There are several ways to increase compliance, transparency and improve public trust.
Automating the personal interests returns process would make it easier for councillors and council staff to comply with the requirements of the 2020 Act, replacing outdated hard-copy forms.
Non-compliance could be deterred through the introduction of a range of proportional and scalable measures, such as non-monetary sanctions and replacing prosecutions with infringements for all but the most serious cases. The only option currently available for the Inspectorate to address non-compliance – apart from initial warnings – is through the criminal justice system, which is resource-intensive and does not act as an effective deterrent. Fines could be applied and increased depending on the severity of the infringement.
Another option to promote compliance is to enhance scrutiny and reporting. There are currently no requirements for councils to report breaches, however, mandatory reporting could alleviate staff concerns about repercussions for reporting non-compliance.
The legislation does not specifically require any entity, including councils and the Inspectorate, to oversee the interests return scheme or scrutinise the accuracy and completeness of the interests disclosed in the returns.
Structured oversight in the form of an external review program could improve compliance.
11. LGV should investigate the feasibility of creating a common electronic form that provides a standardised personal interests returns template that councils can incorporate into their IT platforms.
12. The Local Government Act 2020 should be amended to give the Inspectorate specific power to issue infringement notices for strict liability offences.
13. LGV should consider amending the Local Government Act 2020 to introduce non-monetary sanctions (such as temporary suspension or disqualification from the civic office) to provide a more appropriate, proportional, and scalable sanction for persons who consistently flout the personal interests returns provisions of the Act.
14. The Local Government Act 2020 should be amended to require CEOs to report suspected breaches of the personal interests’ returns provisions to the Inspectorate, including failure to submit returns or submitting inaccurate or late returns.