Ministers `should face jobs ban'

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Indy Politics
Rules covering the conduct of local councillors should be extended to Government ministers and MPs, the Nolan inquiry into standards in public life was told yesterday.

A joint delegation from three local government umbrella bodies - the associations of county councils, district councils and metropolitan authorities - said ministers should be banned from taking jobs linked to their departmental posts for at least a year after leaving office. Such a restriction already applies to councillors who cannot work for the same council within a year of losing their seat.

Led by Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Metropolitan Authorities Association, the local authorities' associations said they did not see why MPs should be treated any differently. "The level of probity achieved by local government involves both openness and a measure of independent scrutiny," Sir Jeremy said. He called for "a common approach to probity" across all public bodies, "with no reason, in principle, why this should not apply to all ministers and MPs".

In contrast to Parliament, which relies on a system of self-regulation and informal codes, local councillors are subject to statutory controls and scrutiny by the Audit Commission.

Last week, in its evidence to Nolan, the commission also called for a common formal code, across all public bodies and MPs.

The local government delegation drew back, though, from widening the sanction of surcharging to all people in public life. Currently, local councillors are the only group to face that penalty, but Nolan has heard repeated pleas for it to be applied to members of NHS trusts. That would be a mistake, said the local government leaders, who argued that charging individual councillors for the mistakes of others, "is an inappropriately severe remedy".

Nolan also took evidence yesterday from Alan Langlands, chief executive of the NHS in England. Of all the areas of "sleaze", Nolan has received more written submissions about alleged political favouritism in NHS trust appointments than any other.

Mr Langlands took the sting out of expected hostile questions from the committee by announcing that, in future, non- executive trust vacancies would be advertised and open to all. Candidates would be sifted by independent selection panels, composed of three people from other local trusts.

Similarly, Mr Langlands pre-empted another line of attack from the committee by reiterating commitments to local and national accountability for NHS trust members.