It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.

8 Responses

  1. I agree that the current standards committee isn’t idea, but surely you must agree that there has to be some method of disciplining councillors who are genuinely guilty (or at least suspected) of serious rule breaches?

    The cited cases are, of course, nonsense (though I do think that Dawn Barnett’s actions were a little inappropriate, they were an amusingly witty way of highlighting council policy she disagreed with), but that is not to say that all complaints will be.

    The key problem here seems to be that councillors of opposing parties sit in judgement. Surely this could be rectified if, rather than policing themselves, councillors were subject to some sort of independent investigation/tribunal process?

  2. Agreed. Much as I might enjoy the political waves that referering people to the ‘standards’ committee might create. The truth is that all too often these referrals are simply a tool for publicising political spats rather than raising genuinely offensive or inappropriate behaviours which could be incompatable with public office.
    The true use of standards committees (and I speak as someone who has sat on one) should be infrequent and important for matters that require resolution before the next set of elections – democracy doesnt need the standards committee to oversee it’s choices of representatives (most of the time…)

  3. Boring times for Brightons political scene eh

  4. Still no word of what, if anything you would put in place of the standards committee. And what about the case of Cllr Willows?

    I still think what Dawn Barnett did was way out of order, rather than some kind of chucklesome publicity stunt. If a Labour or a Green councillor urged a load of new age travellers to pitch up in a Tory ward, as an unashamed ‘political’ gesture, can you imagine the reaction?

    • Whilst I can see the funny side of Danw’s actions, I do agree with you Clive.

      It’s all well and good calling for the scrapping of a flawed system, but to just ditch the regulatory function without having ready a replacement is utter folly.

  5. Dawn Barnett’s work made it more difficult for the Council’s liaison officers when meeting the travellers. So her leaflet backfired on “her” residents.

  6. Dear BPB- do you know why I cannot get into this blog most often? There are ‘play’ and ‘download’ boxes displayed under your blog and not comments.

  7. […] Blogger, who counts this as one of his pet subjects, I don’t think that standards committees should be abolished. True that the electorate have ultimate control, through elections, but they are four years […]

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