Earlier in the month I wrote to the Minister of State for Local Government, Eddie Hughes MP, to ask him what recourse Local Authorities had to sanction councillors found to be in breach of the Members Code of Conduct. This was triggered by the realisation that Croydon Council's own rules preclude most forms of redress against those councillors who have been judged to have made decisions that have had terrible consequences for their people - especially if they have resigned from their executive positions and headed to the backbenches.
Many residents have asked a version of the following question: if a councillor is found to have made decisions that bankrupted their Council, and led to the redundancy of hundreds of staff as well as cutting a huge number of vital services - should there not be some form of sanction against that councillor? Particularly when the opportunity to vote them out of office is so far away?
Several years ago the Committee on Standards in Public Life made a formal recommendation to Government that they introduce powers to sanction councillors who breach their code of conduct as the national legislation currently doesn't speak to this item. It's not a total surprise that this part of the regulations is silent, it's extremely rare for a councillor to be in a position to need this kind of sanction, and yet in Croydon's case we found ourselves in need of clarity on what we can and cannot do to show we are investigating and taking appropriate action in just such a case.
The Government was meant to respond to these recommendations in 2019 but due to a number of factors, including Covid, they understandably had other issues to prioritise.
Minister Hughes replied to to my inquiry today:
'It is crucial that local authority members inspire the confidence and trust of their electorate and the Government is committed to supporting local government to build and maintain its reputation for operating with high ethical standards.
'I acknowledge that the Government response to the CSPL’s report is overdue and apologise for the fact that publication has been held up, firstly due to the 2019 election and then subsequently in the urgent business of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
'However, I can assure you that the Government recognises it has a key part to play in ensuring the standards framework is clear, effective and serves to enhance the reputation of local government. We have considered the Committee’s recommendations carefully, in particular the recommendation to introduce a time-limited sanction of suspension for councillors and the associated safeguards, and we intend to publish our formal response in due course. I trust this information is helpful and I thank you for writing to me on this important matter.'
Evidently my request for a progress update has been overtaken by events - with Cllrs Newman and Hall subsequently deciding to resign not only from the Executive but totally as councillors to avoid scrutiny, many residents and more than a few councillors feel they are ducking the public scrutiny and justice that is needed to ensure they answer for their decisions that have flung our borough into chaos.