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Parish Councils - Worrying Findings on Resignations


11th July 2002

Jonathan Djanogly has received notice that over 20 parish councillors in the Huntingdon Constituency have resigned their seats, due to their refusal to sign the Government's new Code of Conduct.

Jonathan Djanogly, Member of Parliament for the Huntingdon Constituency, has received notice that over 20 parish councillors in the Huntingdon Constituency have resigned their seats, due to their refusal to sign the Government's new Code of Conduct. At the same time, a new report by the Economic and Social Research Council and the University of Aberystwyth has warned that there is a growing national shortage of candidates, and the new Code of Conduct for councillors may make the problem far worse. The Code of Conduct was imposed by Whitehall in November 2001, and came into effect on 27 May in any council that has not previously ratified it.

Jonathan Djanogly said:

"This new academic study shows that parish councils are right to be concerned about this new draconian code of conduct. It shows how the number of people getting involved in parish councils has been falling nationally, and notes that these new rules may cause yet more to give up their voluntary work.

I wanted to find out what the reaction to the new Code was locally, and the position is not encouraging. Having seen the responses to my survey of local parishes, I have no doubt that these new Government regulations are turning away excellent local people from serving as councillors.

Conservatives believe this Code is flawed and have voted against it in Parliament - but Labour still pushed it through. The Code fails to distinguish between major and minor breaches. It is ridiculous to require registration of interests by parish councillors' nephews, grandchildren, and even partners of such people. This heavy-handed intervention fails to appreciate that parish councillors overwhelmingly are honest and well intentioned. This is yet another sign that Labour do not understand or care about rural communities.

We should all value the work of Huntingdon parish councillors. They put a huge amount of work into their local communities for no personal gain, but I fear this new report is further evidence that because of growing Whitehall interference, Huntingdon's parish councils face being regulated out of existance."

Notes

Local Huntingdon Survey

Jonathan Djanogly wrote to all 48 parishes in the Huntingdon Consituency. Of these, 16 parishes responded with notifications of over 20 parish councillors resigning by reason of the Model Code and more resigning for reasons including the Model Code.

Independent Study

The University of Aberystwyth, in a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, published a report on 16 May on 'Participation, Power and Rural Community Governance in England and Wales'. http/www.aber.ac.uk/aberonline/uwa5302.html

The report found 'nearly two-fifths of parish, town and community council wards do not attract sufficient candidates to fill all available seats in regular elections' and 'there has been a decline in the number of contested parish council elections over the last decade, with the sharpest decease occurring for smaller parishes' (p2).

In addition, 'the overall picture revealed these findings is of a significant shortage of candidates coming forward to stand for election to town, parish and community councils. Moreover, comparisons with previous surveys suggest that the problem of finding candidates is worsening...it has been suggested to us that one factor behind the lack of candidates is that being a parish councillor is seen as an onerous task with little reward...The introduction of the new Code of Conduct may prove a further disincentive. In our case studies for the second phase of the project we have found two parish councils whose members are threatening to resign en masse rather tahn sign the code. This opposition to the 'modernisation' programme from established councillors may be reflected in an even greater shortage of candidates in the next round of elections' (p18).

Code of Conduct - Background

Under the Local Government Act 2000, the Labour Government have issued a mandatory Model Code of Conduct for parish councils (SI 2001, No.3576).http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si/si2001/20013576.htm
Many parish councils are concerned that these new regulations are draconian, especially considering that parish councils do not control sizeable budgets. It introduces: (i) a register of parish councillors' interests - including their employment, business and any property they own, (ii) a requirement to register any gift or hospitality over £25, (iii) a requirement to disclose any personal interest of their spouse or relatives and withdraw from the room if those interests are discussed.
The Code forces national investigation by the Standards Board for England of even minimal infringements. Parish Councillors have a duty to make written allegations about the actions of other councillors (clause 6).
A Conservative motion to strike down the Code of Conduct was debated in Parliament on 19 March 2002. However, Labour used their Parliamentary majority to force the Code through.http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmstand/deleg6/st20319/20319s01.htm

Threat of Resignations

The Daily Telegraph has noted 'members of thousands of parish councils are ready to resign en masse from their unpaid positions rather than submit a new rule requiring them to declare their investments and to act as informants on their colleagues' (2 February 2002).
The Times have commented, 'more than 100 rural parish councillors are threatening to resign over new government rules... the plans have caused anger. Several parish councils may become defunct if their members refuse to sign the code of conduct' (27 March 2002)."



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