In England, local authorities are responsible for councillor standards and conduct. They must maintain a code of conduct and a register of disclosable pecuniary interests, and deal with allegations of breaches in the code and failure to register pecuniary interests. This system was introduced by the Localism Act 2011.
A code of standards for councillors, applying to England, Wales and Scotland, had existed since 1975. The third report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, published in 1997, investigated the operation of that code in some detail. It recommended that local authorities should adopt their own codes of conduct, but within a national framework, and therefore recommended the production of a model code of conduct. It recommended that local authorities should maintain public registers of interests, but that failing to declare a pecuniary interest should no longer be a criminal offence.
Local authorities should be required to establish standards committees, which should have the power to suspend councillors for up to three months. Between 2000 and 2012, Standards for England (formerly the Standards Board) was responsible for drawing up an England-wide code of conduct for councillors, registering pecuniary interests, and dealing with allegations of breaches in the code of conduct. This included imposing sanctions on councillors, which could include suspending them from office. This regime was adjusted by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which introduced the option of resolving complaints locally.
The Localism Act 2011 gave effect to abolish the Local Government Standards Board, which finally took effect on 1 April 2012. The Act included the following measures:
The abolition of Standards for England (previously the ‘Local Government Standards Board for England’);
Provision for the introduction of local codes of conduct and local responsibility for investigating alleged breaches of those codes. Local authorities were to establish a code, which was to be based on the seven ‘Nolan principles’ of public life (selflessness; integrity; objectivity; accountability; openness; honesty; leadership)and to specify sanctions for breaking it;
Requirements for the registration and disclosure of pecuniary and other interests;
Removal of the power to suspend councillors for breaches of a code of conduct;
The creation of a criminal offence of failing to comply with the statutory requirements for disclosure of pecuniary interests.
The Localism Bill originally entirely removed the requirement for local councils to maintain a code of conduct, intending to make it a voluntary matter. The provisions in the Act were introduced in the House of Lords.
The 2012 changes apply to codes of conduct for councillors, not to those for local authority staff. There is no national code of conduct for local authority staff in England, though many councils operate their own codes of conduct for staff. A power existed in section 82 of the Local Government Act 2000 to introduce a national code of conduct for local authority employees. However, no such code was ever introduced. The power was repealed by Schedule 4 paragraph 49 of the Localism Act 2011.
You can learn more about Standards by clicking here and reading the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No 05707, from 7 March 2019.
Also note that the local code of conduct and guidance is available as an attachment on this page.