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Monitoring officers warned against 'gold-plated' approach to standards regime

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A new Government guide makes clear to monitoring officers that “any heavy bureaucratic, ‘gold plated’ approach” has no place in the revamped standards regime, Local Government Minister Bob Neill has said.

The minister made the comments in a letter to all local authority leaders, sent at the same time as the guide on openness and transparency on personal interests was published.

Neill said: “This is a practical guide which will help all to properly understand the new arrangements and shows clearly how these arrangements strike a common sense balance between accountability of elected representatives and personal privacy.”

In addition to firing a warning to monitoring officers, Neill said the guide “equally makes clear that every councillor should be giving their monitoring officer all the information they need to get and keep their register of members’ interests up to date”.

He added: “The legal requirements mean that sitting councillors, just like newly elected councillors, should be registering their disclosable pecuniary interests.”

The minister pointed out that a member’s disclosable pecuniary interests included certain interests of their spouse or civil partner.

However, he added that there was no requirement that in the register a member’s interest should be differentiated from those of his or her spouse or civil partner or that the names of the spouse or civil partner should be disclosed.

Neill concluded: “We are confident that this will help all those who have chosen to serve their communities as councillors to ensure that there is openness and transparency about their affairs whilst their legitimate privacy is properly respected.”

The guide covers a range of issues, including:

  • The reason why the new rules were introduced;
  • To whom the new rules apply;
  • How there will be openness and transparency about personal interests;
  • What personal interests should be entered in a council’s or authority’s register of members’ interests;
  • What a member needs to do about registering their personal interests;
  • What pecuniary interests are;
  • Whether a spouse’s or civil partner’s name need appear on the register of interests;
  • Who can see the register of members’ interests;
  • The scope for withholding information on the published register;
  • When information about interests is removed from the council’s register;
  • What having a disclosable pecuniary interest stops a member from doing;
  • When and how a member can apply for a dispensation;
  • What happens if a member does not follow the rules on disclosable pecuniary interests.

The new regime came into force on 1 July 2012.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here. A copy of Openness and transparency on personal interests: A guide for councillors can be viewed here