Letter: Schmoozing councillors
Date published: 21 May 2018
MIPIM in Cannes
The timeless practice of 'gastronomic pimping', as Nye Bevan put it, is a tool long used by commercial lobbyists to curry favour with elected officials includes local councillors who have the power to wave through, or shoot down, developers’ plans.
Anyone who has ever wondered why so few truly affordable housing units are being built in the UK despite our obvious housing and homeless crisis despite millions being spent by property developers on luxury apartments and investment portfolios.
So I read Andy Kelly's recent letter '64 Days and counting...' and the points he raises in it with considerable interest and agreement.
Like Councillor Kelly I fail completely to understand why these interests have not been declared - is this even legal?
Why the councillors concerned have not yet been challenged about their failure to declare this?
Is this perhaps just another one of those quaint Rochdale traditions that applies only to Rochdale councillors' declaration of interests?
Councillor-lobbyists are a feature around the country. Voters in Rochdale deserve full transparency and full accountability in the councillor’s declarations of interests in the same way voters do in other councils across the UK.
Councillors currently have to abide by a code of conduct. Each council’s is slightly different, but all set out two things:
Rules for how councillors are expected to behave. For example, councillors are supposed to always act in the public interest and not put themselves in a position where they are financially, or otherwise obligated to someone else; to make decisions based on merit and nothing else; to submit themselves to public scrutiny; to not withhold information people have a right to access; to not bully; and not bring the council into disrepute.
A requirement that councillors register any outside jobs, income, or other interests. Councillors must declare on a public register if they are employed by someone else, so that people can see whether this represents a conflict of interest. Some councils also publish registers of gifts and hospitality accepted by councillors.
Campaigning journalist Tasmin Cave has submitted requests to the current inquiry into local government ethical standards, and asked for people to contact her, or the inquiry direct, with submissions of their own seeking legislation which will:
- Ban councillors from working as property lobbyists. This seems like it should be prohibited already, but it is not. At the every least, councillor-lobbyists should be barred from any involvement in decisions taken by their council that relate to planning, or land and property assets.
- Slow down the revolving door. Councillors involved in planning must in future get approval if they want to take a job in the property industry, from an independent body that has the power to impose restrictions on lobbying of former colleagues.
Reveal who is lobbying. Councillors’ registers of interests must from now on provide sufficient, accurate and timely information for local residents to be able to determine whether a conflict of interest exists:
- Councillors should state clearly if they work in the property business, particularly if their job involves lobbying.
- Councillors must list any clients they are working for personally.
- All lobbying firms that employ a local councillor must make public a list of current lobbying clients, which councillors must provide a link to on their registers of interests.
- Stop with the wining and dining. Councils must take steps to change the culture where hospitality is used to curry favour with councillors.
- Councils must impose a ban on councillors accepting excessive hospitality from property developers (above a reasonable threshold of, say, £20).
- Councils must ensure that councillors’ registers of hospitality are publicly available and up-to-date.
- Ban councillors from lobbying on behalf of or working for property lobbyists. This seems like it should be prohibited already, but it is not.
At the very least, councillor-lobbyists should be barred from any involvement in decisions taken by their council that relate to planning, or land and property assets.
After all, if councillors have nothing to hide they will surely have no objections to full transparency and accountability.
The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.