Croydon LBC’s mayor Jason Perry has called for the law to be changed to give councils greater powers to hold officers and councillors to account.
In an exclusive interview with The MJ, Conservative Mayor Perry said it was ‘fundamentally wrong’ for officers and councillors suspected of wrongdoing to be able to resign and walk away.
Croydon became the first London borough in more than 20 years to issue a section 114 notice in 2020, with two independent investigations highlighting ‘significant failures by former elected members and chief officers’.
A number of councillors were reported to the council’s ethics committee but they resigned before the disciplinary process had been completed.
Mayor Perry said: ‘All the processes stop as soon as someone resigns and walks away.
'Councils should have the ability for the process to continue.
'Something’s not working here and that’s what’s got to be fixed.
‘I want the Government to get involved in changing the rules and regulations.
'It’s got to be reviewed.
'We’ve got to review the whole process.
‘I do feel strongly about accountability and our residents feel strongly about accountability.
'There’s actually very little local authorities can do to hold people to account.
'What’s happened in Croydon isn’t good local government and shouldn’t be allowed to happen to other councils and residents.’
Croydon’s appointments and disciplinary committee previously concluded the ‘current arrangements to hold senior local authority leaders to account for their conduct in public office are deeply inadequate’.
In letters to the Local Government Association (LGA) and Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) earlier this year, Mayor Perry wrote: ‘None of the individuals responsible have been personally held to account for their actions as they all resigned when disciplinary action began.
'This has left the council with very few options to hold them to account or to pursue personal consequence.
'We are now reliant on other organisations to follow this through.’
The LGA declined to say whether it backed Mayor Perry’s call for changes to give councils greater powers so that officers and councillors could be more effectively held to account for reckless decisions and poor behaviour, including whether local authorities should be allowed to suspend councillors for breaching standards.
It is understood that the association has not specifically discussed Mayor Perry’s calls.
However, a senior sector source said: ‘Recent events have really brought the issue of accountability into focus, along with raising questions about what role the LGA should be playing in all this.
'There are definitely questions being asked internally at the highest level about the LGA’s view and there’s been a very welcome hardening of position around improvement and the organisation’s approach to it, including whether accountability is currently strong enough.
'The new faces cross-party that have appeared in recent years among the senior LGA leadership are certainly up for a more robust and direct approach to sorting the sector out.’
Chairman of the LGA’s improvement and innovation board, Abi Brown, said the association was currently analysing feedback from discussions with councils, combined authorities and professional bodies on local government assurance and accountability.
She added the board would ‘consider proposals for further conversations with the sector to consider whether any of the current checks and balances could be simplified, improved or enhanced to provide greater assurance for the sector’.
A CIPFA spokesperson said Mayor Perry had ‘understandable concerns,’ adding: ‘Accountability in local government, along with good governance and oversight, is more important than ever as local authorities struggle with making their budgets work and delivering essential public services in immensely challenging circumstances.’