Councillors could face automatic disciplinary action if they break the law

Councillors who break the law could face disciplinary action as well as criminal sanctions, even if the offence was committed on their own time, under new rules.

Telford & Wrekin Council will vote on the policy at a later date
Telford & Wrekin Council will vote on the policy at a later date

Telford and Wrekin Council will vote to adopt the new code of conduct, based on a Local Government Association (LGA) model but amended by the borough’s own Standards Committee, at a later date.

Policy and Governance chief Anthea Lowe said the draft code covered occasions when councillors were “on duty” and also “private life” instances when they referenced their elected role or it was clear to the public they had one.

The code would not cover occasions unrelated to the councillor’s public role, but Ms Lowe added that some criminal matters were exceptions to that rule.

They would be automatic disciplinary matters because they would bring the authority and the office into “disrepute, regardless of whether you had identified yourself as a councillor”, she said.

In a report, Ms Lowe said that, at a previous meeting, “members accepted there may be times when the activity or behaviour of a member as a private individual may engage the councillor code of conduct” but some were concerned the LGA’s wording “extended too far into personal matters”.

She proposed adding sections saying: “This code will not apply in relation to your private life unless you make reference to your position.”

Explaining this to the meeting, she said: “For example, if you use social media and have a private account but reference your work as a councillor, show pictures of yourself working as a councillor or otherwise make it clear you are one, this code will apply.

“It’s not just social media. If you were in a shop and said ‘Don’t you know who I am? I am Councillor whoever’, it’s still a reference to being a councillor.”

Her report also recommended adding a section saying: “You should be aware your behaviour in your personal capacity may result in action under this code of conduct if you identify as being a councillor whilst behaving in breach of the code of conduct or if you give members of the public the impression that you are a councillor despite acting in your personal capacity.

“One exception is where you are found guilty of certain criminal offences which would preclude you from being a councillor or would bring the role into disrepute.”

She said: “I included that because there are some criminal offences that are so serious they would disqualify you from being a member and it doesn’t matter whether you’re committing it and referencing the fact that you are a councillor or not.”

The 1972 Local Government Act and 1983 Representation of the People Act place a five-year candidacy ban on people convicted of criminal offences carrying prison terms of three month or more or any illegal election practice.

The committee approved the change by a majority, but Councillor Jacqui Seymour opposed the principle that councillors should sometimes be exempt from disciplinary rules.

“To my mind you are always a councillor,” she said.

Ms Lowe’s report also noted that Telford and Wrekin’s current code requires members to declare “gifts or hospitality which have an estimated value of £25 or above”, but the LGA’s code recommends a £50 threshold. The committee agreed to keep the lower figure.

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