Rules around councillor interests to be tightened up

County Hall in Wakefield.
County Hall in Wakefield.

Rules around what councillors have to declare as an interest before taking part in debates and votes are set to be tightened up.

Wakefield's elected members could be asked to publicly disclose relationships they have with an organisation or person that they do not financially profit from, including any arising through family members.

At present, the members' code of conduct states that councillors only have to declare financial interests, though in practice some already choose to disclose non-financial interests.

The change, which was unanimously approved by the council's standards committee on Thursday, will now be put to both the Labour and opposition Conservative groups for discussion.

The council hopes the move will increase public confidence in the system.

Labour councillor Tracey Austin told the committee: "If you've got something to declare, I've always felt you should declare it, whatever it is.

"I don't think you do yourself any harm by doing that."

Fellow member Alan Wassell also backed the change, but said there were a number of ambiguities already in the system.

He said: "On planning committee, it's difficult if you've got an application that's been put forward by a fellow councillor, for example.

"If we all know him, does that mean we all have to walk out?

"I remember one former councillor who said in his election leaflets that he was opposed to any planning on the greenbelt.

"Yet he sat there in planning committee and voted on everything, but he's supposed to have an open mind."

However, the council's legal officer, Gillian Marshall, clarified that rules around interests did not cover statements made in campaign literature.

Councillors will still be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not take part in debates and votes after declaring an interest.

Council policy also dictates that members given gifts worth £25 and above must be declared.

The standards committee voted to keep the threshold in place, rather than raising it.