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More good news for transparency in our Town Halls. The Department for Communities and Local Government is issuing new rules, which come into effect from 1 July, making a legal requirement for councillors to declare payments and payments in kind from trade unions. Failure to do so will potentially be a criminal offence.

If a councillor has a financial interest in a company which is seeking planning permission, or a licensing application or putting in a tender, then they are not allowed to vote. It follows that if they have a financial benefit from a trade union then they have a conflict of interest in deciding if their council should give that union financial support. A prejudicial interest would not only cover being employed by a trade union but also having a trade union pay for the councillor election campaigning.

Francis Maude will shortly be publishing a policy paper proposing to scale back so-called ‘facility time’ in the Civil Service back to private sector levels – rather than gold-plating legal requirements. The Department for Communities and Local Government will follow through in due course with guidance to councils, giving them legal assurance and practical help on how they can review and cut back both facility time and the provision of subsidies like free office facilities.

There will also be guidance on what is a reasonable charge for councils to collect trade union membership subscriptions – if they should be doing so at all which seems entirely inappropriate.

This could make for some interesting debates at full council meetings. There could be Labour councils which face losing a vote on the issue from the Conservative opposition as frequently Labour councillors will be disqualified from voting.

Local Government Minister Bob Neill said;

"Why should the unions be allowed to secretly fund the councillors who will be making decisions on hiring and firing trade union ‘pilgrims’ in town halls."

"It’s important that we have maximum transparency and accountability when it comes to financial and union interests in councils.These reforms will give local people the confidence that councillors are
putting their residents’ interests first."

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