Town Hall’s standards regime ‘weak’ compared to political power, says borough solicitor

Camden Town Hall.

The Town Hall’s top solicitor has characterised its sanctions regime over standards of behaviour for councillors as “relatively weak” compared to the power of political groupings within the council.

Andrew Maughan, borough solicitor for Camden, was speaking as part of a January report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life on ethical standards in local government.

Responding to quizzing by Cllr Roger Robinson (Lab, St Pancras & Somers Town) on the degree of supervision over councillors which stems from the Town Hall’s executive, Maughan admitted that true power to check any rogue local politician lay at party level.

Maughan said: “A theme of the standards regime is that its power is relatively weak. The worst that can happen to a councillor is that full council could, in theory, tell a councillor off.

“What a party can do to a councillor, effectively to remove the whip, remove them from committees, effectively end a career, of course is far more powerful than being told off.

“Occasionally you do get circumstances where councils will tell off members, and you can judge wheher that’s right or wrong, but if the party remains behind them, there’s not a huge amount that can happen.”

The 22 July meeting of Camden’s standards committee also saw brief debate over the correct definition of bullying and harassment to be adopted by the council.

The original draft of the definition listed examples of bullying and harassment as including spreading malicious rumours, insulting someone by word or behaviour and copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know.

Cllr Henry Newman (Con, Frognal & Fitzjohns), said: “I wonder if we could say that the examples ‘could’ include [these things]. Any example of somebody saying something which somebody considers unfair is not ipso facto bullying or harassment.”

Cllr Newman was backed in his successful move to make the definition less proscriptive by Cllr Flick Rea, who pointed out that “unfair treatment” is a wide category.