providing advice to the council on any allegation it is considering, and to a member facing an allegation who has sought the views of that person.

Notwithstanding these fundamental differences between the roles of the new
independent person and members of standards committees, following representations
from local government, we have made transitional arrangements to allow the
appointment as an independent person of someone who has been an independent
chairman or member of the authority’s standards committee.

However, given the importance that the new arrangements are, and are clearly perceived to be, a wholly fresh start we are minded to make further provision so that any former member of a standards committee appointed under the transitional arrangements as an independent person can hold that office only until 30 June 2013.

Finally, my Department intends to publish a guide to members’ pecuniary interests to
help local authorities, particularly for parish councils who may have fewer resources to
hand. I am keen to correct any potential misconceptions that the arrangements for
disclosing pecuniary interests are more onerous on parish councils than was previously
the case.

The guide will be made available on my Department’s website shortly.

End

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