Hartlepool council examines powers for code of conduct breaches

Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

Legal chiefs at Hartlepool Borough Council are continuing to look into tougher actions for members who breach its code of conduct.

Concerns that the current standards regime is not tough enough were raised with the council some time ago.

The Government’s Localism Act 2011 removed powers of local councils to suspend and disqualify anyone who breaches the code.

Instead it introduced an ‘action based’ system which includes councillors being given training and being made to issue a public apology.

Former independent Hartlepool councillor Jonathan Brash previously said there should be more flexibility for councils.

He called for tougher action after Councillor Kevin Cranney was found to have breached the code of conduct for asking a grandmother if he had slept with at the end of a heated public meeting.

More recently, the Department for Communities and Local Government invited responses from councils on sanctions after a case involving a Saddleworth Parish Council member who had received a criminal conviction but which was still not sufficient to disqualify them.

A letter by John Softly, Newcastle City Council’s legal services and monitoring officer, and co-signed by 12 other North East councils, including Hartlepool, said: “Aside from criminal offences relating to disclosure of pecuniary interests, the Localism Act 2011 does not give a council any specific powers to impose sanctions in relation to a breach of its code of conduct.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government wrote back saying the previous standards regime was abolished because it had become a vehicle for petty, malicious and politically motivated complaints.

Stuart Young, Local Government Stewardship, wrote: “The new localist arrangements allow local authorities to censure members who have failed to comply with their authority’s code of conduct, as it is for the electorate to exercise the ultimate sanction of the ballot box and decide who should represent them on their council.”

Hartlepool council’s chief solicitor Peter Devlin reported to the Audit and Governance Committee that he Government is due to reviewing standards arrangements established in the Localism Act next year and consulting on a review of the disqualification criteria later this year.

It was resolved that the committee receives further reports following the outcome of the consultation exercises.