During a week in which a poll revealed 46% of voters believe MPs are “on the take” (1), the Kent Green Party has accused the county’s councillors of “pimping out their services and influence for £99.99 a go”.
This hard-hitting allegation follows the adoption, by KCC, the 12 District and many of the county’s 315 Town and Parish Councils, of the so-called Kent Code of Conduct for Members (2).
The Code, which replaces rules set by the now defunct Standards Board for England, regulates the ethical behaviour of most of Kent’s 2,500(3) plus councillors. Amongst other things, it allows them to accept gifts and hospitality up to the value of £100 without any need to make a declaration (4). This is a 400% increase on the Standards Board for England previous declaration limit of £25 for gifts and hospitality.
Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, who voted against Thanet Council’s decision to adopt the controversial gifts and hospitality rules said: “It’s morally wrong for County, District, Town or Parish Councillors to accept any form of payment or gift from constituents, businesses, lobbyists, or any other organisation. Permitting councillors to accept treats of up to £99.99 without any declaration sends out all the wrong messages. It’s like saying that Kent’s Councillors are free to pimp out their services and influence for £99.99 a go without anyone finding out. This ill-conceived Code is a charter for corruption which reinforces the impression that politicians have their snouts in the trough. It brings local government into serious disrepute.”
Driver’s views are supported by the world’s leading anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, which in a recent report entitled “Corruption in UK Local Government: The Mounting Risks” said that “. . . without transparency about gifts and hospitality, there can be no serious scrutiny of an important channel through which individuals or interest groups might seek to corruptly influence members (5).”
Said Driver “I call on the County, District, Town and Parish Councils to review their Codes of Conduct and introduce changes which prohibit councillors from receiving any gifts or hospitality from constituents, lobbyists or any other organisations. I encourage the people of Kent to lobby their Councillors to put an end to this charter for corruption.”