Renewing Local Democracy: Report of The Widening Access To Council Membership Progress Group

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RENEWING LOCAL DEMOCRACY: REPORT OF THE WIDENING ACCESS TO COUNCIL MEMBERSHIP PROGRESS GROUP

Chapter six - political restrictions on council employees

6.1 Part of our remit was to take forward work on preparation of non-statutory guidance on the definition of politically-restricted posts; that is staff posts within local authorities where the incumbent is prevented from standing for election as a councillor and engaging in a range of political activities.

6.2 Previous legislation set out the categories of local authority employees who were designated as holding politically restricted posts.

The categories were:

1. Those who hold positions specified in legislation, for example, council monitoring officers or those who speak to the press.
2. Those who hold posts above a salary threshold.
3. Those who hold posts not caught by the categories above but whose posts are politically restricted because of the content of that post.

6.3 Rules governing the definition of politically restricted posts were set out in the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. Council employees earning less than the prescribed salary threshold were covered by section 2(3) of the Act which defines a post as politically restricted if the officer regularly gives advice to the authority or any committee or sub-committee or any joint committees and/or if the officer is involved in speaking to journalists or broadcasters on behalf of the authority.

6.4 The Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 removed the second of these categories, posts which were determined by a salary threshold (which was set at 32,127), as it has proved to be an arbitrary measure which unnecessarily barred some employees from standing for election.

6.5 When the provisions of the 2004 Act come into force, the salary threshold will be abolished and a large number of posts will no longer automatically be deemed to be politically restricted. Local authorities will therefore need to determine whether any post previously caught by the salary threshold should be considered as politically restricted in line with the legislation that will remain in force.

6.6 As part of the questionnaire issued to all local authorities on behalf of the group, councils were asked to provide details of how they currently determine that a post (below the current salary threshold) should be classed as 'politically restricted'. It is clear from the replies received that interpretation by local authorities is relatively uniform and that individual councils are following the description of posts set out in legislation.

Our view:

  • Evidence given to the Group consistently showed that the issue of politically restricted posts within local authorities is not something that causes any real difficulties. We consider that each case very much depends on the approach taken by an individual's manager. Managers need to be mindful that employees have the right to stand and we do not believe that doing so is likely to cause insurmountable difficulties in the majority of cases. This combined with the apparent lack of contention within councils in adjudicating on this matter has led the Group to form the opinion that there is no requirement to provide central guidance on how councils may wish to determine which posts should be considered as politically restricted. We believe the correct approach is for local authorities to treat each case individually as it arises and do not believe the number of serving council officers that are likely to want to make the move towards councillorship means that central guidance is necessary.

"I would be reluctant to have to enter an 'old boys network' where everyone knows everyone else, where there is a shared history and in-jokes, and where someone who doesn't fit the mould feels like an outsider"