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Tuesday, 7 April, 1998, 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK
Government calls time on council corruption
mayoral robes
Mayoral robes: power can corrupt
Town hall corruption will be targeted by a powerful independent body looking after community interests, the government has pledged.

More than 20,000 councillors and two million public sector workers will be answerable to the new Standards Board.

The Local Government Minister, Hilary Armstrong, says the plans will create a new "ethical framework" for local authorities.

She says the new body will investigate malpractice and allegations of corruption.

'Donnygate' saga

It will work alongside existing local government auditors and ombudsmen who investigate financial matters and residents' complaints respectively.

The creation of new body comes after a series of embarrassments for the government involving Labour-run councils, most notably the "Donnygate" saga in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Under the proposals every council would introduce its own binding code of conduct.

The Standards Board would step in to investigate allegations of malpractice considered too serious for a simple ombudsman inquiry.

Mrs Armstrong says: "The new ethical framework will be the keystone of modernised local government.

"If people are to value local government they must have a bond of trust with their councillors and their councils. They must be confident that they are helping their communities, not helping themselves."

Spate of scandals

Dame Shirley Porter
Dame Shirley Porter: surcharged
Last year district auditors accused Labour-run Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council of "blatant junketing" after investigating allegations of abuse of office.

Several members of Hull City Council, which is also Labour-run, are being investigated by both the national party and the police following a long-running political row in the city.

The most famous case of recent years came when district auditor John Magill imposed a surcharge of 31.6m on Dame Shirley Porter and David Weeks, former leader and deputy leader of Conservative-run Westminster City Council after investigating the "homes for votes" scandal.

Councils welcome change

Doncaster City Council
Doncaster: "blatant junketing"
The Local Government Association, the umbrella body representing councils, welcomed the proposals.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the LGA, said: "Thousands of councillors and two million staff get on with their job every day of delivering public services to the highest standards.

"Misconduct is rare but no misconduct should be tolerated."

He said councils would be disappointed ministers had no plans to abolish the surcharge, which some feel discourages people from standing for office.

Sir Norman Fowler, Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, said: "Some of the worst problems have arisen in Labour councils which have been under one-party control for year after year.

"In effect they have become one-party states.

"We should draw on the experience of the audit committees which operate in all public companies."

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