This week, there is plenty of news about granting 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. You may therefore be surprised to learn that another group may have their right to vote withdrawn. Okay, I am being slightly flippant here, but there is a potentially serious oversight on whether councillors should be allowed to vote at the full council budget setting meeting.
On a number of occasions I have criticised the Localism Act as a poorly drafted piece of legislation that leaks like the proverbial legislative sieve. From the inability of standards committees to sanction their own members, to questions on whether standing councillors are required to sign a declaration of interest, there are plenty of examples to choose from. So here is another to wet your palate.
Councillors are naturally bound to vote on their annual budgets and also on their allowance packages at Full Council. Nothing too complex about that, you would think. However, the new Declaration of Pecuniary Interest could result in a breach, should councillors vote at their annual budget meeting or on their allowances. As both tax-payers and recipients of allowances, this leaves councillors vulnerable to members of the public lodging official complaints. In all probability, a police investigation would not be pursued but it is a risky situation.
Monitoring Officers with a sharp-eye should be able to circumvent this problem through a motion to Full Council granting dispensations to the council en-bloc. Whether the dispensation lasts for a full four years or for the remainder of council’s term until the election, care is required to ensure that dispensations are kept up to date for all named councillors.
Ensuring the right of councillors to vote at budget setting meetings is an essential component of representative democracy. To forbid that right would be counter to the whole belief in local government. The idea that they could face prosecution for breaching pecuniary interest would be quite ridiculous.
Philip Whiteman is a Lecturer at the Institute of Local Government Studies. He has research interests in the impact of central government and regulators on the role, service delivery and performance of local government and other local bodies. He is also Editor of the journal Local Government Studies.