New rules on transparency could leave councils tied up in red tape and ‘swamped by minutiae’, senior legal officers have warned.
The new rules will create a ‘huge and unsustainable bureaucratic burden’ and tie up local government in the very red tape that it is so keen to cut, they say. The new rules, which came into force on 10 September, require all officers taking ‘executive decisions’ to make a written, publicly available statement about those decisions. This record must also be published on the authority’s website.
The statement must contain details of the decision, its date and reasons, any alternative options considered and rejected, any conflict of interest declared by any executive member consulted in relation to the decision and any ‘note of dispensation’ concerning any such conflict of interest granted by the authority’s head of paid service.
Mark Hynes, first vice-president of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS), the body that represents senior legal officers in English and Welsh local authorities, said: ‘While ACSeS fully supports and encourages local authority transparency, this new obligation for officers to make a detailed public record of all executive decisions - even minor ones - will tie local government up in the very red tape that the government is so understandably keen to cut.’
He said the government should ‘take urgent steps’ to restore the previous position, where only ‘key decisions’ required a detailed public record. He said: ‘It is vital that suitable amendments are made urgently to these regulations so the public can see the wood for the trees and local government operations are not inefficiently mired in bureaucracy.’
He added: ‘In this way the public would be kept in the loop about significant decisions without being swamped by minutiae.’