I am writing in response to two recent letters, ‘Transparency Plea’ on March 10 and ‘An Easy Solution’ on March 17.
With the forthcoming local elections in sight, it is important to reassure your readers of the checks and balances in place which help promote transparency in local government.
Upon election, councillors are required to sign the Acceptance of Office Register and, in so doing, agree to abide by the code of conduct.
This code sets out high ethical standards and the required standards of behaviour which derive from the Local Government Act 2000. These standards include selflessness, honesty and integrity, openness and respect for others.
It is generally accepted that this expectation of high standards helps to promote public confidence in local democracy and is essential for an open and inclusive society.
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All councillors (be they district, town or parish) are also required to complete a register of interests form within 28 days of being elected.
This form registers their financial and other interests, including details of their employment/business, any contracts with the local authority and any land or property in the authority’s area in which they have a beneficial interest.
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Councillors are requested to regularly update their register to reflect any change in their circumstances.
The full register of interests is maintained by EDDC and is available for public inspection during office hours.
In addition to the register of interests, councillors are also required to register gifts and hospitality worth �25 or over.
With particular regard to the points raised in the two letters, the council’s scrutiny committee has recommended that, with the advent of the new council after May 5, the register should be available to view on line as one part of the council’s response to the transparency agenda.
Furthermore, under the code of conduct, councillors are obliged to disclose any personal or prejudicial interests they have at council meetings whenever it becomes apparent that they have an interest in any item of business being considered.
A councillor has a personal interest if any item of business being considered affects their own, their family’s, or a close associates’ well-being, or finances, more than most people in the area affected by the item of business.
A councillor with a personal interest may speak and vote on the item of business. A personal interest will only become a prejudicial interest if the item being considered (apart from those that fall within one of the exempt categories of decisions under paragraph 10(2)(c) of the code) affects the councillor’s, their family’s or close associate’s finances, or relates to a regulatory matter and a member of the public who knows the relevant facts would reasonably think the personal interest so significant that it likely to prejudice the councillor’s judgement of the public interest.
A councillor with a prejudicial interest may make speak at a council meeting before leaving the room, provided the public are allowed to attend that particular council meeting for that purpose.
The council’s standards committee, which is chaired by an independent (non-councillor), promotes and maintains high standards of conduct and, where necessary, conducts hearings into allegations of breach of the code of conduct.
The council is committed to improving public confidence in its work, as an informed and active interest in local democracy will help to ensure that your elected local councillors are working to achieve the best for the communities of East Devon.
East Devon District Council.