ON 1st JULY 2012, under provisions of the new Localism Act, Parish Councillors will have their financial and business interests published on the East Riding Council’s website; and on a Parish Council’s own website.
Each Parish Council already maintains a register of interests for its members; it will become a criminal offence for councillors to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a financial interest.
The information might be of interest to local residents in a particular town or village, but will be of particular interest to any organisation considering doing business with a council; it aims to help safeguard against conflicts of interest i.e. councillors being seen to act and vote in their own interests rather than those of their constituents.
The Government has also used the Localism Act to clarify rules on ‘predetermination’.
These rules were developed to ensure that councillors came to council discussions – on, for example, Smells from a local Water Works – with an open mind. In practice these rules had been interpreted in a way that stifled discussion. In some cases councillors were warned off doing such things as campaigning, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias.
An absurd situation existed where councillors would be elected on an issue – tackling foul odours, for example – but when they attended meetings to discuss that issue they ran the risk of being deemed as having a ‘closed mind’ and being biased. On occasions councillors had been prevented from voting on the big issues affecting their constituent communities.
The Localism Act makes it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions, and that they should not be liable to legal challenge as a result. This will help them better represent their constituents, enrich local democratic debate and preserve their ‘right to campaign’ on issues in the community. People can elect their councillor confident in the knowledge that they will be able to act on the issues they have campaigned on.
There is an easy to read guide available on the Localism Act available on the Department of Communities and Local Government website A Plain English Guide to the Localism Act and can also be viewed below.