1.       A critique of the Code of Conduct for Employees Consultation  Paper

 

1.1             As Members know, the Local Government Act 2000 provides a statutory framework to govern the conduct of Members and Employees of relevant authorities in England and Wales.  The Code of Conduct for Members is already in force.  To ensure the enforcement of same, the Standards Board for England and the Adjudication Panel for England have also been created.  A separate report on the Standards Committee's Agenda makes comments on how the role of the Standards Board for England should be changed.  This particular Appendix focuses on the two Consultation Papers issued in mid-August 2004.

 

1.2     The Employees Code of Conduct Consultation Paper makes clear that a working party had submitted its recommendations to the ODPM at the end of November 2000.  The proposed draft Code seeks to define the minimum standards of conduct that employees of relevant authorities will be expected to observe when carrying out their duties.  Once the Regulations, containing the Code of Conduct for Employees, have been made, the standards contained in the final Code of Conduct will be incorporated, by law, into the terms and conditions of employment of relevant employees.  The Code of Conduct for Employees will, therefore, have statutory effect – as per the Code of Conduct for Members - and will not require any further local negotiations with employees or their representatives to implement the same.

 

1.3     Employing authorities will, therefore, be able to deal with any breaches of the Code of Conduct for Employees in the same way as any other breaches of the employees' contracts or terms and conditions of employment. The jurisdictions of the Standards Board for England and the Adjudication Panel for England are not being extended to enforce the Employee Code of Conduct.  This distinction is right and necessary, in law, as employees have contracts of employment with the local authorities; whereas elected members hold office with local authorities and are democratically elected to represent citizens.

 

(a)     Exclusion of Fire Workers and Teachers

 

1.4     The Government proposes to exclude Fire Workers and Teachers from being subject to the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees.  The Government's rationale for doing so is that such individuals have their own Codes of Conduct.  This is little justification for the exclusion, as other professional bodies (e.g. Barristers, Solicitors, Architects, Accountants and Social Workers) are already subject to (or shortly to become subject to, in the case of Social Workers) professional rules of etiquette and codes of conduct, in addition to any locally determined codes of conduct applied by  their employers. There is also no reason, in principle, why "extremists" teachers, who have the greatest potential to cause damage to future citizens - in terms of ethical,  moral and social standards of behaviour and conduct – should be excluded from the provisions of the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees.

 

 

 

1.5     As respects the Police Force, the Government’s argument appears to be slightly stronger, on operational grounds, to justify a separate and, hopefully, a more stringent Code of Conduct relating to Police Officers; although support officers and other civilians employed by Police Authorities could be subject to the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees.

 

 (b)    Council Managers

 

1.6     This Model does not apply to Birmingham City Council; although the principle that Council Managers should be subject to the Code of Conduct for Employees must be right.  Clearly, as the Government recognises, more stringent conditions, as part of the Council Managers' Terms and Conditions of Employment, could also be imposed as such an individual will exercise extensive powers, which would go beyond the Birmingham’s Scheme  of Delegation to Officers.

 

1.7     It is, however, important that any Code of Conduct for Employees does not replicate the existing legal and common law employment rights and position of employees / employer with regard to, for example, reasonable instructions being given and acted upon, along with the requirement to maintain mutual trust and confidence in the employment relationship.

 

1.8     The Code has, of course, to deal with the outward manifestation of good conduct and behaviour by officers, as seen by elected members and members of the public.  The Code should also be able to tackle poor and inappropriate behaviour that may bring local government into disrepute, even though the action or inaction of the employee may not, in current strict terms, presently, amount to a breach of contract of employment. This is essential to ensure high ethical standards, conduct and behaviour amongst local government employees.

 

(c)     Political Assistants

 

1.9     The City Council does not, presently, employ any Political Assistants; although some members may think the City Council does in terms of the way some officers may provide support to the three Political Groups. The individuals who provide support to the Political Groups are employed by the City Council and they remain, therefore, employees of the Council. They are subject to the same rules and regulations applicable to all other employees and they must, therefore, retain and maintain political neutrality in the whole aspect of their work for any Political Group.  The full remit of any proposed Code of Conduct for Employee would apply to the same and I see no justification why different rules or a separate code should be applied to or be applicable to "Political Assistants", since the same will continue to be employees of the Council.

 

1.10   Clearly, where Political Assistants are employed directly by Political Groups that would be a matter for the Political Groups and not the Council.  Accordingly, any Code of Conduct for Employees applicable to local authorities should not be applicable to any Political Assistants “directly employed” by Political Groups.

 


 

(d)            Detailed Proposals on the Code of Conduct for Employees

     (Relevant extracts are set out in Appendix B)

 

Para 1 – Honesty etc

1.11   The proposed Code of Conduct for Employees seeks to establish a set of "core principles", which have been based on the statutory “10 Guiding Principles” applicable to Elected Members.  Paragraph 1 of the proposed Code refers to an employee performing his duties with honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectively.  These are clearly essential attributes and it will be difficult for anyone to object to the same being applicable to all local government employees. 

 

Para 2 – Accountability

1.12        Paragraph 2 of the proposed Code requires employees to be accountable to the authority for his/her actions. I believe that paragraph 2 should be extended to include "and inactions" as, on occasions, an employee's failure to act could have major consequences for the local authority and may bring the Council into disrepute.

 

Para 3 – Treat others with respect

1.13   Paragraph 3 of the proposed Code requires an employee to treat others with respect, not discriminate unlawfully against any person, and treat Members and Co-opted Members of the authority professionally.  This particular paragraph compliments the Code of Conduct for Members, although I would recommend that sub-paragraph (c) be amended to read "treat Members and Co-opted Members of the authority in a professional and courteous manner". The fact that an employee may not be a ‘professional’ should not stop the employee from treating others in a professional and, at least, courteous manner.

 

Para 4 – Use of Council resources

1.14   Paragraph 4 of the proposed Code relates to stewardship of public resources and a requirement to ensure that public resources are not used for personal gain or disadvantage.  The proposed paragraph actually refers to "public funds" and, in my opinion, that is limited in its remit and my suggestion would be that it is extended to refer to "public resources", which would embrace all aspects of office resources used in the employment, including IT equipment.

 

Para 5 – Personal interests

1.15        In terms of personal interests, Paragraph 5 of the proposed Code compliments the Code of Conduct for Members in that it requires an employee (in his official and personal capacity) not to allow his personal interests to conflict with the ‘authority's requirements’ or to use his position improperly to confer an advantage or disadvantage to any person.  I see no objection in principle, to the same; although, this ‘requirement’ would have to be specified by the authority and may extend into the private and personal lives of individuals.

 

1.16        In addition, ‘the authority's requirement’ has not been defined, is too vague and, as such, I can see legal difficulties of interpretation and enforcement if local authorities do not accurately stipulate the same.  It would be far better, therefore, if sub-paragraph (a) was amended to: "allow his personal interests to conflict with any duties and /or responsibilities that he may owe to the authority".  To do so otherwise, some have argued, would permit a “snoopers’ charter” and provide a fertile ground for complaints being generated against employees in areas that are unconnected with his/her employment.

1.17        This amendment would be also be consistent with the intent of the Consultation Paper and should avoid future legal difficulties as the duties and/or responsibilities would be stipulated in the contract of employment by the relevant authority.  The use of the phrase would also limit any infringement of civil liberties with regard to private and personal life; in that, it would only be "proportionate" to do so in relation to the duties and / or responsibilities imposed upon the individual by virtue of his contract of employment. The potential for human rights and employee relations arguments and challenges may, therefore, be minimised by my proposed amendment.

 

Para 6 – Register & declaration of interests

1.18   Paragraph 6 of the proposed Code requires an employee to register or declare interests and to declare hospitality, benefits or gifts received as a consequence of his employment.  This provision is slightly different from the Code of Conduct for Members, in that it includes "benefits" and is limited to "received” as a consequence of his employment.

 

1.19   The Consultation Paper invites comments on whether or not there should be a standard list of interests and/or hospitality / benefits / gifts that must always be registered.  As members know, this is the position under the new Code of Conduct for Members and I would suggest that a standard list of registerable interests would be beneficial in assisting employers and employees to provide clarity to the arrangements and avoid any unnecessary interpretation, enforcement and compliance difficulties.  It would also avoid any potential disputes between employers and employee representatives. 

 

1.20        The list could be a mirror image of the list used for the Code of Conduct for Members.  I also do not believe any such list should be restricted solely to financial interests and a de minimus level of £25 (as in the Code of Conduct for Members) should be introduced.  Non-financial interests, such as private and secret organisations are still relevant for the employer to know. Such a list should not, however, be available to members of the public as there may be difficulties around terms and conditions of employment and sensitive Data Protection Act issues.

 

1.21        Any Departmental or Corporate registers that are created and declarations of interest should also be open to the Monitoring Officers and be available for internal/external auditor scrutiny to ensure public confidence in the internal systems. I am also satisfied that, in keeping with best practice, as enshrined in Birmingham’s Code of Conduct for  Members, all hospitality or gifts “received, returned or declined”, which are in any way related to or connected with the discharge of the employee's duties and/or responsibilities to the authority, must be registerable. To do so, otherwise, would be to miss an important commonality between the two regimes.

 

Para 7 – “Whistleblowing” procedures

1.22   Paragraph 7 of the proposed Code requires that an employee must not treat another employee of the authority less favourably than other employees, by reason of what that other employee has done, intends to do or is suspected of doing anything under or by reference to any procedure the authority has for reporting misconduct.  This provision appears to be a "whistleblowing" procedure and I am not entirely convinced that its need has been sufficiently or appropriately justified in the Consultation Paper, as the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 already provides sufficient statutory safeguards, in my opinion, for employees who "blow the whistle".  To impose an additional Code of Conduct requirement appears to be an unnecessary duplication and, besides, Paragraph 3 of the proposed Code (Respect for Others) would be applicable in case an employee was being disadvantaged.

1.23   Birmingham City Council already has a "Whistleblowing Code", which complies with best practice and, as such, one option might be to replace Paragraph 7 of the proposed Code with a requirement that “all employees must comply with any Protocols and Codes – including any ‘whistleblowing codes’ covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 - established by the authority and the local authority shall ensure that no employee is disadvantaged for reporting any misconduct or other unacceptable behaviour under the same”.

 

1.24   As Members know, the Code of Conduct for Members also imposes an obligation on Members to report any misconduct or breach of the Code of Conduct for Members by fellow Members.  A similar provision might be felt desirable for employees, so as to root out any inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour at Member, Officer or contractor/agent levels. My proposed amendment (at paragraph 1.23) should catch such actions and inactions.

 

Para 8 – Openness

1.26        Paragraph 8 of the proposed Code requires employees not to disclose information given to them in confidence, without the consent of the person authorising the same, or unless he is required by law to do so.  In addition, employees must not prevent other persons from gaining access to information to which that person is entitled to, by law.  These are relevant reinforcement provisions of existing legislation, which introduced a criminal offence for anyone who intentionally obstructs a person from gaining access to information to which they are entitled.  A reinstatement of the law, as part of the Code of Conduct for Employees is a useful reminder for busy practitioners and for the benefit of members of the public.

 

Para 9 - Appointment of Staff

1.27        Paragraph 9 makes it clear that employees must not be involved in the appointment or any other decision relating to the discipline, promotion, pay or conditions of another employee or prospective employee who is a relative or friend.  The definition of "relative" is identical to the provision contained in the Code of Conduct for Members. 

 

1.28        As in the Code of Conduct for Members, the word "friend" has not been defined.  The Standards Board for England guidance on this point is that "friendship" goes beyond regular contact with colleagues in the course of employment and that social contact is likely to be a strong indicator of friendship, but not necessarily the only one.  The provisions are acceptable and I believe that the Standards Board for England's guidance should be followed to avoid any "double interpretation" of the phrase. A reinforcement of the definition of ‘friend’ to be applied would be useful on the face of the Code of Conduct for Employees to avoid any misinterpretations.

 

Para 10 - Duty of Trust

1.29   Paragraph 10 of the proposed Code requires an employee, at all times, to act in accordance with the trust which the public is entitled to place in him/her.  This is an extremely vague paragraph and, in light of the other paragraph provisions relating to ‘respecting others’ and ensuring that they ‘abide by the duties owed to the employer’, I am not convinced that this provision actually adds any weight or enhances the value or standing of the Code of Conduct for Employees.

1.30   The duty of trust is, of course, an essential requirement and a better approach would be for ‘trust’ to be included along with ‘honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity’ in Paragraph 1 of the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees.  This would also have the effect of "elevating", in my opinion, ‘trust’ from the current Paragraph 10 to Paragraph 1 of the proposed Code, where I think it rightly belongs.

(e)     Aspects not covered by the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees

 

1.31        The Code is silent with regard to quite a few aspects. For example, there are no provisions or even a passing reference to the provisions applicable to an employee or any extra obligations imposed on an employee's obligations when s/he has been appointed to serve on outside bodies by the authority.  Members will know that the Code of Conduct for Members imposes requirements with regard to the same. 

 

1.32        In addition, there is also no obligation, under the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees for the employee to obtain and to have regard to - well before reaching any decisions on a matter that might be beyond his/her competence or legal/financial or constitutional powers - any relevant advice provided to him/her by the authority's Monitoring Officer and/or Chief Finance Officer.  Such a provision is a major omission and a provision similar to that contained in the Code of Conduct for Members should be incorporated in the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees to ensure a consistent application for members and officers.

 

1.33   The proposed Code of Conduct is also silent with regard to the "prejudicial interest" provisions contained in the Code of Conduct for Members.  I see no reason, for example, why an employee should not be excluded from taking decisions on matters which “a member of the public, with knowledge of all the relevant facts, would reasonably regard as so significant that it is likely to prejudice [the officer's] judgement of the public interest”.  If trust and confidence in local government is to be maintained and enhanced, I believe that there ought to be a commonality of provisions between elected members and employees with regard to decision-making as perceived by reasonable members of the public.

 

1.34        There is also no provision in the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees with regard to one of the seven principles of public life, set out by the Nolan Committee; namely, "selflessness". Nolan Committee insisted – as set out in the ten Guiding Principles - that a holder of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest.  Neither is the principle with regard to "leadership" proposed in this Code of Conduct for Employees.  The Nolan Committee, members may recall, insisted that holders of public office should promote and support the seven principles of public life by leadership and example.

 

1.35        The proposed Code of Conduct for Employees also does not cover the position of contractors and partnership organisations that carry out work or provide services on behalf of the local authority.  In many cases, the public will have direct contact with the employees of contracting and partner organisations and such employees will be the "public face" of the local authority, itself. To ignore the same, is to ignore an ever increasing important part of work/service provision ‘by or on behalf of’ local authorities’.

 

1.36        To have two sets of standards operating will appear illogical and irrational to members of the public and may be potentially damaging to the reputation of local authorities.  One set of rules would be in relation to directly employed employees of the local authority and the other would only be, by virtue of the contract, of the contractors employees. An authority may not, of course, have sufficiently thought through the implications of such interface and different standard and requirements. If they have, relevant local authorities would have had to impose the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees on the external contractor / partner.

 

1.37        There may, of course, be a cost to be paid for the ‘additional’ contractual requirements and some contractors may also challenge the legal ability of local authorities to impose the same as it would be argued that these were ‘non-commercial considerations’, which are currently outlawed by the Local Government Acts. I believe this to be a critical omission on the part of the Government and should be addressed in the Code of Conduct for Employees. 

 

1.38        There is also no provision in the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees to require employees to provide the highest standard of service to the public.  Such an omission from the Code will not serve to enhance the reputation of local government.  There is also, for example, no requirement in the Code of Conduct for Employees to be courteous to members of the public.  These are basic requirements in service provision and their omission from the Code of Conduct for Employees should be rectified.

 

1.39        The opportunity should also be taken in the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees to make it clear that corruption is a serious criminal offence for employees and, as such, they must not receive or give any gift, loan, fee, reward or advantage for doing or not doing, anything or showing favour, or disfavour to any person in their official capacity. 

 

1.40        Such a provision will not ‘add’ to the current statutory provisions, but will serve as a strong reminder to employees and members of the public that corruption will not be tolerated. Furthermore, the opportunity ought to be taken to remind employees, through the Code, that if an allegation is made, it would be a matter for the employee to demonstrate that any such gift etc has not been corruptly obtained. 

 

1.41        There is also no provision in the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees to require the local authority to review or keep the same up-to-date.  I believe that the Regulations bringing into force the Code of Conduct for Employees should make it clear that the local authority is under a statutory obligation to review and, if necessary, update the same on a regular basis -  say – every three years. 

 

1.42        With regard to any Register of Employee Interests, local authorities should also be obliged to ensure that there is a Central Register of the same. There should also be a positive obligation on the employer to ensure that the final Code of Conduct for Employees is given to each and every employee and/or is included as part of any recruitment packs. The sooner current employees and candidates for employment are made aware of the Code of Conduct, the better for all concerned.

 

1.43        In terms of possible implementation dates for the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees, the Government will have to be mindful of the fact that around          1.5 million people work for local authorities and they will all need to be informed of the provisions before they are implemented.  Sufficient time must, therefore, be allowed to ensure that all employees are informed of changes, by virtue of a change in the law, as opposed to negotiations with employee representatives.

 

1.44        Finally, the above comments and omissions highlight that, even after a gestation period of nearly four years after the working party considered these matters, the Government appears to have struggled to take this agenda forward. It is hoped, therefore, that the Government takes on board the consultation responses and does not wait another four years to finalise the Regulations necessary to implement the Code of Conduct for Employees, which is already long over due.


 

 

2.       A critique of the Political Activities of Local Authority Employees and Pay of Political Assistants Consultation Paper (Set out in Appendix C)

 

2.1     This Consultation Paper was issued with the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees in the middle of August 2004.  Responses are required by the same date (19 November 2004).

 

2.2     The Government has adopted a separate Consultation Paper approach for the same as the issues are more direct and specific to political restrictions provided by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 and Regulations made thereunder.  The Government invites views on the legal framework generally and, in particular, on whether the current restrictions on Council employees' political activities are proportionate and continue to deliver a politically impartial workforce which can command the confidence of Members of all political persuasions.  

 

2.3     The Consultation Paper also highlights the 1998 European Court ruling - in favour of the Government - in which a challenge was made to the political restrictions regime under the 1989 Act on human rights grounds.  The European Court held that the restrictions on political activities, covered by the 1989 Act, did not give rise to a breach of the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms, since the interference with the employee's rights had been shown to be "prescribed by law" – the 1989 Act -  in pursuance of one or more legitimate aims within the meaning of Article 10 (2) – political neutrality - and were "necessary in a democratic society" to attain the legitimate aims.

 

2.4     The Government indicated, however, during the Parliamentary passage of the Local Government Act 2000, that it would review the Regulations to ensure that political restrictions on Council employees' political activities were applicable at the right level of seniority. 

 

2.5     The Consultation paper, at paragraph 2.1 (Appendix C), sets out the staff that currently hold politically restricted posts.  Paragraph 2.3 of Appendix C also sets out the restrictions on relevant officers.  The Government does not propose to change primary legislation – the 1989 Act - with regard to the types of officers covered by the political restriction, but does accept that the system would be simpler to operate if the salary threshold (currently linked to spinal point 44 at £32,127) was to be raised and thus reducing the number of posts likely to be caught by the politically restricted post provisions.  Such a change could be easily implemented through a change in the Regulations to the 1989 Act.

 

2.6     In terms of principles, it is considered right and appropriate that the senior most local government officers – i.e. the Chief Executive, Chief Officers, Deputy Chief Officers, the Monitoring Officer and the Section 151 Officer – should be politically restricted as their duties and responsibilities will involve :

 

-        giving advice to the local authority on a regular basis; or

-                     speaking on a regular basis to journalists or broadcasters on behalf of the authority.

 

 

         

2.7             These senior most positions of influence must be beyond politics or any hint of political leanings that may affect the individual's objectivity to serve the interests of the authority, as a whole, and the public, in particular. The City Council should not, I believe, advocate any changes to the Regulations with regard to these senior most officers. 

 

2.8             Both of the aspects mentioned in paragraph 2.6 (advisory and public speaking points) are also covered by ‘another’ category (the 7th category bullet-point) in paragraph 2.1 of Appendix C. There is also a strong likelihood that the salary threshold (the 6th category bullet-point) in paragraph 2.1 of Appendix C will catch persons covered by the 7th category bullet-point. This ‘double-coverage’ is no longer felt appropriate, in light of experience, and the Government should take the opportunity to remove the same.

 

2.9             With regard to Political Assistants, where appointed – Birmingham does not have such employees - they are likely to be closely allied to and provide support to the relevant Political Groups.  As employees of the City Council they will, of course, be subject to the Code of Conduct for Employees and be required to ensure appropriate objectivity etc. 

 

2.10        It is important to recognise, however, that where Political Assistants are appointed, that they may have leanings towards political activity and, by the very nature of their employment, may harbour long term political ambitions.  The time may have come, therefore, for the Government to reconsider the restrictions placed on Political Assistants as a separate category for political restriction. 

 

2.11        Instead, a better approach might be to treat Political Assistants as being covered by the 6th category bullet-point mentioned in paragraph 2.1 of Appendix C and whose annual remuneration is, or exceeds, an amount specified in Regulations. Another alternative, would be to take them out of the list altogether and a proposal on the same is mooted at paragraphs 3.4 to 3.7 of this Appendix.

 

2.12        With regard to the salary limit (spinal point 44, currently £32,127), this is not index linked and, since its introduction, it is clear that many more officers have been caught by the annual increase in salaries.  It is believed that the limit of £32,127 is no longer realistic in today's environment and a more appropriate limit should be set that is slightly below that of the Deputy Chief Officer, say, at a monetary level of £50,000 per annum and without reference to any spinal point. 

 

2.13        Such a figure should then be index linked to rise with the cost of salary increases.  Clearly, if anyone below that salary threshold is caught by the Chief Executive, Chief Officer, Deputy Chief Officer, Monitoring Officer or Section 151 Officer categories, s/he will be subject to the political restrictions. The net effect of raising the salary threshold might also, indirectly, help to achieve the Government’s stated objective of encouraging new, younger and more professional candidates for the office of Councillor.

 

2.14   The current limit on the salary of Political Assistants (£25,045) should also be lifted as it may have the affect of depriving Political Groups of relevant seniority of applicants.  An alternative approach is advocated with regard to Political Assistants at paragraphs 3.4 to 3.7 of this Appendix.

 

2.15        I believe that the Government can be more relaxed with regard to politically restricted criteria, at this moment in time, on the basis that it is imposing, at the same time, new and additional burdens on employees by virtue of the proposed Code of Conduct for Employees.  The same should, therefore, help to guard against any politically restricted activities.

 

 

 

3.       Issues around The Independent Adjudicator

 

3.1             It would appear from the Consultation Paper that the Independent Adjudicator is not sufficiently engaged; in that, in 2003, he considered 23 applications for exemption and granted 21. 

 

3.2             The Standards Committee may wish to consider whether or not the Independent Adjudicator role should be abolished and in its place, the power to adjudicate on such matters should - as in the case of dispensations for Elected Members - be considered and, if appropriate, granted by Standards Committees. 

 

3.3             I do not advocate the Monitoring Officer taking over the adjudication role or for the jurisdiction of the Standards Board for England being extended to deal with the same, as I believe it is clearly a legitimate role for local Standards Committees to take ownership of this aspect of the Ethical Framework agenda.

 

3.4             In terms of Political Assistants, taking them out of local government employment and insisting that any Political Assistants are employed directly by the Political Groups provides a certain amount of clarity, openness and transparency of arrangements. 

 

3.5             One option, therefore, would be for local authorities to grant aid any Political Groups that exceed 10 Elected Members, by way of an annual contribution towards the employment of Political Assistants up to a threshold determined by the Council on a proportionality basis. 

 

3.6             If that were to happen, there would be no need for the current political restrictions being applicable to Political Assistants as the contracts of employment would be held by the Political Groups and the actions of the same would be clearly seen to be political activities as opposed to being related in any way whatsoever to the activities of the Council.

 

3.7.          The principle of granting some contributions from Council funds, based on the size of the Political Groups, up to a maximum statutory annual limit - if it was felt appropriate - to support the appointment of Political Assistants can be maintained on the grounds that effective and efficient Political Assistant(s) should add value to the work of the Councillors and, indirectly, enhance the work of the Council, itself.

 


 

 

4.       Issues around paid time off for employees who are Elected Members 

 

4.1     The Local Government & Housing Act 1989 restricts local authorities to giving their staff a maximum of 208 hours per year of paid leave for carrying out any duties as Elected Members of other local authorities.  This restriction was imposed to prevent the abuse known as "twin tracking". 

 

4.2     I am not convinced a sufficiently strong case has been made out to increase the maximum number of hours for such employees and, as such, I suggest that the limit is not increased. Another possible way forward might be to ask the Government to allow Local Standards Committees to be given statutory responsibility to consider, on application from relevant employees, any requests in excess of the maximum 208 hours.

 

4.3     With regard to new working practices - whereby Councillors are prohibited from becoming employees of the same Council for which they are Councillors and, if they resign as Councillors, they must wait 12 months before they can be employed by the same authority - these provisions are still relevant, sensible and an important safeguard in ensuring that officers maintain political neutrality and objectivity.  The danger of removing these provisions would be to create an impression or a suspicion in the minds of the public that the Council was employing former Councillors as a favour to them and not on merit, as required by the Local Government Act 1972.  

 

4.4     As respects the other issues mentioned in this section of the Consultation Paper, I am not convinced the statutory provisions have caused any difficulties for Birmingham – or elsewhere – and, as such, should be retained. Alternatively, the Government could be asked to allow Local Standards Committees to be given statutory responsibility to consider hardship requests, on application from relevant employees.

 

 

 

Mirza Ahmad

Chief Legal Officer

29th October 2004