The Localism Bill, introduced to Parliament on 13 December 2010, devolves more powers to councils and neighbourhoods and gives local communities greater control over local decisions like housing and planning.
The Bill will abolish the local authority members’ standards regime, including the model code of conduct. Local authorities will, however, continue to have a duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members. If they wish, authorities are also free to establish voluntary standards committees and adopt a voluntary code of conduct.
However, there is concern that despite the duty to promote and maintain high standards, without a national code of conduct it will be difficult for councillors and the public to judge what is and is not acceptable behaviour. In addition, giving each local authority power to decide whether to have their own code, and if so what it should contain, may create confusion.
The Bill also continues the requirement for authorities to maintain a register of interests of members and gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations to specify what interests must be recorded in the register. A new criminal offence of failing to comply with any obligations imposed by such regulations without reasonable excuse can lead to a fine of up to £5,000 and disqualification from being a councillor for up to five years.