District auditors could be stripped of their role as investigatorsduties in review. and prosecutors in cases of corruption under proposals announced last week.
The government said cases of corruption in local authorities would in future be handled by an independent standards board, which could ban corrupt councillors from office for up to five years.
The proposals, made in response to recommendations last year by Lord Nolan in his report on standards of conduct in local government, are part of a new ethical framework.
Hilary Armstrong, local government minister, said the ethical framework could be the touchstone of modernised local government.
‘The vast majority of councillors and council staff are decent and honest, but there have been instances of poor behaviour and corruption.’
Armstrong said that each council would be forced to introduce a code of conduct for councillors and staff based on a national model. If they break the code, the standards board could be given the power to fast-track complaints in all but the most trivial cases.
The new scheme comes in the wake of criticism of the surcharging system that resulted in long and costly procedures. The ten-year investigation of former Westminster council leader Dame Shirley Porter has been widely cited as a trigger for the review.
Last year, Lord Nolan said the surcharge system should be abolished and replaced with a criminal charge of ‘misuse of public office’.
Armstrong said the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions was still considering whether to draft the new law.
If it is enacted, councillors and staff accused of corruption would find themselves in court rather than in front of the district auditor. However, the department is discussing how the law should be drafted with the Law Commission and is unlikely to come forward with proposals before the summer.
In the meantime, it has said that staff found guilty of malpractice may be forced to return any funds lost by the authority.
A regime which will protect whistleblowers who hand over details of corrupt behaviour in local authorities will also be set up.
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