All involved in public life are subject to the seven Nolan principles – ethical standards that those in public office, such as parish councillors and council staff, are expected to uphold.
At their very basic they are a bible for behaving properly. They were set up by Lord Nolan in 1995 and fall under the main headings of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
In this edition I want to concentrate on integrity. Nolan says: “Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”
We all like to think we possess integrity and it seems obvious that we should not influence or take decisions to obtain financial or other material gain for ourselves or people we know any.
But in a tight-knit community such as that served by a parish council, where councillors are much more likely to know people in that community, integrity can be under stress in much more subtle ways.
A decision could be influenced because someone who stands to benefit could be a friend, a relative, a friend of a relative or a friend of a friend. The pressures, intentional or subliminal, can be intense and often councillors will find themselves compromised in their own minds.
All the Nolan Principles are unambiguous and go straight to the point, so they are not difficult to interpret.
Corruption is a nasty word, but that’s what occurs when integrity fails. Some real-life examples of this include the case of a councillor in the West Country who was recorded making claims that he could obtain planning permission in return for payment; a construction contracts bid-rigging scandal in local government after which the Office of Fair Trading issued £129.5 million penalties to 103 companies and, closer to home, conflicts of interest, such as that of a former leader of Lincolnshire County Council who was sent to prison after seeking to influence the route of a new bypass so as to divert it through his own land for financial benefit.
Councillors should also beware using their position as a councillor to gain advantage for themselves in a personal capacity. Outside of their work as a parish councillor they are ordinary citizens not entitled to any privileges.
So, for instance, they should never use their position as a councillor to jump a queue or get a quicker response to a request. They must wait their turn, the same as anyone else.
The Nolan Principles – seven principles of public life
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
Holders of public office should be truthful.
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
For further information on the seven principles and the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, visit the Committee’s website at https://bit.ly/1DMMHoU and blogsite at https://cspl.blog.gov.uk/